By on April 11, 2019

2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (175 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm)

Seven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

26 city / 29 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.0 city, 8.0 highway, 8.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $28,700 (U.S) / $31,799 (Canada)

As Tested: $29,805 (U.S.) / $33,704 (Canada)

Prices include $980 destination charge in the United States and $1,905 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

One of my personal auto reviewer “rules” is that I try to test any vehicle I drove on a press junket later, at home, even if it’s months later (and even if it’s many months before I get around to writing about it). I do this because the potholed roads and unpredictable weather of the city I call home stand in stark contrast to the pleasant places where automakers hold their splashy first drive events.

I also do this because driving a car in normal grocery-getting duty is different than driving it hard on a twisty road, because I don’t always get to drive on the freeway on a junket, and because a car reveals things about itself over the course of several days or a week that it wouldn’t in just a few hours.

Enter the 2018 Hyundai Kona. Several months after driving it on the Big Island of Hawaii (not long before that volcano erupted — the same one I toured while there. Did I piss off the volcano gods somehow?), I took possession of one here in Chicago. Would I think differently about the Kona, in one way or another, after a week behind the wheel? Or would I just end up confirming my first-drive review?

Spoiler: It’s more the latter than the former.

This almost certainly because the same trim I drove in Hawaii showed up at my door – an Ultimate AWD with a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder putting out 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.

Those are far from eye-popping numbers, but the 1.6L gets the job done, at least if you’re not on the freeway. The Kona doesn’t feel fast, exactly, but quick enough to get you from stoplight to stoplight without drama. It does run out of breath a bit when merging, however. There’s also a bit of a delay to get the engine spooled up; the seven-speed automatic transmission could be a bit quicker on the downshift.

The most appealing aspect of the Kona, to me, is its handling. It’s sprightlier than a small crossover should be, with appropriately stiff steering. It’s fun to toss it around a corner, although the ride is a bit stiff. Slight lack of power aside, the Kona remains one of the more fun to drive small crossovers simply because Hyundai managed to dial some amusement into it.

2018 Hyundai Kona

I’m still curious how the 1.6-liter pairs to a front-drive Kona, or how the base engine/transmission combo work together, but OEMs love to throw full-zoot models into press fleets, no matter how representative they are (or aren’t) of the overall take-rate breakdown by trim.

As I said before, you can get a lot of content on your Kona if you’re willing to lay out the cash. In this case, that cash outlay is almost $30K before any incentives. Yep, for a subcompact/compact crossover (Hyundai calls it a compact in its press materials, but most observers would slot it in the subcompact class), that’s a tidy sum.

The only option on my test vehicle was carpeted floor mats. Standard features included blind-spot collision warning with lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning, 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, sunroof, head-up display, leather seats, keyless entry and starting, wireless cell-phone charger, satellite radio, premium audio, Hyundai’s BlueLink infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and navigation.

Fuel economy checks in at 26 mpg city/29 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

2018 Hyundai Kona

Judging by the comments y’all left on my first drive of the Kona, the styling is somewhat, um, polarizing. It’s grown on me over time, watching Konas proliferating on the streets of my town, but I get that it’s not for everyone. The gaping grille and squinting headlights are the kinds of styling elements that divide, not unite, and the narrow taillights can be off-putting, too. I think the lower lights at each corner are a bit busy. Still, the overall look is at least tolerable to my eye, if not sexy.

Inside, the cabin is far simpler, with less fuss and muss, although a tacked-on center screen mars the look and body-color accents struck me as silly. Materials felt a little low-rent for the price.

The Kona isn’t the oddest-looking crossover in the class, at least. Thank you, Toyota C-HR.

2018 Hyundai Kona

If you can stomach the looks, and you’re willing to open your pocketbook a bit, a top-trim Kona is a fine around-town runabout. I’d still like to spend time with the other engine – our own Bark was not happy when he test drove that version – and I still wonder if a Limited trim with FWD is the best way to option out a Kona with the 1.6L.

2018 Hyundai Kona

Overall, though, my impressions from Hawaii translated back to the mainland. The Kona is a pretty decent, if not overpriced and overstyled, small crossover.

In other words – forget touring volcanoes. It’s a fine grocery-getting errand-runner, as long as you can live with the looks.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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32 Comments on “2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Review – Double Take...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Make my Kona a type of coffee bean and keep this little Hyundai.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    How was your gas mileage in your 2nd test? It seems H/K artificially lower their rating to avoid another investigation.Personally I think the Tucson is better looking and probably not that much more expensive

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed on all points. That’s terrible fuel economy on the Kona, and the Tucson is the better value.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        It would be good MPG for an AWD compact CUV, but the Kona is a subcompact FWD hatchback with CUV styling cues. Kind of another argument for the EV version, which offers more powah and uses no gas at all. That assumes Hyundai ever actually delivers the Kona EV in any detectable quantity to North American buyers.

  • avatar
    maui_zaui

    I actually like the funky styling of the Kona. They managed to pull off the “these aren’t really my headlights” look and make it fit with the styling, something that didn’t work out for the 2014-2018 Jeep Cherokee. Of course, styling is subjective, but overall, I’d choose this vs. the competition if I was in the market for a subcompact crossover. Especially in the lime-yellow-green color.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Hyundai did an even better job on the split-level headlights with the new Santa Fe, which is a styling knockout (IMO). And, with the new Palisade soon to hit dealerships, it’s clear that this is Hyundai’s new SUV/crossover design language going forward.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Agreed that Hyundai did a better job on the Santa Fe; it doesn’t have that ridiculous cladding/”armor” (which is another reason to opt for the Kona EV).

        The Cherokee’s version didn’t work b/c it looked dorky; even Citroen (which arguably started the whole trend on production models) did a better job.

        Not surprisingly, other automakers have followed suit – GM/Chevy (and also on a new CUV for their Chinese brand), Skoda, Mitsu, etc.

        The biggest issue w/ the Kona is that it’s smaller than most of its competitive set.

        W/ the upcoming Hyundai A-segment CUV – which doesn’t seem to be much smaller than the Kona, look for the next Kona (as well as the next Tucson) to grow.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Base SE trim Konas are available on rental lots. I drove one about 200 miles last month. Can’t recall much except the interior was cheap and the nonturbo-4 power was lacking. Love the vehicle’s “just-right” size, so maybe the uplevel trim and turbo would’ve endeared the Kona to me.

    • 0 avatar
      here4aSammich

      Just had one from National. Delta cancelled my flight, so I had to drive from Detroit to Philly. Surprisingly comfortable, could’ve used a bigger gas tank for more range. I wasn’t easy on it, and it was AWD. But my mileage was in line with the EPA ratings. Drivers seat was better than average, I didn’t need extra stops to stretch. Stopped twice for gas in 10 hours. Interior is cheap, not gonna lie. I wouldn’t personally want it as a daily. But decent power, decent economy and Android Auto to keep my entertained for 10 hours? It worked.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    I saw one of these yesterday and thought it looks quite like a 3/5 scale Chrysler Pacifica (the old one, not the new one).

  • avatar
    ajla

    No one is expecting AMG performance, but compared to their cars (and a good chunk of the competition) Hyundai CUVs are stingy on the power. For its $20K starting price the Kona should really have the 201hp 1.6T as standard. Then the Tucson would mirror the Sonata (184hp 2.4L base, 245hp 2.0T optional) and the Santa Fe would be 245hp 2.0T base, 290hp 3.3L optional. Santa Fe XL stays with the 290hp 3.3L.

    Right now it’s:
    Kona: $20K 147hp, $25.5K 175hp
    Tucson: $23K 161hp, $27.K 181hp
    Santa Fe: $26K 185hp, $34K 235hp
    Santa Fe XL: $31K 290hp

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Only way to get 201 HP is to require premium fuel for the 1.6T. Some Kona owner ran theirs only on premium fuel and it was much closer to 200 HP on the dyno.

      “Then the Tucson would mirror the Sonata ”

      You mean mirror its direct sibling–the Sportage.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      For those (niche buyers) looking for more power, there will be a Kona-N variant.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I tested one of these back to back with the base, non-turbo version. The latter is definitely the way to go. If you skip the top-line trim you should be able to pick one up for around $26,000 or so, which isn’t awful for this class.

    My only reservation – aside from spending this much money on anything this tiny – would be the DCT they use in the turbo version, which I’ve heard some not-so-nice things about.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Ugly rear end.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    nice 2014 Cherokee.

  • avatar
    Robotdawn

    Saw one of these at the Hyundai dealership parked out front. For kicks I parked my Cruze hatch next to it and took a picture. The Kona might be 2 inches taller. Might.
    Helps explain how it doesn’t feel like a crossover, it really isn’t.

  • avatar
    d4rksabre

    There are so many better cars for that kind of money it’s almost a joke that this even exists.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The proportions of the front and rear end are simply ghastly. I don’t ever recall seeing what are presumably turn signals larger than the headlight either.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This particular model clocks in at $21K currently/12K miles avg.

    4/5/19 $22,900 3,109 4.9 4GT/A GrayFactoryWest CoastNevada
    3/21/19 $21,000 16,842 4.9 4GT/A BlueLeaseSoutheastAtlanta
    3/19/19 $20,900 15,251 4.7 4GT/A GrayRegularSoutheastOrlando
    1/31/19 $20,500 27,510 3.3 4GT/A BlackLeaseSoutheastCaribbean Subasta De Autos
    1/30/19 $21,000 5,602 4.9 4GT/A RedLeaseSoutheastCentral Florida
    1/29/19 $19,600 7,679 5.0 4GT/A GrayLeaseSoutheastOrlando

  • avatar
    legacygt

    So for the same money you get a Mini Countryman All4. For about $3K more you get the Minis Cooper Countryman All4. Granted, these are base Minis which probably don’t ever appear on dealer lots. I’m no Mini fan but if I’m going to get an over-priced under-sized crossover, I’d rather spend my ~$30K on the Countryman. And if I just wanted to be happy, I’d spend that same money on a CX-5 and get some utility with my style, a really fund drive.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    $30K is loaded Renegade Trailhawk 4X4 177hp turbo money, I’m not feeling this Kona

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    You must be having some spectacular spring weather there in Chicago. The trees are much farther along than they are here in TN 500 miles to the south.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Are we suuuuuuuure this is a crossover? Because if this is a crossover, then I think that makes the old Suzuki SX4 hatchback a crossover. Maybe the Nissan versa hatch is a crossover too.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Abysmal mileage for a 1.6 liter anything

  • avatar
    gtem

    “but the 1.6L gets the job done, at least if you’re not on the freeway. The Kona doesn’t feel fast, exactly, but quick enough to get you from stoplight to stoplight without drama. It does run out of breath a bit when merging, however.”

    Good heavens, how could we ever survive having to merge onto the highway with 175hp/195ft-lb torque?!

    Are you just a jaded autojourno high on V8s and other hi-po machinery or what? My wife’s Camry with 175hp gets up to speed quite promptly, I’ve commuted on highways in 110hp Rangers and even safely gotten on the highway in one with a full payload.

  • avatar

    I’d never buy a Korean car


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