2018 Hyundai Kona Is the New Capable, Compact Cute Ute

Does the world really need another compact crossover utility vehicle? Hyundai thinks so and has launched the all-new Kona for the U.S. market. Compact, cute, and capable…and designed for the “urban adventurer.”

2018 Hyundai Kona/Images courtesy Hyundai

This is a new segment for Hyundai so Kona arrives on an all-new unibody platform. It seats up to five although four will fit decently, and buyers have a choice of two engines and front- or all-wheel drive platforms. And while the automaker has been known for a bit of flair when it comes to styling in recent model years, the new Kona takes that a slightly different approach by coming in a bit more aggressive. It features a low and wide stance with a long wheelbase and short overhangs for better handling and enhanced stability. Think somewhere between a small sport ute and a compact hatchback.

You are probably asking if the model was named after the west-coast region of Hawaii, and you would be correct. Hyundai says this region is famous among endurance triathletes and thrill-seeking travelers, and that energetic image is reflected in the innovation and functionality of the new Kona. OK so, like LA meets Gilligan’s Island?

When I look at the Kona I see a lot of the Crosstrek from Subaru, and I would pick that vehicle as the key competitor. Where Hyundai sets itself apart from Subaru is under the hood, as Kona can be had with a sprite turbocharged engine for more engaging driving. Our Ultimate tester arrived with just that as well as AWD, and we enjoyed every moment behind the wheel. Thanks to the Drive Mode Selector, that experience can be enhanced even further thanks to Sport mode.

The base motor for the new Kona is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine rated at 147hp and 132 lb. ft. of torque. Adequate to be sure for a compact cute ute, but with the 175 ponies of this Gamma 1.6-liter turbocharged four with direct injection (and 195 lb. ft. of torque) the little Hyundai can deliver an outstanding driving experience in town and on the open road. Base vehicles are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, but those with the turbo engine see a seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox.

Suspension duties up front are handled by the McPherson strut system with gas shocks, coil springs, and stabilizer bar, but in the rear Hyundai employs different suspension designs depending on whether you opt for the front or all wheels driven version. A rigid torsion beam anchors FWD models while an independent dual-arm multi-link design is under the AWD cars. We found our tester to ride very stable and tackle the cornering with great ease. The vehicle never stepped out on us, and believe me, we pushed it hard many times.

Fortunately, we never had to rely on the many safety systems during our week of spirited driving, but consumers can get great peace of mind in the new Kona thanks to available technology such as forward collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, high beam assist, and driver attention warning. There is also blind spot warning and rear cross traffic collision warning.

Inside is comfortable and decently spacious (for four). We found the Kona easy to drive and operate with everything easy to find and access. Keeping the gimmicks to a minimum these days is a rarity, and Hyundai has done a good job at reducing distractions. They even offer a simple but useful drivers heads-up display. The infotainment system is easy to navigate (no pun intended) and the premium audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability kept us entertained. Our Ultimate tester arrived with leather seating, steering wheel, and shift knob and the center console also features a wireless device-charging pad.

Pricing for the all-new 2018 Hyundai Kona begins at under 20 grand. AWD adds $1,300 to all trim levels. Those trim levels include SE, SEL, Limited, and Ultimate. The turbo motor is available on the upper two models, and our loaded Ultimate AWD tester arrived with a final window sticker of $29,775. Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

The new Hyundai Kona is an interesting arrival, and it will most likely steal consumers from the sedan side of its own showroom. CUVs are the hot ticket these days, and the new Kona will add fuel to that fire. I predict it will be very popular and deservedly so. Whether you are an urban adventurer or just someone looking for a good compact crossover, the new Kona is a definite must-see.

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About the Author

David Goodspeed
David was editor of AutoworldToday at Today Newspapers in the Dallas suburbs until its closing in 2009. He was also webmaster and photographer/videographer. He got started doing photography for the newspaper while working as a firefighter/paramedic in one of his towns, and began working for the newspaper group full-time in 1992. David entered automotive journalism in 1998 and became AutoworldToday editor in 2002. On the average, he drives some 100 new vehicles each year. He enjoys the great outdoors and as an avid fly fisherman, as is his spouse Tish. He especially enjoys nature photography and is inspired by the works of Ansel Adams.