• Car Review

Review: 2018 Hyundai Kona

By David Undercoffler | March 26, 2018

Autolist rating: 4/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $20,450 - $29,650

Key takeaways

-- All-new model for Hyundai.
-- One of the more well-rounded crossovers in its segment.
-- Styling pushes the envelope but is original and well-designed.
-- Base engine and transmission lack power and refinement; we recommend jumping up to the excellent — but optional — turbo powertrain.

What is it?

The Kona is an all-new, subcompact crossover from Hyundai. It’s the brand’s entry-level crossover, and it’s the smaller brother of Hyundai’s other crossovers: the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe.

Small crossovers like the Kona are the fastest growing segment in the industry; consumers who are ditching cars in favor of something practical, small or affordable (or all three) are flocking to models like this.

Thus, every mainstream automaker under the sun has a compact crossover: Ford, Honda, Toyota, Buick, Chevy, Nissan, Fiat, Volvo, Mazda, Mini and Subaru.

Though Hyundai is late to the game, its done its homework with the Kona. There are two powertrains split across four trim levels: SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate.

The SE and SEL models come with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Limited and Ultimate models come with a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower and a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

All models come standard with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is an additional $1,300.

What’s good

TLDR: Well-priced, well-rounded and safe.

Value. While the loaded Ultimate model is too rich for our blood, the lower-end trim levels pack a lot of vehicle into a small price, particularly the base SE, SEL and Limited versions. In addition to their amenities, the build quality and comfort is excellent for the price.

Safety. Hyundai also packed a lot of safety gear into the Kona. The basic SE version has standard hill descent control and a backup camera. The SEL, which Hyundai expects to be the most popular version, adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts; shoppers can add to that a $1,500 package that includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist and driver attention warning.

Jack-of-all-trades. Some of the Kona’s competitors dial up the rugged (Subaru and Jeep), while some play up the urban (Toyota and Nissan). This Hyundai splits the difference with its styling; it will fit in just as well on a camping trip as it will on your commute downtown.

What’s bad

TLDR: Tight rear seats, expensive when loaded, base engine is weak and loud.

The rear seats. In the Kona, both legroom and headroom are tight in the rear seats — nearly every one of its competitors has more room back there. So if you’re regularly carrying tall people back there, this could be an issue.

Loaded indeed. Buyers who tick every option box on the Kona will end up paying just under $30,000 for a fully loaded all-wheel-drive version. That’s a lot of money for a small, entry-level crossover from a non-luxury brand. The good news is that you can easily live without nearly all of the features that drive the price up so high.

Cheap engine. While the base SE and the volume-selling SEL are certainly a good value, some of that is because Hyundai went the cheap route on the engine in those models. It’s noisy and underpowered; if you can afford it, the turbocharged engine and sophisticated transmission on the Limited is excellent and well worth the upgrade.

5 stars of execution

Safety? Yes

  • As we mentioned, all trim levels of the Kona do a nice job of keeping its passengers safe.
  • The SEL with the $1,500 Tech package has a nice level of safety gear for a good price; we’d just like to see those features be made available on the Limited version too.
  • While the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have yet to crash test the Kona, Hyundai says it expects to get a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS and a five-star crash test rating from NHTSA.

Value? Yes

  • As we noted, all Kona models come with a backup camera with guidance lines, a seven-inch touchscreen audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights and 60/40 split rear seats.
  • The Limited ($25,650 for front-wheel drive) would be our choice: it has the great turbocharged powertrain plus a nice mix of features.

Efficiency? No

  • The all-wheel-drive Kona models that we tested were rated at 25/30/27 mpg city/highway/combined for the base engine and 26/29/27 mpg city/highway/combined for the optional turbo engine.
  • Those figures aren’t bad, but they could be better. Many of the Kona’s rivals beat those numbers and they’ve been on the market longer.

Driving experience? Yes

  • The handling and comfort in both Kona models that we tested were excellent, particularly for their entry-level status in Hyundai’s crossover lineup.
  • The power and acceleration depends on which model you choose. Though it’s more expensive, we’d recommend getting the Limited model since it comes with the optional turbocharged engine and seven-speed transmission. The base engine was too noisy and underpowered, while this optional powertrain was refined and offered ample power.

Execution? Yes

  • Though they’re late to the subcompact crossover game, Hyundai has clearly done its homework and put together a remarkably well-rounded vehicle.
  • The Kona suits the needs of a wide variety of crossover shoppers: its exterior design blends urban and rugged elements, it’s a nice size for street parking and maneuverability while also holding decent amounts of cargo (despite the tight rear seats), and its build quality feels stout despite its bargain starting price.

Total Rating: 4 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

The base Kona SE with front-wheel drive starts at a mere $20,450, making it one of the more affordable subcompact crossovers on the market.

That base price includes a backup camera, a seven-inch touchscreen audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights and rear seats that are split 60/40 and fold flat.

This base Kona is front-wheel drive but, as with all Kona trims, all-wheel drive is a $1,300 option.

Next in the hierarchy is the Kona SEL, which starts at $22,100. It adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring, keyless entry and heated mirrors.

That’s a nice amount of goodies. What’s missing? Power. The SE and SEL have the weaker 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine and the automatic transmission.

The higher-end Limited and Ultimate have the more sophisticated (and yes, powerful) 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower and seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

We tested both engine/transmission combos, and we were impressed with the power and seamless shifting of the optional engine; if you can swing the price difference, we definitely recommend the upgrade.

Our favorite version of the Kona is the Limited, which is starts at $25,650 for the front-wheel-drive model.

Not only does this have the better engine/transmission, but it also adds leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a fog light, LED headlights and taillights, a moonroof, power driver’s seat and automatic climate control.

At the top of the heap is the $28,350 Ultimate (our test model added floor mats for a grand total of $29,775). This is getting into pricey territory for such a small model, so we’d avoid spending this much money on one. If you are still interested, the Ultimate includes pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, an eight-speaker stereo system with subwoofer, a heads-up display, digital color screen in the instrument panel, an eight-inch touchscreen navigation system and wireless phone charging.

Also consider

As we mentioned, small crossovers like the Kona are the hottest thing in the industry, so you can bet nearly every automaker has a model to sell.

The best all-arounders in the segment include Honda’s HR-V and Chevy’s Trax, though this Kona matches both in its jack-of-all-trades abilities.

Toyota’s C-HR is worth a look, though some are put off by its styling and its smaller cargo area.

Jeep’s Renegade and Subaru’s Crosstrek earn praise for their ruggedness and ability to cut through awful road conditions.

Nissan has a new model called the Kicks that is due to go on sale in June. We’d skip Mazda’s CX-3 since its interior is too small to be useful. Also skip the Fiat 500X.