Oftentimes the automotive industry gets a little too full of itself over awards. Who doesn’t give a “of the year” award now? That being said, some awards are truly deserved, and some vehicles are truly worthy of those accolades.
Case in point – my tester this week. The 2019 Hyundai Kona won a ton of awards, included North American SUV of the Year. It’s good that this subcompact crossover got such attention.
I admit when I heard Hyundai was jumping into this segment, I expected much of the same from this segment that frankly doesn’t excite me. These little bubbly, cutesy small crossovers are usually uninteresting and nondescript. The Kona is different. It’s memorable. I tip my hat to every group, publication and individuals that award the Kona. They all got it right.
Even its looks are sharp, and that’s not something I can say about most subcompact crossovers. There’s flare and styling that give it a modern look, but it’s not too cutesy or garish like some of its competitors.
The front end blends well with the rest of the Hyundai line. It’s the back end, and even on profile, where the Kona’s wow factor kicks in. The C-pillar has a roof line that almost seems to float, but gives way to an attractive spoiler. Well-designed curves start on the hood, then go over the front quarter panel and onto the side panels to tie the entire design together. It’s simply gorgeous from the outside with a fantastic fit and finish.
Full disclosure: I’ve not driven the base engine Kona which is a 2.0-liter 4-banger which sounds pretty sluggish and typical for the poky subcompact crossover segment. Rather, I drove the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder which 175 horsepower and 195 lbs.-ft. of torque.
This squatty little crossover really gets into the performance. It’s surprisingly quick off the line, and there’s only a little bit of turbo lag. The seven-speed automatic transmission is a solid performer. My tester had all-wheel drive, although front-wheel drive is standard. This little Kona actually has some off-road capability with various driver select modes. I’ve seen videos of the Kona in some very rugged situations.
The steering is responsive, and overall the Kona is controlled while also being fun. I can’t say that about too many vehicles in this segment.
The interior of the Kona is equally impressive. For a vehicle at this starting point, it offers more quality touch points than others in this segment. While some rivals have hard plastic materials, the touch points inside the Kona are soft and quality. Leather seats are comfortable and there’s even leather on the steering wheel and shifter, on the Ultimate trim.
Legroom is good for such a small vehicle, although head room could be tough for passengers over 6 feet. The Kona seats five, but four would be more comfortable. Behind the second row is an impressive 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room.
The infotainment system is modern and intuitive. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The eight-inch touchscreen is responsive, but also features a nice assortment of knobs as optional ways to operate the infotainment system. This is definitely one of my favorite systems, because of its simplicity.
There are four trims for the Kona, including the SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate. The SE trim starts under $20,000. My tester was the top-of-the-line Ultimate trim, with AWD and had an MSRP of $28,900.
There is an all-electric version of the Kona available too, which would be of interest for city dwellers or people with shorter commutes. With the turbo and the AWD, my tester had an EPA rating of 26 mpg/city and 29 mpg/highway. FWD Konas can exceed 30 mpg. As tested and as driven (where I got into the turbo frequently), my Kona averaged just over 26 mpg.
As an automotive writer, it is not my job to endorse any vehicle. Nor do I want to be one of those writers that heaps praise endlessly. So, with that in mind, take my praise of the 2019 Hyundai Kona as a fair, honest assessment of one of the best vehicles on the road today. It’s that good. I don’t give out awards, but if I did, Hyundai would have another trophy to put on the shelf for the Kona.
2019 HYUNDAI KONA ULTIMATE AWD
- Price/As-tested price………………………………………… $28,900/$28,900
- Mileage…………………………………… 26 mpg/city; 29 mpg/hwy
- Engine……………………………………… 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
- Horsepower…………………………… 175 hp/195 lbs.-ft.
- Transmission…………………………… 7-speed automatic
- Drive wheels……………. All-wheel drive
- Final assembly point……………. Ulsan, Korea