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The New Hyundai Kona is Not Good Enough to Love

Executive Wheels: The 2019 Hyundai Kona is zippy and fun, but fails to compete


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2019 HYUNDAI KONA ULTIMATE AWD​

With the great decline in the sedan business and the ever-increasing popularity of SUVs, just about every car maker out there is making a SUV/Crossover in every market segment except sports cars. So now, one of the hottest segments in the subcompact SUV/Crossover – think Subaru Crosstrek – and this new Kona is the entrant from the Korean car manufacturer Hyundai. There’s been a lot of hype about the debut of the Kona. And while the advertisements and photos make it look like comparable in size to a Jeep Cherokee, it isn’t. It’s a very small vehicle that just looks like it is bigger, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are some very nice vehicles in this segment. I mentioned the Subaru Crosstrek because I have driven it and loved it but make no mistake: it is a beefed-up Subaru Impreza with some extra muscle. It is priced about the same as this Kona, has nearly the same engine and package, and with 2018 sales in the U.S. reaching 144,384-units it is no wonder Hyundai wanted to get in on the action (Hyundai Kona in its 2018 debut year hit 47,090-unit sales in the U.S.).

I am a big fan of Hyundai and its sister company Kia, so I really wanted to love the Kona. And while I did like it, my like stops just short of love, because I found the Kona to be too lightweight and a bit pricey. It does have that famous Hyundai warranty – 10 years/100 thousand miles on the powertrain, 5 years/60 thousand miles on everything and 3 years unlimited mileage for 24/7 roadside assistance, the best in the business – but I wanted more.

If you’re going to come into this market segment with so many other nice options, you have to knock my socks off. After driving the Kona, I’m still wearing socks.

Having said that, this is still a pretty nice vehicle with a lot to recommend it. If I was in the market for a subcompact SUV/Crossover, this Kona would definitely be on my test drive list, and I would hazard a guess that a significant number of test drivers would buy.

It starts with the engine. There are 5 trims in the Kona lineup. The lower models, the SE and the SEL, feature a 2.0-liter, four-banger with 147 horsepower; I didn’t drive either of these, but I would imagine, like the Mazda CX-3, that engine is underpowered. The upper models – the Limited, the Ultimate (which I drove) and the Iron Man Edition – have a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four that puts out some 174 hp that feels like more. I say “puts out” because this Ultimate Kona is very zippy, and when the turbo kicks in on the highway it is like a blue streak. Coupled with a 7-speed, dual clutch auto transmission that is exceedingly responsive and dampers turbo lag, this vehicle can move out.

Plus, even though the car is lightweight, it remains fairly quiet, handles quite well and it is fun to drive. And with an EPA mileage rating of 26 mpg city/29 mpg highway/27 mpg combined, this performance came with very good economy. 

Like most new cars these days this Kona, particularly the Ultimate trim where the only option added is floor mats for $125, has all of the requisite modern technology for plug-ins and ports as well as the safety tech like cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collision- avoidance assist with pedestrian alert. I didn’t avail myself of another feature because of the relatively short test drive, but there’s a Blue Link Connected Car Service app with voice commands where you can use your smart phone to unlock the doors, start the engine remotely, set the climate control, and track and disable the car if it’s stolen. You can do all of this via smartphone, smartwatch, Amazon Echo and Google Home.  

What I liked the most was the cordless phone charging deck that was mixed into a console and intelligently designed to have room for everything without jamming. Plus the phone charger deck was spacious, with enough room for my (large) Samsung Galaxy.

The sound system was also excellent, easy to use and (again) intelligently designed to work for your life. So, for instance, I listen to FM, AM and satellite radio stations, and I could save all of my favorites to one spot so I didn’t have to swap bands and then find the station. Smart. Also, I could easily connect my phone to Bluetooth to listen to podcasts and stream music with only minimal distraction. Smart and easy. The sound system was an upgraded Infinity Premium model with eight speakers that sounded great. Also the leather seating surfaces (plus steering wheel and gear shift knob) were very supple and comfortable.

So, as I said, in this Ultimate trim everything but the car mats were included for a base price of $28,900. With the car mats and the destination charge, and the bottom line is $30,005.

That’s pretty good, but I like a heavier vehicle, or one with a heavier feel, and I know from experience driving many vehicles that for $30,000, I can demand more.

Oh, and I mentioned the Iron Man Edition. For the launch of this Kona, Hyundai partnered with Marvel to promote the movie “Avengers: Endgame” and did a trim that is all tricked out as if “Stark Industries built a crossover.” I saw the pictures of it online and it’s kinda wild. The vehicle is designed with the colors of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit and Hyundai re-designed the front to resemble the mask. It carries a base price of just over $30,000.

I think if Tony Stark actually did built a car, it might look like this, but it would have more moxie.

RATING: THREE-AND-A-HALF WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)  

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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