By Shari Prymak
Small crossovers may be hugely popular, but the majority out there don’t offer much to get excited about. Many of the offerings are little more than hatchbacks that have just be jacked up and given all-wheel drive in a half-baked effort to cash in on the crossover boom and print large sums of money. The Hyundai Kona follows a similar recipe to its rivals, only here you can tell that some effort has been made to inject a bit of fun and personality into the formula. This may be Hyundai’s first go at a subcompact crossover, but there’s nothing half-baked about it.
The styling, for one thing, sports a design that’s far bolder than that of its main rivals. I’m not sure I’d call it stylish, but there’s no question that all of the interesting details and bright colour options help it stand out in what is otherwise a pretty dreary segment as far as design goes. Dimensionally, the Kona sits on the small end of the subcompact segment, making it comparable in size to a Mazda CX-3, but smaller than a Nissan Qashqai or Honda HR-V.
Despite its small outward appearance, the Kona does have a respectable amount of room up front for adults to stretch out. The backseats and cargo area, however, are rather tight, which will likely limit the Kona’s appeal to singles or couples without children. The centre stack controls are well laid out with plenty of easy to use buttons and knobs. Hyundai’s touchscreen is one of the more intuitive and well-designed infotainment systems on the market thanks to high responsiveness, clear menu structure, and minimal input requirements for common tasks.
Out on the road, the Kona has a surprisingly playful personality to match its quirky outward appearance. The tidy dimensions, combined with precise steering and brake-based torque vectoring, help give it a feeling of agility and nimbleness that’s quite refreshing in a high-riding crossover. The ride quality is reasonably smooth and the rigid structure is free from any rattles or vibrations. As solid as it feels, the Kona still falls short of the ruggedness you’d get from a Subaru Crosstrek, which also boasts superior ground clearance. There’s also a fair bit of road noise that enters the cabin while under way, though that’s somewhat typical in this class.
Most trim levels come equipped with a naturally-aspirated 2.0L 4-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. That’s about on par with what you get from rivals, and probably adequate for most. The more interesting drivetrain is the available 1.6L turbocharged engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Here it produces 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful subcompact crossover next to the Kia Soul SX Turbo. Although I’d prefer a more conventional transmission in a vehicle of this type, the DCT shifts smoothly enough and is a good match to the punchy engine. Fuel economy came to 9.5L/100km over a week of mixed city and highway driving.
Every Kona trim level comes packed with features at a reasonable price. The MSRP starts at $20,999 for the Essential trim in front-wheel drive, which includes features such as heated seats, alloy wheels, backup camera, and a 7 inch touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. The $22,749 Preferred trim adds a heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring, and smart keyless entry. All-wheel drive can be added to either trim for $2,000. At $27,499, the Luxury trim adds leather seats with power driver’s seat, a sunroof, and additional active safety technology. The turbocharged engine can be had on the 1.6T Trend and the top 1.6T Ultimate which, for $31,799, also includes navigation, head-up display, a wireless charging pad, and an Infinity premium audio system.
As far as subcompact crossovers go, the Kona is easily one of the stronger options on the market. With aggressive pricing and a class-leading 5 year or 100,000km comprehensive warranty, there’s real value to be had here. And where most rivals only offer one underpowered engine, the Kona offers a choice including one with a fair amount of power. There are more spacious, family-friendly offerings out there, but for those looking for a bit of fun, personality, and value in their small crossover, the Hyundai Kona is the one to have.