Hyundai made hay during the Great Recession selling its affordable and economical sedans.
But once the economy began its recovery, buyers fell back in love with crossovers. Saddled with a portfolio rich in sedans but thin on CUVs, the Korean maker’s fortunes sagged.
But ever resilient and resourceful, Hyundai has mounted an impressive rebound strategy.
In 2017, it debuted the Kona ($19,900), a subcompact, five-passenger crossover that quickly became a stalwart of the stable. Then, earlier this year, the three-row Palisade dropped. It, too, wasted no time finding takers.
We recently tested a 2019 Kona. Now in its second year, Kona’s standard features list grows and its roster of safety and driver-assist features deepens.
Standard features for the base SE include automatic headlights, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat and 60/40 split-folding rear seats.
Its wheels measure 16 inches.
Tech features include a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and a six-speaker audio system.
Forward-collision alert with automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and a driver-attention monitor are now standard on every Kona.
The 2019 Kona is available in four well-equipped trims, with front- or all-wheel-drive and with a choice of two powerplants.
An EV variant ($36,950) is marketed separately.
Character on tap
A rarity among small crossovers, the Kona drips with character. There’s drama in its sculpted body work and its cabin is crisply drawn and thoughtfully executed.
Hyundai’s user-friendly infotainment system is anchored by a touchscreen mounted to the top of the dash, where it’s easily scanned and operated from the driver’s seat.
Some of its virtual buttons are too small; otherwise the system does what’s asked of it, while mostly staying out of the way.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. The SE, SEL, and Limited trims come with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, while the Ultimate gets an 8.0-inch unit that includes navigation with real-time traffic updates.
A 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission and powers the SE and SEL ($21,900) trims. The upper trims — the Limited ($25,900) and Ultimate ($26,500) — are motivated by a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four paired with a seven-speed automated manual.
The 2.0-liter engine powers the Kona from 0-60 mph in 11 seconds, which is slow even by class standards. Despite the dual-clutch transmission’s reluctance to shift decisively at low speeds, the turbo easily bests the competition with a 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds.
Nimble and responsive
All-wheel-drive is a $1,300 option on all Kona trims and brings with it a more sophisticated rear suspension. A lockable center differential improves traction at low speeds in snowy conditions.
The Kona is nimble in traffic and handles well in the corners. It’s sportier than most of its competitors and, when fitted with its upscale engine choice, quicker too.
Its ride is firm but compliant. The Kona is too small to entirely dispatch the jolt of a pothole and rough road surfaces can tax its suspension. Broken pavement encountered mid-corner can upset its composure and make it feel jittery and unsettled.
Steering is nicely weighted but numb, delivering to the driver minimal information from the road surface. A vague on-center channel allows the Kona to wander in its lane.
Durable materials, solid construction
Four adults can get comfortable inside, though rear-seat legroom is predictably tight. The cargo area is smaller than those of the segment’s leaders. Casual cabin storage options are limited.
Fit and finish is very good and the cabin feels durable and well constructed. Aside from the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever, though, hard plastics dominate. A blend of textured surfaces dresses things up some but the overall impression is one of practicality, not luxury.
With two all-new CUVs anchoring the lineup, Hyundai loyalists now can look forward to next year’s launch of the fourth-generation Tucson compact crossover. It’s currently touring the auto show circuit as the Vision T concept, and is dashing enough to fire Hyundai’s prospects in a critical segment.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD
Vehicle base price: $19,900
Trim level base price: $28,900
As tested: $30,005 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Our AWD Ultimate tester came with no options
Tow rating: not rated for towing
EPA rating: 27 combined/26 city/29 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified