KONA, Hawaii — Named after the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, the all-new Hyundai Kona was formally introduced by the automaker at that very location this month.
Although it technically went on sale in February, the full dealership launch of the Kona is set for next month, when Hyundai aims to have sufficient inventory of the vehicle on hand at its U.S. dealers. At the start, dealers had at least one of the Kona in stock, company officials told automotive journalists at the Hawaii introduction.
Kona joins the Hyundai lineup as the brand’s entry-level crossover vehicle, and it plays in an increasingly crowded field that includes such competitors as the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke and the also all-new Nissan Kicks.
Hyundai says the Kona is aimed at “urban adventurers,” mostly of the millennial generation. It has room for up to five passengers, and there’s a decently sized cargo area behind the second row, with 19.2 cubic feet of space.
Prices begin at $19,500 (plus $950 freight) for the base SE model with front-wheel drive, a normally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
They range as high as $28,700 for the Ultimate all-wheel-drive model – the one we tested – which comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a seven-speed EcoShift dual-clutch (automatic) transmission. The Ultimate with front drive and the same engine/transmission combination is $27,400.
Other trim levels include the SEL ($21,150) and Limited ($24,700). The SEL with a contrast roof is $21,300. These prices are for front-wheel-drive versions, but all-wheel drive is available at all levels for an additional $1,300.
SE and SEL models are available only with the 2.0-liter engine, which is rated at 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque. It’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Limited and Ultimate models get the 1.6-liter turbo, rated at 175 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. It comes with the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.
EPA ratings are 27 mpg city/33 highway/30 combined for the 2.0-liter engine with front drive, or 25/30/27 with all-wheel drive; and 28/32/30 for the 1.6-liter with front drive, or 26/29/27 with all-wheel drive.
Kona joins the Tucson, Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport in Hyundai’s lineup of SUVs, and helps position Hyundai to take advantage of the growing consumer demand for small sport utilities, the so-called B-segment, which are replacing traditional cars for many consumers. In Hyundai’s U.S. lineup, the Kona is positioned below the compact Tucson.
Hyundai says the Kona was “developed to provide customers with a true SUV experience,” with “SUV-level ground clearance and an elevated seating position” for better visibility from the cabin. Ground clearance is 6.7 inches, which is about typical for the class.
Passenger space has been optimized by limiting the intrusion of the all-wheel-drive and exhaust systems to “reduce central tunnel intrusion,” Hyundai says. The rear suspension layout allows for a lower floor and seating position, bringing what the automaker calls “class-leading headroom and ease of access for rear passengers.”
To increase hauling capacity when the rear seat isn’t needed for passengers, the split-folding rear seatback folds flat, and a two-level loading floor allows for easy transport of a bicycle or golf clubs. Folding the seatback expands the cargo area to 45.8 cubic feet.
Safety features include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, which uses the car’s front-facing camera and radar to detect a potential collision and avoid impact or minimize damage by braking automatically.
Other features using the front camera are the Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist and Driver Attention Warning systems. Lane Keep Assist steers the car automatically back into its lane if it drifts over the line. There is also Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.
The Driver Attention Warning system monitors driver-related characteristics to detect driver fatigue or careless driving,” Hyundai says.
Advanced infotainment and connectivity technology includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and there is also a rearview camera system on all models.
Hyundai’s new Head-Up Display projects vehicle speed and other information onto a clear glass panel behind the instrument panel to enable the driver to keep attention on the road.
Wireless smartphone charging is available on all Kona models. The charging pad is in the center console storage area, and indicates when the phone has fully charged. It also reminds you to take your phone with you as you exit the vehicle. There are USB and 12-volt power outlets in the front of this cubby.
Three driving modes (Sports, Normal and Eco) allow the driver to set the transmission for individual driving styles. In Sport mode, there is better acceleration with early downshift on braking; the Eco mode optimizes fuel economy.
The stylish exterior includes an athletic-looking front end punctuated by the signature Hyundai cascading mesh grille and flared wing-like fenders. Also adding to the bold look are the LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. At the rear are LED taillights.
Kona also has available rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power tilt/slide sunroof and automatic high beams.
The light and rigid body structure, with a long wheelbase (102.4 inches) and short overhangs, maximizes interior space and enhances crash safety.
We had plenty of power with the 1.6-liter turbo engine in our Ultimate all-wheel-drive tester, which we spent two full days in exploring the coastline and the mountainous areas of the Big Island.
Even on the uphill runs in the middle of the island, where the terrain rises from sea level to more than 7,000 feet in a short drive, the engine did not falter. We did not, however, attempt to drive to the Mauna Kea Observatory, which is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level.
Roadhandling was surprisingly good for the Kona, which we gave a good test on many of the island’s twisty roads.
Ride comfort was above average for a vehicle in this class, and we found the front bucket seats to be accommodating for daylong drives.
While we never had any rear passengers, we did sit back there while parked just to see how it felt. The outboard positions are decent for average-size adults; the middle position is best left to a child seat and accompanying child.
Standard features on our Ultimate tester included leather seats/steering wheel/shifter, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, the rain-sensing wipers, the sunroof, heated outside mirrors with turn signals, eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, proximity key with pushbutton start/stop, the head-up display and the wireless phone charging.
We also had an eight-inch touch-screen navigation/audio system with rearview camera; Infinity premium eight-speaker, 315-watt audio with HD and satellite radio and Cari-Fi Music Restoration Technology, and Hyundai’s BlueLink connected services, similar to GM’s OnStar, with three-years of standard service.
Our tester came with the Pulse Red exterior and black interior. Other color choices include Chalk White, Ultra Black, Sonic Silver, Thunder Gray, Surf Blue and Lime Twist. Also available is a special roof with a contrasting color scheme, for the SEL model.
The base price of our Ultimate AWD was $28,700; the only option was carpeted floor mats ($125). Total sticker price was $29,775, including freight and the floor mats.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2018 Hyundai Kona
The package: Subcompact, five-door, four-cylinder, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger crossover utility vehicle..
Highlights: Hyundai joins the growing small SUV (”B”) segment with the introduction of the 2018 Kona, a crossover smaller than its Tucson model, with a stylish exterior, well-designed interior and choice of two four-cylinder engines.
Negatives: Back seat tight for three adults.
Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, normally aspirated (SE, SEL trims); 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (Limited, Ultimate trims).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (2.0 engine); seven-speed EcoShift dual-clutch automatic (1.6 engine).
Power/torque: 147 HP/142 foot-pounds (2.0); 175 HP./195 foot-pounds (1.6).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock, with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
Electronic stability control: Standard, including traction control.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain, both rows.
Overall length: 164 inches.
Cargo capacity: 19.2 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 45.8 cubic feet (rear seatbacks folded).
Curb weight (range): 2,892-3,259 pounds.
Towing capacity: Not recommended.
Fuel capacity/type: 13.2 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/33 highway/30 combined (2.0, front drive); 25/30/27 (2.0, AWD); 28/32/30 (1.6, front drive); 26/29/27 (1.6, AWD).
Major competitors: Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Soul, Buick Encore.
Base price range: $19,500-$28,700 plus $950 freight.
Price as tested: $29,775, including freight and options (Ultimate AWD).
On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.