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Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate

For a small SUV that’s only been around for two years, the Kona sure has piled up the awards and the love.

That includes the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, an award bestowed by automotive journalists. And this is for a vehicle that can be yours for well under $30k.

For years I’ve touted the Santa Fe as one of my favorite lower-priced SUVs on the market. Well, now the South Korean automaker has a little sibling for the Santa Fe and Tucson to mentor. And that younger sib is already stealing the attention.

The Basics

The Kona is a five-passenger subcompact SUV, so it’s competing against the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V.

There are four trim levels to choose from, starting with the base SE and working your way up to the one I drove for a week, the Ultimate. Even the SE has a nice complement of standard features. By the time you get to the Ultimate it’s swimming in nice add-ons.
The lower trims are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, while the Limited and Ultimate get a turbo-powered 1.6-liter that puts out 175 horsepower.

On the outside I found the stylings of the Kona to be a bit polarizing. Some people made a sour face, but others (me included) think it’s a unique, fun exterior.

For what you get, I think you’ll forgive any issues you may have with the looks.

The Inside

Okay, so you’re not cuddled with luxury inside the Kona. But you’re also not paying $65,000.

While some may ding the vehicle for not having the snazziest of materials, I truly found no issues. Yeah, there’s a bit of plastic, but in no way does the car feel cheaply made. And if you opt for the Ultimate trim level, it comes with leather seats.

In fact, I found it surprisingly comfortable. Plus, there’s good space in this subcompact, with the exception of a tight fit for any supersized backseat passengers. Up front, no problems.

The controls and dashboard are laid out in a pleasing, easy-to-grasp manner.

Storage up front is about average, nothing to crow about. But there’s a nice space in front of the shifter to add some of your stuff.

Once you get to the way-back the storage issue is a little more of an issue for some. But once you fold down the rear seats you have more to work with. And, let’s be honest: If you’re in the market for a subcompact SUV, you’re not in the hauling business.

The Drive

Let me start with one negative before I gush.

There were times when the Kona seemed to hesitate just a touch at acceleration. It’s not a jackrabbit.

But once you get going, it accelerates nicely. In fact, measured from zero-to-60, the Kona stacks up much better than many of its competitors. It’s not a slacker.

The steering was about average, braking about the same. Handling, however, was terrific. I took the Kona out on some windy roads in the foothills outside Denver and had a blast. It’s well-designed for twists and turns.

It also delivers a fairly-smooth ride, too, with no noticeable jolts or bumps. Again, when you factor in the cost, you’re getting a great drive.

The Tech

Here’s another area where the Kona shines. Depending on your trim level, the tech toys are numerous.

Great safety features are standard in the Ultimate trim level. Other standard tech items include an 8-inch color touchscreen, rain-sensing wipers, and a gorgeous heads-up display. In fact, that display is one of the best I’ve seen.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. The Infinity premium audio system sounded very good, too.

More than anything, big kudos to the engineers for making the Kona super simple to operate. All the controls, from climate to audio to phone integration are easy and intuitive.

The Bottom Line

It’s a crowded, competitive market for crossover/SUVs today, and doing battle in the smaller segment is tough.

But Hyundai, which already has successful entries like the Santa Fe and Tucson, has another remarkable choice. And, just to up the ante, you can opt for an electric version, too.

Look, there are no fancy extras or mind-blowing bells and whistles with the Kona. It doesn’t need them. This is a solid, fun-to-drive, well-priced SUV that gets good mileage and delivers plenty of tech upgrades.

It deserves serious consideration in your shopping.

The Details

2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD
1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine
175 horsepower
7-speed transmission
Fuel economy: 26/29/27 combined
MSRP: $28,900
As tested: $30,005

Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer


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