2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

Hyundai puts other small crossovers on notice.

By Cherise Threewitt, Contributor, Car-ED.com | August 2018

What is this vehicle?

The Hyundai Kona is a new addition to the Hyundai lineup for 2018 and it quickly established itself as a leader in the subcompact SUV and crossover category. The Kona is available with a wide range of options, from reasonably affordable to relatively opulent, but at every step of the way, you get modern styling, a fun attitude, and Hyundai’s excellent warranty and reputation for reliability. The Kona succeeds in making a name for itself in the already hyper-competitive subcompact crossover market. Next year, Hyundai will introduce a fully electric version of the Kona.

Who is this vehicle for?

Take a look at the Kona if you’re shopping for an affordable small crossover, and even consider branching out if you are looking for a small car. The entry-level Kona great choice for buyers with tight budgets; though you’ll spend several thousand dollars more on a base Kona than you will on a bottom-of-the-barrel small car, Hyundai makes it worth your while by providing plenty of value. If you’re considering a mid-range or top-tier Kona trim, you’ll be right in line with its toughest competitors in the subcompact and compact SUV categories.

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

Hyundai is a disruptor when it comes to providing affordable vehicles that don’t sacrifice quality. The company has come a long way in the last 10 years, earning accolades for its reliability and class-leading warranty, both of which should be very important to shoppers at this price point. The Kona brings all that to the table and more. The Kona is a big step forward for the brand in terms of styling and competitiveness, but it keeps Hyundai’s values in mind. It is fun yet practical, attractive without being ostentatious, fun to drive without being wasteful, and efficient without being prudish.

Interesting facts about this vehicle!

For this test drive and review, Hyundai provided the Kona in top-tier Ultimate trim, equipped with all-wheel drive. It really is “Ultimate” — as it includes basically everything the Kona has to offer — but if you’re considering this trim level, we would caution potential buyers to consider compact SUVs and crossovers at this price point, as well. 

The 2018 Kona is available with the choice of two powertrains. The less expensive option is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 147 horsepower, which comes paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. You can also spend a little more and get a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 175 horsepower, which features a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The turbo engine is arguably worth the money, since it provides much more satisfying power and gets similar fuel economy to the base engine.

What Impressed Us / Top Likes:

The Kona Ultimate AWD is rated for 29 mpg on the highway, and during a weekend trip from Chicago to Michigan and back, we achieved average fuel economy of 30.9 mpg. That includes periods of slogging through stop-and-go traffic (which caused instant mpg ratings to dip into the mid-20s) and several longer stretches at high speeds — in other words, we weren’t really trying to maximize fuel economy. The Kona performed admirably nevertheless.

The interior of the Kona is wicked nice. It looks and feels premium, with comfortable power adjustable seats, a really pleasant steering wheel, and awesome matte chartreuse trim around the vents and some of the center stack elements. (That particular trim, which Hyundai includes in the Lime Interior Package, could be polarizing to some potential buyers, but this reviewer loves it.) 

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, while some competitors don’t even offer them.

Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):

There was some turbo lag with the turbocharged engine. It’s sort of inevitable if you want a turbo, and didn’t seriously detract from the driving experience, but it was noticeable.

The cargo area is on the small side for a vehicle in this class. It’s well-outfitted with a nice storage tray under the cargo floor, easy to load and unload, but still, small — both shallow and short. Our full-size cooler took up most of the hatch.

Segment and Competitors:

The Hyundai Kona’s notable competitors in the subcompact SUV/crossover category include:

  • Kia Niro
  • Mazda CX-3
  • Honda HR-V
  • Subaru Crosstrek
  • Buick Encore
  • Chevrolet Trax
  • Jeep Renegade
  • Ford EcoSport

The compact SUV/crossover category also provides some worthy rivals at comparable prices. If you’re cross-shopping the Kona against slightly larger vehicles, consider:

  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Kia Soul and Sportage
  • Honda CR-V
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Ford Escape
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Volkswagen Tiguan

Unique Specifications:

The Kona is a safe bet if you need your new-vehicle dollars to go a long way, since it provides good predicted reliability ratings from J.D. Power and a class-leading powertrain warranty of 10 years or 100,000 miles. The Kona is also more fun to drive than most of its competitors and is the Mazda CX-3’s first serious competition in this area.

Pricing and Availability:

At a starting price of $19,500, the Hyundai Kona undercuts nearly everything else in the subcompact SUV category. The mid-range SEL and Limited trims start at $21,150 and $24,700, respectively. The Kona Ultimate starts at $27,400 and our fully loaded Ultimate AWD with Lime Interior Trim Package rang up at $29,805.