by: Mike Ginsca,
Subcompact crossovers are everywhere! Consumers like them for their slightly higher driving position than hatchbacks. Manufacturers like them because they can make more money off them than normal hatchbacks. Just about every major auto manufacturer has one for sale and now the Hyundai Kona is the newest kid on the block. So how does it compare to the likes of the Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, and so on?
Engine – The Hyundai Kona can be had with two engines. A 2.0L naturally aspirated engine is available in the lower trims with front-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel-drive. This Ultimate trim however is powered by the optional 1.6L turbocharged engine. It produces 175hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, the most of any other subcompact crossover. With a weight of around 1,500 kg, the Kona feels peppy when accelerating. Peak torque is generated between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm which gives it a good burst of acceleration. A hint of turbo lag is noticeable at low rpms only if you’re in a high gear and using manual mode for the transmission, preventing it to downshift to raise the rpms. But otherwise the engine response is good depending on which drive mode the car is in.
The 1.6T engine is not quite as economical as the competition. During my week with the Kona, I managed an average fuel economy rating of 8.5 L/100km. Not far off from Hyundai’s official combined rating of 8.6 L/100km but higher than the CX-3 at 8.2 and Nissan Kicks at 7.2, granted the Kicks is not available with AWD.
Transmission – You get 7 gears with the 1.6T engine, 6 for the 2.0L engine, but the 7-speed automatic in this is not a traditional automatic. It is in fact a dual-clutch transmission. This type of transmission provides rapid and smooth gear changes with no delay from driver inputs. But it does have a couple downfalls. When starting up the car on a cold day, the transmission can feel a bit jerky when setting off from a stop. Once it warms up though, setting off from a stop is buttery smooth. Another minor issue is that this type of transmission uses dry clutches not wet clutches like Porsche’s PDK. The advantage of a dry clutch is better fuel economy but in heavy stop/go traffic, it can overheat causing jerky acceleration from a stop or worse, cause excessive wear.
Braking – Stopping the 2019 Hyundai Kona doesn’t take too much effort from the driver. The pedal is smooth and easy to modulate but it doesn’t feel as crisp and sharp as in the Mazda CX-3.
Handling – Undoubtedly one of the best handling subcompact crossovers is the Mazda CX-3. But it’s reign may be coming to an end because the 2019 Hyundai Kona is right behind it. The Kona grips the road like a cat grips a curtain when it tries to climb up it. Coupled with the peppy 1.6T engine and the fast shifting dual-clutch transmission and the Hyundai Kona is fun to drive for what it is. Steering feel though is not quite as good as on the CX-3 which is why I would give the Mazda a slight edge in terms of overall joy to drive over the Hyundai.
Ride Comfort – The Kona rides a bit harsher than other crossovers (apart from the CX-3) but it’s not uncomfortable or jarry by any means. Smaller bumps and cracks in the roads are ironed out with only larger bumps unsettling the car.
Interior Space – The front seats are spacious enough for taller occupants both in terms of leg and head room. The back seats though are best used by children as leg room is tight but head room is decent. The trunk is bigger than that of the Mazda CX-3 but fold the seats down, and the CX-3 edges the Kona for cargo space.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – It’s not the quietest crossover but it’s also not the loudest. Engine noise intrudes into the cabin if you really push hard on the throttle pedal. Wind and road noise is also quite noticeable when on a highway but it’s not as bad a other in this segment.
Interior Design – There is nothing special about how the interior of the Kona looks. It follows the same styling as other Hyundai vehicles. All of the buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel are well laid out and clear to understand. There’s a sense of familiarity with Hyundai’s these days as every function is where you’d expect it to be.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The Hyundai Kona is available with pretty much the same gadgets as all other Hyundai vehicles. The only thing that’s really missing is adaptive cruise control and ventilated front seats but most of us can do without those.
One thing that I can do without is the heads-up display. Normally I like a HUD unit. But what I don’t like with the Kona’s HUD is that it’s projected onto a piece of glass that pops up from the top of the dashboard. I prefer the HUDs that project onto the windshield because it generally allows for a bigger screen and is more clear.
Exterior Design – The Kona is among the first of Hyundai’s new vehicles to have a new styling language. I personally don’t like the look of the “squinty” LED daytime running lights on top and the low/high beam headlights lower down. It just looks odd to me. The back does look a bit better in my eyes but it would look better still if the turn signals were integrated with the brake lights. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What do you think of the exterior design of the Hyundai Kona? Leave a comment at the bottom of this review.
Overall the 2019 Hyundai Kona is a very good subcompact crossover SUV. Prices start at $20,999 CAD which is towards the lower end of the subcompact crossover market. For that you only get FWD but it does come with heated front seats and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. This 1.6T Ultimate trim is $31,799 CAD but it does come with literally everything one would need in this type of vehicle. Plus on top of that, it’s a good drive.
Thank you to Hyundai Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Hyundai.ca
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.