The 2018 Hyundai Kona, all new this year, is the brand's first foray into the small crossover class. The Kona offers a strong value proposition, comfortable ride, and a durable and practical interior, but it suffers from a fussy exterior design and a wonky dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the availability of advanced safety features is a mixed bag.

Best Value

Pricing for the 2018 Hyundai Kona starts at $20,480 (including destination) for a front-wheel-drive SE and rises to $29,680 for an Ultimate model with all-wheel drive. SEL and Limited trims fill the gap between the two. A pair of engine/transmission combinations are offered: SE and SEL models receive a normally-aspirated, 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while Limited and Ultimate versions are equipped with a 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Front-wheel-drive models feature a torsion beam rear suspension, which is swapped out for a multi-link setup in all-wheel-drive versions.

Hyundai's value proposition shows up on even the lowest trim and includes the usual power features plus 16-inch alloy wheels, LED projector headlights and daytime running lights, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a cargo cover.

We'd choose a model similar to our SEL tester. Picking this trim over the base model adds larger 17-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, a proximity key with push button start, satellite radio, heated outside mirrors with turn signals, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. At the same time, we'd opt for all-wheel drive ($1,300), as it comes with a smoother and more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, and add the $1,500 Tech Package with great features like a sunroof (eliminating the claustrophobic feeling we experienced due to the lack thereof on our tester) and a sprinkling of active safety items. Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Hyundai Kona SEL
  • Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
  • Output: 147 hp / 132 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG:25 City / 30 Hwy
  • Options: Tech Package ($1,500, sunroof, eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar, fog lights, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning)
  • Base Price:$23,430 (including a $980 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$24,930

Performance

Hyundai Kona

The 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found on models – like the Limited tester we were able to drive for a couple of hours – features quick off-the-line performance, with maximum torque available at a low and useful 1,500 rpm. Most of our time, however, was spent in an all-wheel-drive SEL equipped with Hyundai's naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine. It managed to do an adequate, though far from thrilling, job of moving the Kona's 3,250 pounds.

Although hardly a back roads corner-carver, the Kona's suspension – calibrated for ride quality over handling – does a nice job of absorbing both major and minor road imperfections, while cornering induces body lean that's typical for a vehicle of this height and class. The steering is nicely weighted, the brakes are easy to modulate, and there's a nice initial bite to the brake pads.

Fuel economy is also decent for both engines, with an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 30 combined for the 2.0-liter engine with front-wheel drive, and 25/30/27 mpg (city/highway/combined) for all-wheel-drive models. We observed a vehicle-measured 28.8 miles per gallon in our SEL tester in a mix of city and highway driving. The 1.6-liter turbo scores an EPA-estimated 28/32/30 mpg with FWD and 26/29/27 mpg with AWD.

At the same time, like most small crossovers, a paltry 6.7 inches of ground clearance won't inspire off-roaders – not that the AWD system is up to the task. The gas mileage in the more fuel efficient turbo also isn't markedly better than the base engine. In addition, peak torque in the normally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine isn't realized until 4,500 rpm, which can make it feel sluggish off the line and passing at freeway speeds, while road noise – a hallmark of many vehicles in this class – is readily apparent, especially over rough and uneven road surfaces. Finally, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission gets a bit wonky when shifting at low speeds and during acceleration, spoiling what should otherwise be the engine of choice.

Style

The Kona looks best when finished in either black or gray, as both colors tend to hide the overzealous application of body cladding. Up front, the designers have borrowed styling cues from the latest Jeep Cherokee pre face-lift, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Here, the narrow band of LED daytime running lights rest atop the fenders, while the headlights sit below, set deeply into – and surrounded by – cladding. Both sets of lights bracket an innocuous trapezoidal-shaped grille.

The black plastic cladding continues along the sides, bulking up around the wheel arches and tricking your eyes into thinking the Kona rides higher than it actually does. It all ends in a flourish, in pods that surround the backup lights and rear reflectors just behind the rear wheel wells in the design's most egregious affront.

Fortunately, it's wrapped around a more conventional interior with high-quality materials, plastics with a slick-looking matte finish, various amounts of sound deadening (depending on trim level), and a logical layout of buttons and knobs. The cloth seats that appoint most trims are comfortable, and the 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats (expanding to 45.8 cubic feet when they're folded) is average for the class and helped by a low loading floor and wide rear hatch opening.

At the same time, the interior doesn't punch above its weight class even in top trims, while lower trims – sans a sunroof – feel dark and downright cave-like. Further, while the Kona can accommodate five adults, we wouldn't recommend it for long drives. Rear head room is sufficient, but leg room can be tight for those above average height.

The Best and Worst Things

A comfortable ride and a pleasing interior with plenty of standard features are a big draw, but that goodness is hampered by a mishmash of styling cues and a wonky seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Right For? Wrong For?

Hyundai Kona

The Kona's combination of ride comfort, versatility, and feature content could be a big draw for value-conscious singles and families.

Despite great crash test scores, the lack of advanced safety features available across the lineup could prove to be a turn off for safety-focused buyers.

The Bottom Line

A fussy design and wonky seven-speed dual-clutch transmission aside, the 2018 Hyundai Kona meets the requirements of an entry-level crossover nicely. It's well priced, offers good fuel economy, a smooth ride, and enough features to stay competitive, and – most importantly for today's shoppers – it's taller than a car. At the end of the day, the Kona is a middle-of-the-pack offering that hopes to garner a piece of the action with offbeat styling.