Turbo power. The 2019 Hyundai Kona is offered with two gasoline engine/transmission options that offer competitive fuel economy, along with a battery-electric version coming early in 2019. SE and SEL trims feature a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, but enthusiasts will gravitate toward the Limited and Ultimate models that feature all-wheel drive and a 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It offers maximum torque at a very usable 1500 rpm, and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension rather than the simpler torsion beam setup found on front-wheel-drive models. While some critics point out that the seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission the turbo-four is mated to isn't the smoothest (especially at low rpm), we didn't experience any transmission-related low-speed performance issues.
The powertrain is aided by a suspension that does a nice job of absorbing road imperfections. Steering is quick, response, and offers plenty of feedback, while it brakes with a nice initial bite that's easy to modulate.
Advanced safety features. Unlike the offerings from Subaru, Volkswagen, Jeep, Ford, and Chevrolet – just to name a few – Hyundai has standardized its advanced safety features across the entire Kona lineup in 2019. All models feature forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and driver attention warning. Stepping up from the base SE adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while the Ultimate model receives a pedestrian detection component, forward collision avoidance, and rear parking sensors.
Intuitive infotainment. Generously equipped at all price points – although the $28,545 Ultimate stretches the definition of value – the Kona's infotainment system sets an example for others to follow. Either a 7- (SE, SEL, Limited) or 8-inch (Ultimate) touchscreen is flanked by distraction-reducing buttons that oversee the major functions, as well as a pair of analog knobs for power/volume and tune/enter/file. The on-screen menu buttons are large, while the software contains very few sub-menus, making set-up, pairing, and station pre-setting a breeze.
Above-class interior, awkward exterior. Like many of Hyundai's offerings, the Kona's interior is a step above its class with higher-rent, matte-finished, nicely-textured interior trim that extends to the cargo space. Plus, cloth on the base model looks and feels better than its price requires, and the front seating position makes ingress and egress easy. But there are oddities – i.e. leather seats but no sunroof on Limited models.
The exterior, however, is as awkward as the interior is good. We have no quarrel with the highly-sculpted body, the narrow taillights, the tall mesh grille, or the high-mounted LED daytime running lights. We do take exception to the Kona's chunky "smart armor" cladding that envelops the Jeep Cherokee-inspired wheel well/headlight pods up front and the wheel well/turn signal/backup light pods that dominate the rear fascia. The plethora of plastic isn't only fussy and awkward, it distracts from what's otherwise a tasteful design.
Final thoughts. The Kona brings Hyundai's value proposition to the small crossover class with an upscale cabin, deft handling, and a standard equipment list that includes a range of advanced safety features. If Hyundai could declutter the exterior, offer a bit more power in the base engine, and swap the DCT for a conventional automatic, we'd call the Kona near-perfect for the class.
Looking at the competition, the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Ford EcoSport, Subaru Impreza hatch, Volkswagen Tiguan Limited, and Honda HR-V offer more passenger space, while the EcoSport, Impreza, Tiguan Limited, HR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Nissan Kicks feature more cargo volume. Finally, the Mazda CX-3, in particular, runs rings around it in the styling department.