2020 Hyundai Kona review from Driving.ca

July 8th, 2020 by

This review appears on Driving.ca July 2, 2020.  Written by Brian Harper.  Click here to go to Driving.ca

SUV Review: 2020 Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai Kona’s strength lies in the sum of its parts.

Talk about a walk-off home run. In its first full year of sales, almost 26,000 compact-sized Kona crossovers were sold in 2019, making it Hyundai’s second-best selling vehicle in Canada, just behind the larger Tucson. Clearly indicative of the continued strength of the entire SUV market generally and the compact segment specifically, it’s equally indicative that Hyundai got it right with its sporty offering. Not that it’s a marvel in any one particular area, but the Kona’s strength lies in the sum of its parts.

Now, the caveat is that this is the topline version being tested, the $32,249 Ultimate AWD, complete with the stronger turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder as opposed to the base 2.0L four-cylinder that’s standard in the lesser trims. In addition to an extra 28 horsepower (175 vs. 147) and, more importantly, 63 more pound-feet of torque (195 vs. 132), the Ultimate’s turbo four is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, not the six-speed automatic that comes with the base Kona. So, with peak torque arriving at 1,500 rpm and hanging on until 4,500 rpm, the Ultimate’s performance dynamics are decidedly upgraded.
Naturally, this is all relative. It’s not going to shred tarmac with its blinding speed, but it gets the job done. The 1,500-kilogram crossover accelerates to 100 km/h in about seven seconds, zippy enough for the segment in which it competes — think of the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, and Subaru Crosstrek as its primary rivals.
The turbo 1.6 is a busy little unit under load, though, with a determined growl when working hard, smoothing out nicely at a constant speed. Booting along the highway at a steady 120 km/h has the engine ticking over at about 2,500 rpm, making it fairly unstressed and pretty fuel efficient for long-distance travelling. I averaged 8.5 L/100 kilometres during the week, mostly highway and lightly travelled back roads. The bonus is that this turbo engine runs on regular, 87-octane gas.
Unlike many of its competition, which are fitted with continuously variable transmissions, the Kona’s seven-speed DCT is a rarity. The EcoShift is a Hyundai-developed unit that seemed well suited to the engine, with efficient, relatively seamless shifting.
For what it’s worth, there are three drive modes available to play with, Normal being the default, with Sport and Eco also available. Sport places a greater emphasis on acceleration with earlier downshifts on braking, while Normal mode slightly prioritizes fuel economy over performance with a more conservative, lower-rpm shift schedule. For what it’s worth, I couldn’t discern much advantage being in Sport, and didn’t like the fact the transmission was slow to upshift to a higher gear once acceleration was finished.
I can’t speak for the other trim levels — the front-wheel-drive Essential and Preferred, plus the all-wheel-drive Trend and Luxury — but Hyundai’s assertion the Kona was developed with a focus on enhanced driving dynamics as well as responsive performance bears witness with the Ultimate. For its size (it’s 4,165 millimetres long), the Kona’s long wheelbase and wide track give the crossover a planted stance and an agility that makes it easy get in and out of traffic, its P235/45R18 tires providing surefooted traction.
The front suspension is MacPherson strut with gas-filled shock absorbers and a hollow stabilizer bar. For AWD models, the rear suspension uses an independent, dual-arm multi-link design. The Kona does a good job filtering out rougher road surfaces but, given its small stature, can only do so much — I live in a city with major, ongoing road construction, and it’s impossible to ignore the pounding just getting around.
The Kona’s motor-driven power steering is quieter than traditional hydraulic systems; it also has a light touch to it, making it easy to wheel the crossover in and out of traffic, as well as park in tight spaces.
Given the generally positive driving experience, not to mention the Kona’s strong, athletic look, the cabin proves to be a bit disappointing. It’s not the content; the Ultimate is well featured with the usual modern conveniences plus a couple of extras, such as a heated steering wheel and a heads-up display not always found in competitive makes. It projects speed, navigation instructions, lane-keeping assist alerts, and audio system information.

The downside — on a vehicle costing more than $32,000 — is the amount of black plastics throughout the cabin, alleviated only by anodized accents the approximate shade of the exterior colour. Admittedly, this might be more noticeable to people downsizing into the Kona than to buyers moving up. As a family vehicle, though, the comfort of those occupying the rear seats will most definitely be determined by the amount of legroom the front-seat occupants take up. In simpler terms, it can be a squeeze for those of taller persuasion. Cargo capacity is reasonable if not class leading, with 544 litres behind the rear seats and 1,296 with the seats folded.
Since its unlamented early days of uninspired vehicles like the Pony, Stellar and Excel — and yes, I’ve tested them all — Hyundai has, in the subsequent decades, become a purveyor of thoughtfully designed and executed cars and crossovers. The Kona, the gateway all-wheel-drive model to the company’s SUV lineup, is indicative of this continuous improvement. It impresses with its attractive looks and competitive pricing. Furthermore, the Ultimate trim level is entertaining to drive, reasonably fuel efficient and well contented with mod-cons and safety features. Not perfect, it nonetheless stands out in an increasingly crowded field of subcompacts.
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