2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Review - Double Take

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (175 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm)
Seven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
26 city / 29 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.0 city, 8.0 highway, 8.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$28,700 (U.S) / $31,799 (Canada)
As Tested
$29,805 (U.S.) / $33,704 (Canada)
Prices include $980 destination charge in the United States and $1,905 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

One of my personal auto reviewer “rules” is that I try to test any vehicle I drove on a press junket later, at home, even if it’s months later (and even if it’s many months before I get around to writing about it). I do this because the potholed roads and unpredictable weather of the city I call home stand in stark contrast to the pleasant places where automakers hold their splashy first drive events.

I also do this because driving a car in normal grocery-getting duty is different than driving it hard on a twisty road, because I don’t always get to drive on the freeway on a junket, and because a car reveals things about itself over the course of several days or a week that it wouldn’t in just a few hours.

Enter the 2018 Hyundai Kona. Several months after driving it on the Big Island of Hawaii (not long before that volcano erupted — the same one I toured while there. Did I piss off the volcano gods somehow?), I took possession of one here in Chicago. Would I think differently about the Kona, in one way or another, after a week behind the wheel? Or would I just end up confirming my first-drive review?

Spoiler: It’s more the latter than the former.

This almost certainly because the same trim I drove in Hawaii showed up at my door – an Ultimate AWD with a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder putting out 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.

Those are far from eye-popping numbers, but the 1.6L gets the job done, at least if you’re not on the freeway. The Kona doesn’t feel fast, exactly, but quick enough to get you from stoplight to stoplight without drama. It does run out of breath a bit when merging, however. There’s also a bit of a delay to get the engine spooled up; the seven-speed automatic transmission could be a bit quicker on the downshift.

The most appealing aspect of the Kona, to me, is its handling. It’s sprightlier than a small crossover should be, with appropriately stiff steering. It’s fun to toss it around a corner, although the ride is a bit stiff. Slight lack of power aside, the Kona remains one of the more fun to drive small crossovers simply because Hyundai managed to dial some amusement into it.

I’m still curious how the 1.6-liter pairs to a front-drive Kona, or how the base engine/transmission combo work together, but OEMs love to throw full-zoot models into press fleets, no matter how representative they are (or aren’t) of the overall take-rate breakdown by trim.

As I said before, you can get a lot of content on your Kona if you’re willing to lay out the cash. In this case, that cash outlay is almost $30K before any incentives. Yep, for a subcompact/compact crossover (Hyundai calls it a compact in its press materials, but most observers would slot it in the subcompact class), that’s a tidy sum.

The only option on my test vehicle was carpeted floor mats. Standard features included blind-spot collision warning with lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning, 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, sunroof, head-up display, leather seats, keyless entry and starting, wireless cell-phone charger, satellite radio, premium audio, Hyundai’s BlueLink infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and navigation.

Fuel economy checks in at 26 mpg city/29 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

Judging by the comments y’all left on my first drive of the Kona, the styling is somewhat, um, polarizing. It’s grown on me over time, watching Konas proliferating on the streets of my town, but I get that it’s not for everyone. The gaping grille and squinting headlights are the kinds of styling elements that divide, not unite, and the narrow taillights can be off-putting, too. I think the lower lights at each corner are a bit busy. Still, the overall look is at least tolerable to my eye, if not sexy.

Inside, the cabin is far simpler, with less fuss and muss, although a tacked-on center screen mars the look and body-color accents struck me as silly. Materials felt a little low-rent for the price.

The Kona isn’t the oddest-looking crossover in the class, at least. Thank you, Toyota C-HR.

If you can stomach the looks, and you’re willing to open your pocketbook a bit, a top-trim Kona is a fine around-town runabout. I’d still like to spend time with the other engine – our own Bark was not happy when he test drove that version – and I still wonder if a Limited trim with FWD is the best way to option out a Kona with the 1.6L.

Overall, though, my impressions from Hawaii translated back to the mainland. The Kona is a pretty decent, if not overpriced and overstyled, small crossover.

In other words – forget touring volcanoes. It’s a fine grocery-getting errand-runner, as long as you can live with the looks.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Gtem Gtem on Apr 15, 2019

    "but the 1.6L gets the job done, at least if you’re not on the freeway. The Kona doesn’t feel fast, exactly, but quick enough to get you from stoplight to stoplight without drama. It does run out of breath a bit when merging, however." Good heavens, how could we ever survive having to merge onto the highway with 175hp/195ft-lb torque?! Are you just a jaded autojourno high on V8s and other hi-po machinery or what? My wife's Camry with 175hp gets up to speed quite promptly, I've commuted on highways in 110hp Rangers and even safely gotten on the highway in one with a full payload.

  • Doug Dolde Doug Dolde on Apr 20, 2019

    I'd never buy a Korean car

  • Glennbk Please Mitsubishi, no more rebranded Nissan products.
  • Wolfwagen What I never see when they talk about electric trucks is how much do these things weigh and how much does that detract from the cargo-carrying capacity?
  • Wolfwagen I dont know how good the Triton is but if they could get it over here around the $25K - $30K They would probably sell like hotcakes. Make a stripped down version for fleet sales would also help
  • 3SpeedAutomatic You mentioned that Mitsubishi cars had lost their character. Many brands are losing that that element as well. GM is giving up on the ICE Camaro and Dodge on the ICE Challenger. There goes the Bad Boy image. Might as well get your teeth pulled and dentures put in place. Would like to see a few EVOs with cherry bomb exhaust and true 4 cylinder BIG blower turbos; 4 wheel drift capacity is mandatory!!🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos Here in my overseas summer palace, I filled up my tank twice in May, at 68 and 52 euros (a full 90+ liter tank fillup has taken 130-135 Euros in the past, and I am 23 miles from downtown here, while only 1-2 miles in the US)Still, diesel here is MUCH cheaper than gas. Yesterday, I paid 1,488 a liter while gas was at least 1,899 (regular).Multiply by almost 4 for gallons AND by an additional 1.1 for $.
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