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.
2018 hyundai kona ultimate awd review double take

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]

Join the conversation
2 of 32 comments
  • 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

  • Wolfwagen I would rather have an annual inspection that may catch something early or at least the driver can be informed of an impending issue. Government vs private is another issue and unscrupulous mechanics is another.On a slightly different topic is the inspection of salvage or rebuilt cars. In NYS it is strictly to ensure that stolen parts were not used to rebuild the vehicle. I would rather see an inspection to ensure that the vehicle has been properly put back together.
  • PeterPuck For years, Ford has simply reworked existing designs originating from Europe and Japanese manufacturers, not being capable of designing a decent car in the USA.What’s the last clean sheet design from the USA? The 1986 Taurus?And they still can’t manage to get things right.why is this? Are they putting all of the competent engineers and designers on the F150? Is woke diversification affecting them, as some rumours suggest? Are they rewarding incompetence?
  • Brandon What is a "city crossover"?
  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).