2019 Hyundai Kona Review - Small, But Not

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

1.6-liter turbocharged four (175 hp @ 5500 rpm, 195 lb/ft. @ 1500 rpm)
Seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, all-wheel drive
26 city / 29 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
27.8 (observed mileage, MPG)
9.0 city / 8.0 highway / 8.6 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $29,945 US / $34,082 CAD
As Tested: $30,070 US/ $33,959 CAD
Prices include $1045 destination charge in the United States and $1937 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2019 hyundai kona review small but not

Crossovers are our future, it seems. Every time I crack open another issue of this dusty website, I’m confronted and confounded by the proliferation of tall (and not-so-tall) hatchbacks in every possible size category.

The 2019 Hyundai Kona is, for the moment, the smallest of five crossovers in the Hyundai lineup – at least until the inexplicably-smaller Venue shows up very soon. Where does it fit? Or is it destined to be a misfit?

Yes, I’m aware that I’m at least the third TTAC staffer to have reviewed the Kona with varying levels of vitriol. I’m afraid that I have to pile on a bit, as while the Kona (at least in the Ultimate trim tested here) isn’t a bad hatchback, the price is insane for what you get.

It’s not an unattractive car, though the ever-present black plastic lower body cladding is a bit overwrought. Take a glance at the profile view above — those weirdly-shaped wheel arch extensions are bizarre. A dark color might hide that a bit if it bothers you.

Hyundai seems to be targeting a buyer looking for a sporty-feeling compact crossover, as the ride in the Kona is decidedly firm. The eighteen-inch alloy wheels with correspondingly shallow sidewalls no doubt are complicit in both the ride quality and the significant road noise, but there’s only so much that can be done with a short wheelbase.

Off-idle throttle response is laggy. This may be a function of the combination of a lag-prone turbocharged engine with the dual-clutch automatic transmission, which often can amplify the lag. Either way, pulling away from a stop can be an exercise in frustration — the Kona shudders much like my uncle when he’s being roused from a holiday food coma.

That Hyundai fits a suite of advanced safety features to nearly every Kona is admirable. Every Kona comes with forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning, while this Ultimate trim adds pedestrian detection and rear parking distance warnings. However, I’ve found the rear cross-traffic alert too sensitive. Every time I backed out of my driveway — which isn’t all that steep — I’d get a beeping alert that something was behind me. Every time I’d stop, check the camera, check my mirrors (I even slotted the shifter into park to get out and check once), and there was nothing but the road surface behind me. I was being alerted that I was about to back out onto tarmac. Well, thank you, Kona. I appreciate the notification.

I also found that the rear hatch takes a hearty slam to shut securely. Mercifully, modern cars will protect their battery from running down if an interior light remains on for too long, as I left the hatch slightly ajar one evening. On several other instances, I had to ask my kids to re-close the liftgate after they retrieved their sports gear.

The interior works well enough for the driver and front passenger. Hyundai has some of the most intuitive controls for HVAC and multimedia – everything is clearly labeled and the knobs are easy to control. The touchscreen is bright and responsive. The front seats themselves are comfortable enough for a long drive.

The rear seat is tight, however. The kids (both over five feet tall now) both fit, but not without complaint. Head room isn’t a problem, but knees are pressed well into the backs of the front seat occupants, unless my girls take to manspreading.

From where I’m sitting, the best thing this Kona does is help sell the larger Tucson sitting an aisle away at the Hyundai dealer. For what looks to be a $2,000 premium across all trims, the Tuscon absolutely blows away the Kona in nearly every aspect save fuel economy — unsurprising as it is a larger, heavier vehicle. I tested the Tucson earlier this summer and was delighted in how well-rounded a vehicle it is. It’s my top recommendation to people who ask for (and never act upon) my crossover buying advice.

The Hyundai Kona, however, is a disappointment. It’s a solidly acceptable car in a segment where there are no clear champions, but looking to other segments can reveal much better choices for the money.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Join the conversation
2 of 38 comments
  • Leftydog1961 Leftydog1961 on Dec 15, 2019

    Ok, i have some major problems with this review. First, you tested the upper two level trims with the 1.6 turbo GDI engine and DCT tranny. Many people are quite aware that DCT transmissions are poor in stop and go traffic, and up inclines. Also, as Ford and VW have shown,they are problems waiting to happen as the technology is not mature. Add a turbo charger, and you have one more point of failure along with lag, etc. Once the warranty is up, these items with cost $$$$. GDI engines have huge problems with valve carbonization and need oil catch can. Now, I have the SEL, with 2.0 non GDI engine. No turbo. No DCT. Yes it is a bit slower, but i don't need to race the idiot next to me to the next red light. The ride is excellent in the AWD model since it's independent rear suspension. I get 31 mpg in city driving. The seats are comfortable. I have all the safety features with the tech package for 23K. Is there plenty of room in the trunk. NO. Can i put the seats down, YES. problem solved. 17 inch tires are cheaper then the higher trims and have less road noise. Consumer reports picks this model as the second highest with a score of 90. Crosstrek is first. Subaru AWD is legendary, but their head gaskets and oil consumption problems are a no go for me. The genius above who would rather have a Renegade is unaware that its a Jeep in name only. It's a fiat panda with all wheel drive. its an italian pile of sh!t with one of the lowest reliability scores in CR report. This suv is the best possible choice outside of RAV4 or CRV which are fine SUV's but i like the 10/100 powertrain, and i upped it to bumper to bumper for 10/100 which includes 3 yrs maintenance. I have real world experience with Hyundai DCT as i owned the 2014 Veloster, and couldn't wait till the 60k warranty ended to get rid of the shuddering, hunting for gears, and high revs with no movement which occurred weekly. Please post a review of the SEL/SE models instead of the insanely priced high end Kona's. That is the ONLY thing the writer has gotten correct in his article.

  • Randall CArlisle Randall CArlisle on Jul 08, 2020

    Here's a long comment to reply to the bashin TTAC has given the Kona. But this is my real world review after a few days of Kona. So, way back, my wife (before she was my wife) had a Hyundai something-or-other that she liked okay. In 2012, I bought a 2001 Olds Aurora V6. Great car. Traded it in 2016 with 210K miles and some maintenance costs but no major repairs for an ORANGE 2007 Ford Edge. Drove it around 33K miles and son needs a reliable car. Edge seemed like a good fit - better then the white 2007 Camry of MILs. Which can be best described as a reliable car with a GREAT AIR CONDITIONER. It has absolutely NO SOUL or character. So the wife had leased a 2017 Tucson base back in 2017 - she traded in a 2011 loaded Suzuki Kizashi which was a really good car but the threat of finding parts should anything break was pretty large. The Tucson performed flawlessly for its 3 years, if a little uninspiring and a little narrow (read uncomfortable to me) for wide hipped older folks. It was reliable as an anvil and about as exciting. She set her sights on a new Santa Fe Limited and in 2/2020, she got one. And a reasonably ok deal to boot. So we took it for first service on 7/3/2020 and I wanted to see a few big used CUVs to replace my Edge. I like the IDEA of a small car, however, most don't fit me. On a lark, while passing by to the restroomm, I sat in this (to me) good looking smaller car. IT FIT from the get go. I had to look on the back to see what it was. So I mentioned it to the sales guy and while he was off doing whatever salespeople do when not trying to screw you. I looked it up on the net and even found one at the dealership I wanted to see up close. For me, my car is for me primarily. I drive to work and back and around town some. If we go on a trip, we'll take the big comfy Santa Fe boat. I don't need nav - I can find work without it. I don't need adaptive cruise. I DO need something that is NOT white, black or anything in between those values - I chose ORANGE again. I DO need a reasonable stereo. I DO need a good AC. And comfortable seats. And at least a little fun to drive. In the test drive, the Kona SEL Plus checked every box except leather. The industrial houndstooth polyester is not my favorite, but is better than mouse hair. Should wear ok. Test drive was around Lake Norman NC - sorta heavy commuter stuff. THe 2.0 never seemed to be holding anyone up in our 25 mile test drive (we got lost and salesman didn't go with us). SO we struck a deal for a lease. In the first few days - mpg is 28 and some change in mixed driving - Edge struggled to do 19 mpg mixed. Power is adequate - I haven't noticed anyone being held up behind me in regular driving - didn't need the troubles of turbo and DCT that I read in so many reviews of the high end packages. Cargo space is much less. I can adapt. The Edge was also a storage/holding area a lot of the time. AC is much better than the Edge but maybe not as good as the Camry. Edge was cold but no force behind the airflow. Ergonomics for me are much like the Edge was. wide seats, legroom, etc. As in another article, if you can't get the seat close to right pretty quick, you should move on. I found my comfortable place pretty quick. This is how I see it all in my "real world" testing. You can complain all you want about the lack of power or anything else in a review. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to having the right tool for the job. The Kona SEL plus is it for me. I'm not spoiled to driving free cars for review. But I do have to LIKE my car after work. I hated getting in that Camry. Edge was fine, but son needed a car while in college. Hyundai seems to be perfect for what I need right now.

  • 28-Cars-Later I'm actually surprised at this and not sure what to make of it. In recent memory Senator Biden has completely ignored an ecological disaster in Ohio, and then ignored a tragic fire in Hawaii until his handlers were goaded in sending him and his visit turned into it's own disaster, but we skipped nap time for this sh!t show? Seriously? We really are through the looking glass now, "votes" no longer matter (Hillary almost won being the worst presidential candidate since 1984 before he claimed the crown) and outside of Corvette nostalgia Joe doesn't care let alone know what day it happens to be. Could they really be afraid of Trump, who AFAIK has planned no appearance or run his mouth on this issue? Just doesn't make sense, granted this is Clown World so maybe its my fault for trying to find sense in a senseless act.
  • Tassos If you only changed your series to the CORRECT "Possibly Collectible, NOT Daily Driver, NOT Used car of the day", it would sound much more accurate AND TRUTHFUL.Now who would collect THIS heap of trash for whatever misguided reason, nostalgia for a much worse automotive era or whatever, is another question.
  • ToolGuy Price dropped $500 overnight. (Wait 10 more days and you might get it for free?)
  • Slavuta Must be all planned. Increase price of cars, urbanize, 15 minutes cities. Be poor, eat bugs
  • Sid SB Not seen a Core without the performance pack yet. Prefer the more understated look of the Core vs the Circuit, but both are great fun to drive.