By on November 12, 2019

2019 Hyundai Kona front quarter

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.

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?

2019 Hyundai Kona profile

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona front 2019 Hyundai Kona rear

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona center stack

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona dashboard

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona interior

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona cargo area

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona front seat

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona rear seat

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona rear quarter

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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38 Comments on “2019 Hyundai Kona Review – Small, But Not...”

  • avatar

    We looked at an early-build Kona Electric. Our complaint was packaging; the interior feels smaller in every respect than that in the Chevy Bolt, despite the bigger size on the outside.

  • avatar

    I wonder how Hyundai justifies $30K for a car who’s competition is a good $5K less. There isn’t even any name brand status with Hyundai. I would take a Jeep Renegade over this any day

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai has about as much name brand status over Kia as Mercury did over Ford: zero.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, this is the top-spec model, and the equivalent Renegade costs about as much.

    • 0 avatar

      How does Fiat justify anything for the crap in a renegade which is nothing more than a Fiat panda with awd, is at the bottom of reliability chart, and is universally panned by Consumer Reports and Scotty Kilmer. Why would anyone by a Chrysler/Fiat product. The Jeep brand is just a name. It bears no resemblance to Jeep products in the 70’s and 80’s. Amazing to me that anyone buys American cars/suv’s anymore after getting screwed so many times over.

  • avatar

    Wow those lights integrated with the cladding on the front and back look really really bad and cheap. 30K is about twice as much as that thing is worth.

  • avatar
    Turning Jalopanese

    One word: Kia Soul

  • avatar

    My daughter just bought an Elantra GT, and this was one of the other cars she shopped. She loved the way it looks, but Chris is right on target – this car is way too expensive, and while the ATP is quite a bit lower than sticker on these, the thing it does best is talk you into buying a Tucson instead.

    I also agree 100% about the drivetrain setup here – there’s a decent amount of punch when you get off the line, but Hyundai’s DCT likes to hunt around from a stoplight. It’s also a dry-clutch unit, ala Ford Powershift, so I’m not sold on the long-term durability of the unit (in fact, the Elantra Sport I drove last year with the same transmission had a “what to do when your transmission overheats” card hanging off the rear view mirror, and I’ll call that a very, very bad sign).

    Worth noting: there is a much cheaper version of this car, with a non-turbo engine, but it’s VERY slow.

    Glad my kid passed on this one.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2.0 non turbo, non DCT engine is fine. I have the 2019 Kona. It has none of the lag of the turbo or dct, a normal 6 speed transmission and is comfortable and quite capable. Its only slow if your a maniac who needs to rush to the next stop light. If you get the right color, the black plastic panels do not show up garishly, and there are many good black cleaners polishers for the wheel panels. 30 mpg, awd, independent rear suspension, 10/100000 PT warranty and loaded with safety equipment. The top non DCT model is the SEL and its only 25 with everything included, tech pkg, gap insurance, 10/100000 bumper to bumper extended warranty. Worth a drive

  • avatar

    My sister (26YO) bought a Kona Ultimate a few months ago. I think she got about 15% off the MSRP with no trade and 0% finance.
    The small footprint was something of a selling point for her and like me she is a childless, mulchless heathen. She also liked the acceleration. I’m not sure about lag from a stop but it’s quicker than anything else she test drove in the tiny CUV class. I personally would have gone with a “car” but the ride height allure is strong in her demographic.

  • avatar


    Honda & Toyota must be laughing their a$$es off at the price tag Hyundai slapped on this pile of sh!t.

    Hyundai is two steps forward, four steps back, in thinking that they can price their vehicles as much as Honda, Toyota and Mazda, or even price them higher, regardless as to discounting (or the fact that Hyundai and KIA dealerships are subprime supercenters).

    I praise Hyundai and KIA (Telluride) when/where warranted, but their vehicles lack, in most of their segment-wannabe-competing vehicles, the quality/durability, driving dynamics (suspension especially) and resale value of Honda, Toyota, Mazda.0 and others.

    This is a trash vehicle at a laughable price that is the four step backwards routine.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t disagree w/your comments. But I think that Hyundai’s MSRP is a feature not a bug.

      Lots of people *feel* much better if they pay $25,000 for a $30,000 car than if the car was always priced at $25,000 and the dealer never budged.

      And if you want to be cynical, Kona is made to nudge people into Tucson while squeezing $$$ from the folks who want small but tall.

      Clothing retailers do it all the time. Roman merchants probably did the exact same thing 2,000 years ago at their local bazaar.

  • avatar

    Please check out a Kona with a proper N-A engine and T-C auto with AWD and get back to us. Don’t waste our time on high strung turbos with janky D-C autos. If you can’t tow a trailer with it – it’s worthless.

  • avatar

    I do like the looks of these cars, the Kona and it’s Kia twin. Had a Kona as a rental not too long ago. Nice enough car, but that cargo space. Woof. The Elantra I had not too long afterward had a ton more space.

    I do love all the options we now have in the smaller car space given my commute car has been discontinued, but I don’t think this one makes the cut.

    • 0 avatar

      I missed the hatch picture first time through this. That picture does not do the space, or lack thereof justice. You can’t lay a carry-on lengthwise. I can only imagine if you tried to vacation in one of these and you tried to fit real luggage back there.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    “. . . the rear hatch takes a hearty slam to shut securely.”
    -(Unlike most of TTAC) I like modern conveniences such as a power liftgate, even in a smaller vehicles like the Kona. Yet another reason to go with the Tucson that I believe has a power liftgate as an option.

    • 0 avatar

      If you cant manually shut the hatch, then you are just too lazy, and have added yet another motor and computer to break. In 30 yrs of driving, not having a power liftgate has never caused me the angst your talking about. focus on accessories which really make a difference and not on minutiae

  • avatar

    Hyundai makes cost-effective, adequate vehicles in the lower trims. The prices sure do get silly quickly when they start piling on the gingerbread.

  • avatar

    Kona has bumper level turn signals (so does Forte and the old Infiniti EX35).

    That triggers my auto OCD and grinds my gears as it seems less safe and less visible than standard trunk-level signals with nothing in return.

  • avatar

    Hyundai’s 7 speed DCT? Run. Run away now.

    Too many failures and too much blame put on the consumer. Granted that some people don’t truly know how to drive a DCT properly but Hyundai played the “it’s your fault” card far too long when the Tucson was launched with the same drive train combo (with different ratios for a heavier vehicle was the difference). Vehicles were going into neutral, false overheating warnings (it’s a software calculation on clutch temperature) and clutch actuators were failing left and right. 3-4 software “updates” later they dropped it from the heavier Tucson and seem to be moving towards an 8 speed torque converter auto and a wet clutch style 8 speed DCT. Owners can check their USPS mailbox for a mailer for payment from Hyundai due to a class action lawsuit.

    • 0 avatar

      Jeez, didn’t know it was *this* bad, but I certainly wasn’t impressed by the DCT-equipped Elantra Sport I tried out. It had some of the same issues I had with a Powershift-equipped Focus I had as a rental, albeit less severe – bucking, uneven power delivery, and so forth. No thanks.

      I mentioned above that my daughter just bought an Elantra GT, and it was between the base hatch and the GT N-Line, which has the 1.6 turbo and the DCT from the Elantra Sport. She was also considering the base Elantra sedan, which has a brand-new CVT. I advised her to skip both, and she took the basic GT hatch, which has a good old fashioned six-speed. I think that’s the right move.

    • 0 avatar

      The DCT’s are not able to handle stop/start city driving up inclines and creeping in traffic. they are racing tranny’s which run well on highways. My veloster got 44mpg N/A on highway, but in town creeping every 200 feet in NJ traffic the transmission was not happy. Revs increased and car moved very little. If you live in Montana then DCT is fine, otherwise this is a non mature technical design used to improve CAFE mileage numbers and reduce emissions. The high failure rates indicate so. Would be great to know how many DCT’s are being replaced in whole on these cars by hyundai.

  • avatar

    Further proof that there’s never been a better time to buy a midsize sedan. I’ll take a larger, faster, more competent, more fuel efficient vehicle for minus $5000 Alex.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I personally do not understand why someone would purchase an ‘ultimate’ version of a Kona. Or nearly any other non-luxury car.

    As posted, isn’t it more rational to move up to a more expensive model, rather than ‘tart up’ a lower end model?

    Or purchase a vehicle from a ‘higher end’ manufacturer instead?

    I don’t mind the Kona in base trim, but much prefer its stablemate the Soul for the higher roofline and improved interior space and sightlines.

    • 0 avatar

      Soul is not comparable since no AWD option. Kona in SEL with AWD is still 23k, much better interior design than HRV or trax, not as nice as crosstrek, but then Kona doesnt have oil consumption or head gasket problems known in the subie boxer engines. 23k for the SEL AWD with tech package and all safety equipment with 10/100 bumper to bumper warranty (mine is extended with 100 deductible after 5/60) and i have 3 years service maintenance.
      I will let hyundai replace my parts for the next 10 years even if depreciation is higher than honda and toyota. not CR jon linkov now states that korean cars are in the same reliablity boat as honda and toyota.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    – This makes slightly more sense when you consider that many “inspiration walls” in styling studios include a modern running shoe. (Not defending – just explaining.)

    “The rear seat is tight, however… knees are pressed well into the backs of the front seat occupants”

    – Any structural materials utilized between the B and C pillars of a modern unibody vehicle cost 36X more than the same materials placed elsewhere. Hence, if Hyundai were to offer 2-3 more inches of legroom in the rear seat of this vehicle, the price of the vehicle would have to triple. (Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right. I have no idea why we can’t get what the Chinese market gets – i.e., ample second row legroom.)

  • avatar

    It’s really interesting how the Negative comments are offered in such abundance by people who aren’t owners. Every car will find lovers and haters…that’s good, because it makes it so much more interesting on the road to see variety.

    I am a proud Kona owner, and my wife has a Tucson. This car has the features I want and guess what? It’s reliable and fun to drive! Go to any Kona owners group and you won’t find negative, petty and hostile comments in abundance. Instead, you’ll find people who love owning this car because it works for them. If we had wanted any of the other cars offered here as superior, we would have purchased them. We’re not stupid, we just have different circumstances and tastes. Go do your thing- enjoy your opinion- buy what works for you. But remember this- your opinion is just one person’s opinion- it’s not a judgement that is superior to any other point of view.

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently if a comment doesn’t fit the party line- which for this car is all bobble head dolls agreeing with the author, it is sent to comment purgatory where it is in permanent “awaiting moderation” status. Credibility score=0.

  • avatar

    For $30k I can buy a Mazda CX-5 and have some spare change for a bike rack I say crack pipe

    • 0 avatar

      for 30k, you are correct, but i would choose crv or rav4. for 23k its a bargain. the top of the line kona’s are too much money for too little. the SEl is the sweet spot in mini cuv.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    Randall CArlisle

    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.

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