2024 Hyundai Kona Review – Ready For New Challenges?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

2024 hyundai kona review ready for new challenges

The 2024 Hyundai Kona is launching now – dealers should be receiving units as you read this – and Hyundai has some challenges to overcome as it gets the new Kona to market.

Those challenges mostly involve an expanded segment and some improved existing models. In other words, Kona now competes against more nameplates and some of the previous nameplates have been much improved.

Hyundai’s counter is to give the Kona some features it previously lacked and to also offer a few features its competitors don’t.

Let the small crossover wars continue.

(Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me to Baltimore, Maryland, and fed and housed me for two nights so that I could drive the new Kona. I did not take the proffered Yeti lunch bag.)

Hyundai claims the new Kona was designed as an EV first, though the EV won’t be available right away at launch – it’s slated to bow late this fall. This means that all versions have EV-influenced styling, which is most notable in the grille/front fascia. As for us, this meant most of our wheel time was in Konas with the 1.6-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 190 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. This engine is offered in the Limited and sportier-looking N Line trims. I did get a few minutes in the EV, which I will detail below.

Hyundai didn’t bring any SE or SEL models with the 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder (147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque) to the proceedings for us to test. Kona is available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, and the 2.0-liter is hooked to Hyundai’s Intelligent Variable Transmission (basically a continuously variable automatic) while the 1.6 mates to an eight-speed automatic. Outside of a small five-horsepower drop on the 1.6, these numbers carry over. Both vehicles I drove were all-wheel drive.

Hyundai heard your complaints about the previous Kona. It gains in size, picking up 5.7 inches of length to 171.3 inches and getting wider by almost an inch – it’s now about 72 inches wide. The wheelbase picks up 2.4 inches to 104.72. Finally, it’s taller, gaining just shy of an inch to grow to 62 inches of height.

This means the cabin is roomier. Key gains include rear-seat legroom (up 3 inches), front headroom (up 3.3 inches), and cargo capacity (up 6.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 17.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down).

My very unscientific testing confirmed that the rear seats were comfortable for my six-foot-one frame – despite a sloping roof my noggin had plenty of clearance. I’m long of leg, and my gams had room to breathe. Most adults will be able to ride in the rear without complaint.

Speaking of complaints, I did kvetch a bit about the front seats – comfort for longer drives seemed a bit lacking.

Although Hyundai hasn’t made major changes to the suspension and has carried over the powertrains, this version of the Kona felt more engaging to drive and better buttoned-down than the previous car. The steering felt better weighted and sportier, even without selecting the Sport drive mode – which can split the all-wheel-drive system’s power 50/50. That doesn’t make this a corner-carver – body roll is way too prevalent.

Acceleration was fine for stoplight scrambles but the motor seems to run out of guts for passing at the top end. The ride was generally compliant without undue softness, and noise/vibration/harshness was well-muted except for some tire noise on certain pavement in the N Line.

Hyundai’s design team gave the interior a sweeping dash that integrates the infotainment screen nicely alongside the digital gauge cluster – both are 12.3 inches in size. Thanks to shift-by-wire technology, Hyundai moved the shifter to the steering column and made it into a “twist one way for drive the other way for reverse” setup similar to what the company uses on the Ioniq5. It mostly works fine, though I did activate the wipers instead of shifting into gear on a few occasions. I suspect owners won’t have this issue once it becomes second nature.

Interior surfaces are generally hard to the touch, though the controls seem easy enough to work. You still have plenty of buttons and some knobs – no haptic-touch hooey here. Moving the shifter frees up a lot of space along the center console area.

The driving experience is generally nice enough with a dash of sport thrown in – the Kona is more engaging to drive than the Toyota Corolla Cross and on par with, if not a tad better than, the Honda HR-V. Chevy’s redone Trax, however, offers a similar experience for less money, and that’s one of the challenges Hyundai faces.

I’d have loved to have driven a base model like the one Bark bashed a few years ago, but Hyundai didn’t give us the chance. I will say that those who spring for the Limited will generally be pleased, though there’s still some room for improvement. Sending the engine to the gym to gain some muscle would help.

The N Line doesn’t change the experience much – there’s no true Kona N, at least as of yet (we hope Hyundai brings it back). That means the N Line is just an appearance package that includes 19-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, a unique spoiler, red accents for the seats, sport seats, Bose audio, aluminum pedals, scuff plates, and black mirrors. The front and rear fascias are a bit sportier in appearance, as well.

The EV offers swift acceleration, as most EVs do these days, and it has steering-wheel-mounted paddles that allow the driver to set up the level of aggression from the regenerative braking. And it does get quite aggressive as you step towards the max. A Hyundai rep reassured me that even if you choose not to use the paddles to add aggression, there is still some regen even on the default setting. Getting more aggressive with the regen does make it a bit harder to coast smoothly, at least until you get used to it.

There are two battery packs – a 64.8 kWh unit (this is what we drove) and a 48.6 kWh one. The former makes 201 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque, while the latter checks in at 133 hp and 188 pounds of twist. Hyundai is promising a max range of 260 miles and a fast charge that will take you from 10 percent to 80 percent in 43 minutes. In addition to the regen, the Kona EV will offer vehicle-to-load capability and battery preconditioning. There is a frunk, of course, and the EV is front-wheel-drive only.

Outside of the obvious differences inherent in EVs – instant acceleration, silent running, regenerative braking, a different gauge display, and the like – the Kona EV doesn’t feel dramatically different than the ICE version. We look forward to getting a more thorough test at some point.

Features that the Kona didn’t have before and are available now include dual-zone climate control, a power tailgate, and cooled front seats. Oh, and rear air vents. USB-A ports are replaced by USB-C, and the available digital key now works with Apple Wallet. Over-the-air updates are now available and will be used to add wireless Apple CarPlay to Konas with factory nav.

In addition to the grille, new exterior styling touches include light bars across the front and rear and wheel-arch cladding that might contrast with the body color, depending on the trim.

The rear brake light integrates into the spoiler and there is black molding around the bottom.

Hyundai folks will tout features that aren’t available on the HR-V, Corolla Cross, or Subaru Crosstrek. It’s a long list and since we don’t sell Hyundais, we’ll let those who do give you the full spiel, but a couple of examples are a 360-degree camera and cooled front seats.

The Limited I drove cost $34,695, including destination, and standard features included forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver-attention warning, blind-spot collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, safe-exit warning, 19-inch wheels, LED exterior lighting, power sunroof, high-beam assist, LED interior lighting, keyless entry and starting, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, power liftgate, navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bose audio, digital key, wireless phone charger, and satellite radio.

The slightly cheaper N Line doesn’t have quite as many features – it doesn’t have blind-spot monitoring or cooled seats, for example – but it comes close to the Limited.

The trim walk works like this – base SE ($24,100), SEL ($25,450, $27,650 with Convenience Package), N Line ($30,650), and Limited ($31,650).

Fuel economy numbers top out at 35 mpg highway for a front-drive SEL. The two AWD models I drove were listed at 24/29/26.

The new Kona is nicer and better equipped than before, and it’s a tad more engaging to drive. The thing is, there are six competing models, including Hyundai’s own Venue, that have launched since 2018. So the segment has expanded. Several of these have been much improved since the Kona entered the world. Looking at you, Chevy Trax – your Activ trim is well equipped, almost as sporty, and several thousand cheaper.

Hyundai has, at least, done a nice job keeping up with the Joneses – but will it be enough? And is the price right? $34K for a Limited seems a bit dear, but it’s not unreasonable compared to some of the competition – a loaded Corolla Cross is just a grand cheaper. On the other hand, a top-trim HR-V is a few thousand fewer bucks.

The Kona is not a segment dominator, but it’s not to be overlooked, either. It’s right there in the middle of the fight, mixing it up. It’s more entertaining than a Corolla Cross, less refined than an HR-V, and not quite the value of the Trax. It’s sporty enough and well-equipped enough to best a few other contenders.

The Kona is ready for the fight, and that’s all Hyundai can ask.

[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC.com]

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3 of 24 comments
  • Aquaticko Aquaticko on Sep 13, 2023

    ....Why is the EV still not available with AWD? It was a notable omission on the Niro, but on this even more SUV-y Kona it makes even less sense.

    Yes, I know that FWD with snow tires>AWD with all seasons, but most people don't know or care.

  • Secret Hi5 Secret Hi5 on Sep 13, 2023

    Only one photo of the interior?

    How many cases of beer can fit in the trunk?

    • BlackEldo BlackEldo on Sep 14, 2023

      It'd also be nice if the interior photo lined up with the paragraph discussing the interior.

  • MaintenanceCosts I think if there's one thing we can be sure of given Toyota's recent decisions it's that the strongest version of the next Camry will be a hybrid. Sadly, the buttery V6 is toast.A Camry with the Highlander/Sienna PSD powertrain would be basically competitive in the sedan market, with the slow death of V6 and big-turbo options. But for whatever reason it seems like that powertrain is capacity challenged. Not sure why, as there's nothing exotic in it.A Camry with the Hybrid Max powertrain would be bonkers, easily the fastest thing in segment. It would likewise be easy to build; again, there's nothing exotic in the Hybrid Max powertrain. (And Hybrid Max products don't seem to be all that constrained, so far.)
  • Analoggrotto The readers of TTAC deserve better than a bunch of Kia shills posing as journalists.
  • Lou_BC How do they work covered in snow, ice, mud, dust and water? Vibration?
  • Doug brockman its EVs that are the clunkers. And apparently US taxpayers will be subsidizing them to keep the climate scam rolling along
  • Buickman can Mary Barra and everyone wins!