Entry level hatchback can be cute

The Kona is Hyundai’s smallest crossover, a quirky looking model that was conceived to challenge the established names in the subcompact niche like Mazda’s CX-3, the Toyota C-HR, and the Honda HR-V. Starting at little over $19,240, the Kona offers up to 175 horsepower although the base engine is far less powerful. The design is, if anything, divisive and the fuel consumption is on par with what the rivals come up with at 33 mpg highway.

Hyundai, like Citroen, is an adopter of the ’big-grille-and-narrow-headlights’ design language for some of its crossover SUV models and you can see that in the facial expression of the Kona that somewhat mimics its much larger brother, the eight-passenger Palisade. But that’s about as much as these two models share with the Kona being a budget offering, something you’ll see and feel in the cabin, although you now get more equipment in standard than you did with the 2018 MY.

The Kona is still a new model so judgment on its long-term reliability will have to wait but you may like to know that the Kona, both in hybrid and non-hybrid guise, was the recipient of the 2019 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year award making the Kona the first subcompact crossover to ever win this award. We drove a cherry red Kona to see if it deserves all the accolades and you can read more about it below.

Exterior Design

2019 Hyundai Kona
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When designing the Kona, Luc Donckerwolke, the man that also penned Lamborghini’s Murcielago and original Gallardo, really wanted to make you think the Kona looks bigger than it actually is and that it means business. To do so, Donckerwolke gave the Kona bulging arches in the front and in the rear to which some protruding plastic covers are added that also go around the front bumper and the rear bumper for an outdoorsy feel.

The running lights are positioned within some ultra-thin light clusters bordering the hood that give the crossover an aggressive face in combination with the gaping, Audi-esque mouth.

Below these blade-shaped light clusters are the actual main beams that are surrounded by this grey cover that also wraps around the arches and travels across the rocker panels. The orange indicators sprout from the sides of the front fascia next to the main beams. To complete the geometric appearance of the lower light clusters that host the main beams, there’s a fake grille positioned just below. However, that’s not the only fake inlet you’ll notice when viewing the Kona’s front end.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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Actually, that whole horizontal opening above the main grille is fake. I mean, the opening is there, but the recessed grille isn’t perforated, so the whole thing is only there to make the front look more interesting - although we’re no fans of modern cars adorned with a multitude of fake grilles just for the sake of it. The main grille itself features curved outer edges, a chromed frame, and a blacked-out mesh with hexagonal openings.

Even within this grille, the lower part is covered, which slightly ruins the aesthetics of the whole piece and makes it look cheap.

The lower part of the front bumper combines some intricate surfacing with the continuation of the grey surrounds that cover the bottom tip of the bumper below the two fog lights that are positioned on either side of a subtle horizontal grille that completes the design of the Kona’s front end.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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Viewed from the side, the Kona looks like it could go off-road, but this isn’t really advisable unless the terrain you have in mind is particularly mild. Don’t be fooled by the added silver trim pieces in the lower part of the doors or the carved rocker panels. This crossover is at home on the streets of the city. Having said this, the roof rack is well incorporated in the overall design as it doesn’t look like an afterthought.

The Kona rides on 16-inch alloys in standard SE trim, but the SEL, Limited, and Ultimate versions feature 17-inch rims which is what the car we tested came with.

These rims, like the rest of the body, are quite bold-looking with a five-spoke design that combined darkened spoked with silver ones that blend into one another for a neat rotor effect.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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In the back, the Kona isn’t the prettiest of sights - not to say the front end is one that’d win any beauty contests but, at least, it stands out. The slim taillights sit in a recessed area of the rear fascia, below the rear window. The trunk lid takes with it two-thirds of the rear light clusters when it goes up, but it goes around the rear indicators and reverse lights. These, like in the front, are surrounded by that grey covers that also goes around the back where the rear parking sensors are placed. The only chromed elements in the back are the Hyundai logo that protrudes forward and a bar placed above the number plate holder.

Overall, we must give credit to Hyundai for trying to come up with something different in a segment that gave birth to the original Nissan Juke.

Having said that, as the original Juke, the Kona is a bit on the ugly side, and Toyota’s C-HR with those bulbous arches and a much more sporty front end (as well as profile) is the better-looking alternative. Over in Europe, the Kona actually has a direct competitor in terms of styling, namely Citroen’s C3 Aircross that is an embodiment of the very same design philosophy: narrow light clusters up top in the front complemented by some bigger ones lower down, dark covers over the wheel arches to make it seem like a capable off-roader and rather ungainly proportions.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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The Citroen, though, gains extra stylistic points because the French didn’t add any sort of black trim pieces to make the roof seem like it’s "floating." What you’ll see on the C3 Aircross is that the all of the pillars are black while on the Kona only the B-pillars are black, and the C-pillars feature a reversed L-shaped element that sort of continues the line of the roof spoiler to make the roof seem detached. It’s a weird gimmick seen on many cars that we’ve only really seen being pulled off by one car and it isn’t a crossover, nor is it available for sale in North America.

2019 Hyundai Kona exterior dimensions
Width: 70.9 inches
Height: 61 inches
Length: 164 inches
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

How Big Is The 2019 Hyundai Kona

2019 Hyundai Kona
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As a subcompact Crossover, the Hyundai Kona isn't a four-wheeled behemoth and, as such, it won't give you headaches when you'll try to find a parking space for it somewhere downtown.

It measures 164 inches flat in length, making it 6.7 inches shorter than the post-facelift second-generation Honda HR-V and 7.7 inches shorter than Toyota’s C-HR. The C3 Aircross, meanwhile, is about as long at 163.4 inches in length but it is one inch narrower and about three inches taller. The Toyota is as wide and as tall as the Hyundai measuring 70.7 inches in width and 61.6 inches in height, but the Honda is a couple of inches taller.

Hyundai Kona vs competition
Hyundai Kona Toyota C-HR Honda HR-V Citroen C3 Aircross
Width: 70.9 70.7 69.7 69.3
Height: 61 61.6 63.2 64.6
Length: 164 171.7 170.7 163.4
Wheelbase: 102.4 103.9 102.8 100.0

Interior Design

2019 Hyundai Kona
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If the outside looks modern and somewhat funky, stepping inside the Kona is akin to stepping into a car that’s already old. That’s not to say you’ll find a CD changer in there, but there’s nothing particularly modern in the cabin either. The somewhat ungainly seven-inch digital screen (the Ultimate trim level comes with an eight-inch touchscreen inside) situated on top of the dashboard features the buttons and knobs to control it on either side of the screen itself while the knobs for the A/C are located below the two central air vents.

That’s nothing that would surprise you on any day of the week and, if you think about it from a more practical point of you, this is actually a good thing as an ultra-futuristic dash may be confusing for many - at least at first. Behind the steering wheel, there’s a pair of analog dials with the tachometer on the left-hand side. You can option a heads-up display that sprouts up from between the gauges. The dashboard is traversed by a soft insert that, on the car we tested, was colored in white but you can also have it in black for an even more dull-looking cabin.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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Some of the plastics inside are quite tacky, but this is a budget car and, for a budget car, the cabin is hard to fault due to its ease of use. Right behind the shifter, there are the sockets for the phone charger and the 12-volt socket next to it with the AUX lid in between. The buttons for the rear and front defroster, as well as the airbags, are placed below the controls for the A/C. Good news is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard (remember that you have to pay an annual subscription for these services in some luxury cars out there).

2019 Hyundai Kona
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The cabin itself is spacious and the front seats, in particular, are comfortable, although taller passengers may find headroom to not be great and this is also the case for the back seat. In other words, if you choose a Kona after owning a mid-size SUV, you’ll feel cramped but, to be frank, this is to be expected although the Kona isn’t a class leader in terms of either passenger space or cargo space. The total passenger volume sits at 94.1 cubic feet, six cubic feet down on the Honda HR-V but 10.3 cubic feet more than the Toyota C-HR.

2019 Hyundai Kona interior dimensions
Front Rear
Head Room 39.6 in. (w/ sunroof 38.0 in.) 37.8 in
Leg room 41.5 in. 34.6 in.
Shoulder Room 55.5 in. 54.5 in.
Hip Room 53.3 in. 52.2 in.

How Much Cargo Room Does The Hyundai Kona Have?

2019 Hyundai Kona
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If you have to carry in your Kona four people besides yourself, meaning that the rear seats will be up, you’ll still have at your disposal 19.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk while the maximum cargo space with the back row down is 45.8 cubic feet. A Toyota C-HR offers 19 cubic feet of cargo in the trunk with the seats up too, but this doesn’t make the Kona a particularly practical car as compact hatchbacks come with bigger trunks than that and, despite it being a crossover, the Kona lacks any sort of dividers or a variable-height floor. Hyundai’s PR department claims that you can carry your dog in the back of a Kona if you fold the seats and that you can even take it on longer trips but, frankly, it’s mostly meant to be used for commuting within the city and for the occasional run for groceries. If you think about buying furniture, the Kona will most likely prove overwhelmed.

Is The Hyundai Kona’s Infotainment System Easy To Use?

2019 Hyundai Kona
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In Europe, the Kona is even available with a monochrome LCD display in the base trim models but, here, you’ll get a color touchscreen regardless of the trim level you pick. The system itself is rather easy to use and intuitive (a trademark of the Kona’s interior), and it actually moves quite quickly with very few laggy moments during our time with it. The built-in navigation system is inferior to that you can access via Apple Carplay.

Hyundai Kona And Car Seats

2019 Hyundai Kona
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Given the tightness of the back seats, installing car seats in the Kona is not an easy task, and it’s not made easier by the positioning of the LATCH anchors. Two sets of anchors sit about a half-inch into the seat bight, but they’re not that simple to reach, and the plastic around them makes it difficult to get the seat’s connectors in place. At least the three top tether anchors are properly marked and simple to connect. The issue arises when you wish to fit rear-facing car seats because, in essence, there isn’t enough room for them although booster seats and forward-facing seats can be mounted and you don’t have to move the front seats forward (although you must raise the head restraint for them to fit properly).

Hyundai Kona Performance

2019 Hyundai Kona
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The Kona is a cheerful city runabout, and you shouldn’t expect it to push you deep into your seat when you mash the loud pedal - it’s just not meant for that kind of thrills. In the U.S., the Kona is available with one of two engines: a 2.0-liter inline-four that is fitted to the Kona SE and SEL and a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-pot that comes under the hood of the Kona Limited and the Kona Ultimate.

The base engine, a DOHC, 16-valve unit with a 12.5:1 compression ration, puts out 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 pound-feet of twist at 4,500 rpm. The smaller, turbocharged mill in the more expensive Konas is, obviously, more powerful with 175 horsepower at 5,500 rpm on tap and 195 pound-feet of torque between 1,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic is mated to the 2.0-liter engine while the 1.6-liter one sens the power to the wheels via a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic.

2019 Hyundai Kona
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With the 2.0-liter engine in place and optional AWD (FWD is standard), a Kona will go from naught to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds while with the 1.6-liter turbo, it needs just 6.6 seconds to clear the same job - top speed is 127 mph. What’s interesting is that AWD Konas feature multi-link rear suspension while FWD ones come with a coupled torsion beam axle in the back. Front suspension is by independent MacPherson strut with coil springs while stabilizer bars are fitted in the front and in the back. Steering is by rack-and-pinion and is assisted.

The seven-speed dual-clutch box on the more expensive Konas is smooth and shifts quickly although it’s not the best when you have to go through congested areas as it tends to act hesitantly at slow speeds. The suspension itself is stiff enough to make the Kona a trustworthy companion through the bends while still taking in bumps well. The cabin is well isolated, but the steering is mute. You’ll find yourself correcting it more often than you’d think even as you drive down the highway.

How Much Can The Hyundai Kona Tow?

2019 Hyundai Kona
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The Kona won’t let you down if you have to tow something with it. It can pull 2,755 pounds braked & 1,322 pounds unbraked. The AWD version can carry slightly more (braked), 2,866 pounds. The maximum ball download in the case of the Kona is almost 287 pounds. To put it into perspective, a Toyota C-HR can tow just 1,323 pounds (braked) and, in fact, the manual states that "Toyota does not recommend towing a trailer with your vehicle. Toyota also does not recommend the installation of a tow hitch." A Honda HR-V can tow up to 3,086 pounds (braked).

Hyundai Kona Fuel Economy

2019 Hyundai Kona
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You’ll not be particularly impressed by the EPA-released fuel economy numbers for the Kona as they’d place it somewhere in the midpack in its class. With the 2.0-liter engine, the FWD Kona achieves 27 / 33 / 30 mpg (City/Highway/Combined) while the AWD version loses 3 mpg all across. The same goes for the 1.6-liter turbo that achieves 28 / 32 / 30 (City/Highway/Combined) in FWD guise. The tank’s capacity is 13.2 gallons. In the real world, the Kona is able to stay close to those numbers and even better them, the 1.6-liter, turbo AWD Kona returning 32 mpg on the highway.

Hyundai Kona fuel economy
Hyundai Kona SE Hyundai Kona Limited
City/Highway/Combined FWD 27 / 33 / 30 28/32/30
City/Highway/Combined AWD 25 / 30 / 27 26/29/27

Hyundai Kona Safety

All Konas come with front, front-side, and curtain airbags. Among the standard safety systems, there is automated emergency braking, the driver attention alert, the lane-keep assist, and the hill-start assist control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet released any crash test results for the Kona, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has. It received a Top Safety Pick+, the highest possible award from the IIHS. One thing that isn’t standard on all Konas is the high-beam headlights. But this doesn’t mean the Kona isn’t safe - it also received a five-star rating from the Euro NCAP. Overall, the Kona offers a more than acceptable amount of standard safety features.

The safety features only included with the Ultimate, and the Iron Man Edition trim levels are Pedestrian Detection and Parking Distance Warning. The SE lacks Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning, Lane Change Assist, and Blind-Spot Collision Warning.

Hyundai Kona Pricing

2019 Hyundai Kona
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The Kona starts at $19,990 (SE) and goes all the way to $30,550 if you opt for the Iron Man Edition (a special version with a unique matte grey and cherry red color combo on the outside and matching interior upholstery). In between, you’ll find the $21,800 SEL, the $25,550 Limited, and the $27,500 Ultimate. The list of options is, basically, limited to some accessories while the biggest choice you’ll have to make beyond the trim level is in regard to where the power is sent: if you go for AWD you’ll pay a $1,400 premium regardless of trim level.

Hyundai Kona Optional Accessories
Cargo blocks $20
First aid kit $30
Cargo net $50
Wheel locks $55
Rear bumper applique $70
Cargo tray $115
Mudguards $120
Carpeted floor mats $125
All-weather carpeted floor mats $130
Cargo package (includes cargo tray, cargo net and cargo block) $185
Roof rack cross rails $250
HomeLink mirror with compass $295

Hyundai Kona Competition

Toyota C-HR

left right

The main competition for the Kona comes from the Honda HR-V and the Toyota C-HR. While the Toyota is a bit of a slow mover in terms of sales, the Honda is quite popular, over 85,000 having been sold in 2018 compared to just 47,090 Konas. The Citroen C3 Aircross is also a fierce competitor for the Kona but not Stateside. We’d argue that both the Honda and the Toyota look slightly better if for nothing else only because they look a bit less unusual.

The C-HR starts at $20,945, and the top-of-the-line Limited trim level will set you back $26,000 and, no matter what trim level you pick, you won’t get AWD. That maybe makes sense in Toyota’s world where C-HR stands for ’Coupe High Rider’ (based on the Prius’s platform) but, in the subcompact crossover segment, it’s a bit of an oddity. Toyota also sacrificed cargo space to offer the C-HR a cheeky body (matched by an interesting, but not particularly well-insulated interior). On the flipside, the sporty appearance and the ’coupe’ bit in the name is not all nonsense as this crossover drives well although the acceleration doesn’t match the demeanor through the twisty stuff. The C-HR needs 10.8 seconds to reach 60 mph although its 2.0-liter mill puts out 144 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 139 pound-feet of torque. For 2019, the C-HR receives Apple CarPlay in standard across the board as well as a bigger, eight-inch, display on the dashboard.

Honda HR-V

left right

The Honda HR-V ranges between $20,520 and $28,540, and you’ll get more interior room for your money if you pick it over the Toyota or the Hyundai (it features the second-row Magic Seat that can flip up so you can carry tall items inside). The best choice is probably the mid-range EX trim level that costs $23,720, and you get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a touch screen in standard. The engine, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, cranks out 144 horsepower, enough for an unimpressive 0-60 mph time of 9.7 seconds and the CVT automatic transmission isn’t anything to write home about either. Total cargo space stands at 58.8 cubic feet (a bit less if you go for the AWD versions) and that’s more than you get from the Citroen, Toyota, and the Hyundai (by 14 cubic feet no less). With the rear seats up, the HR-V can still take in 24.3 cubic feet worth of stuff.

Jeep Renegade

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If you want a small Jeep, you pick the Renegade. It’s priced between $22,025 and $27,895 this makes it about as expensive as its main rivals in the class. The issue is that the base trim level is quite dull - both in terms of standard features and in terms of the drivetrain on offer as both the base engine and the slow gearbox. That may come as surprising since that base engine still puts out 177 horsepower, over 30 ponies more than the Honda’s mill, for instance. As expected, the Renegade is competent when you take it off-roading, but you must pay for the AWD version (that costs $1,500 extra) to really enjoy the experience. But, unlike other Jeeps, the Renegade is also at home on the street, and this is what really matters in this segment. Sadly, fuel efficiency is not a strong point of the Jeep as it returns 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Infotainment-wise, the Renegade comes with the Uconnect system (a very friendly system at that) working through a five-inch display - smaller than what you find in the rivaling models, but a 7- or 8.4-inch touch screen is available as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Citroen C3 Aircross

left right

Finally, the C3 Aircross is an interesting rival if you live in Europe. We find it to be the closest in terms of styling and the model that’s close to topping the segment in terms of cargo space. But the base engine is sluggish, the cheeky styling, in turn, means that there are sizeable blind spots looking out and the transmission is slow as well. But the cabin is a comfy place to be, it’s easy to personalize as you’d hope with a Citroen, but the two cupholders in the front have been replaced with a tray to recharge your smartphone. You can choose between an 82 horsepower engine, a 110 horsepower one, and a peppy 130 horsepower unit but it doesn’t really make sense from a financial standpoint as it costs more and uses up more fuel - a diesel may be the best engine to pick in this case (we know you may not like to hear this). The C3 Aircross ranges between $17,508 and $24,670 in the United Kingdom. Safety features aren’t plentiful even in the loaded versions.

Is The Hyundai Kona Right For Me?

2019 Hyundai Kona
- image 846430

Hyundai took the risky decision to make its smallest crossover its boldest-looking. While the narrow headlights have since been adopted by the big Palisade, the Kona can still make a statement through its design alone, and this is also why it may not find as many fans on the market as some of the other offerings from Toyota, Honda or Jeep. What we’re saying is that you probably won’t buy a Kona unless you also are (at least) at peace with its design. If this box is picked, then you should go for the Limited trim level as it combines most of the stuff you get on the pricy Ultimate while being $2,000 cheaper. The $25,550 price tag makes it just $3,500 more expensive than a bare-boned Jeep Renegade and also roughly as expensive as a Honda HR-V with similar equipment onboard (the C-HR is more expensive starting at $26,990). While there is already a large variety of used Konas on the market, keep in mind that 2019 MY version comes with extra standard safety features, which is why it’s worth considering buying it new. The interior is simple and quite rugged (although it’s filled with plastic) and you can fit five adults inside, although the back seat is kind of narrow and trunk space is limited - this is a trade-off you expect in the sub-compact crossover niche.

Final thoughts

2019 Hyundai Kona
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When you think about sub-compact crossovers, the Hyundai Kona may not be among those that quickly spring into mind. However, you should consider one if you’re in the market for such a vehicle not least because of the healthy list of standard safety features, its relatively cheap price tag (compared to rivals), and the fact that it offers a comfy ride yet one that’s not too loose (if we ignore the lackluster steering that offers almost no feedback).

Further reading

2018 Hyundai Kona
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Read our full review on the 2018 Hyundai Kona.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Hyundai Kona Electric.

2020 Hyundai Kona PHEV
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Read our full speculative review on the 2020 Hyundai Kona PHEV.

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