by Frank A. Aukofer 

Large-31740-2018KonaStart with a blank screen or a clean sheet of paper, designers and engineers who understand the territory, and you can deliver a vehicle like the 2018 Hyundai Kona.

It is an all-new, sharply competitive compact crossover sport utility vehicle from the South Korean manufacturer, which arrives at a time when it targets the sweet spot in U.S. automotive preferences. All crossovers, but especially the affordable compacts and mid-sizes, are threatening to overwhelm the market.

They are proliferating like mechanical rabbits, as witness the Kona’s competitors, which include the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Subaru Crosstrek and Jeep Renegade.

Large-31653-2018Kona2.0-litermodelCrossover SUVs generally are described as vehicles built with car-like unit-body construction, with front-wheel or optional all-wheel drive, and configured like jacked-up station wagons with hatchbacks to access  the rear cargo areas. The definition doesn’t apply across the board because some, like the Toyota CH-R and Kia Soul, do not offer all-wheel drive.

The Kona, however, does have that as well as a comprehensive package that checks all the crossover boxes, and not only among the affordables. Its full range of features also makes it competitive with more expensive compacts.

For example, it offers such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning. Though included for improved handling on curving roads but which also qualifies as a safety feature, the Kona offers torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

Large-30381-2018KONANot all of this comes in the base package. To get different features, the buyer chooses from trim levels. There are four: Base S, with a $20,450 price tag, including the destination charge; SEL, at $22,100; Limited, $25,650, and the focus here, the top-Line Ultimate with Lime interior trim at $29,660.

Keeping options to a minimum is not a new concept, but the powers at Hyundai correctly decided that keeping pricing simple was customer-friendly. 

In all trim levels, the Kona delivers a rigid and tidy package that enhances handling, delivers unexpected stability and a comfortable and quiet ride. Fifty-two percent of its innards are constructed of high-strength steel and the body incorporates 375 feet of structural adhesives.

Large-31685-2018KonaIt’s apparent the first time you get behind the wheel. The tested Ultimate delivered a solid and planted feel. It also tracked true with few corrections needed from the nicely weighted steering. That same feel came through in a shorter drive of the less expensive all-wheel-drive SEL. 

All-wheel drive models share an independent, multi-link rear suspension system, which contributes the secure handling. Front-wheel drive versions use a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle. Front-drivers were not among the testers at the national press introduction in namesake Kona, an area on the big island of Hawai’i. But they are likely to be the models of choice in sunbelt areas.

Large-31647-2018KonaThe Kona is available with two drive trains. The S and SEL models come with a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 pound feet of torque mated to six-speed automatic transmission. The package delivers EPA-rated city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 25/30/27 miles to the gallon.

The Limited and tested Ultimate are equipped with a 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic delivers instant, smooth shifts and rapid acceleration. The EPA rating is 26/29/27 mpg.

Though the S and SEL models have less power and slower acceleration, they share the body rigidity and stable feel with their more powerful siblings. Cornering is fuss-free with little body roll. The more powerful Limited and Ultimate models, with driver-selectable Normal and Sport modes that adjust transmission shifting and steering feel, are quicker. 

Large-31688-2018KonaLarge-31737-2018KonaTypically with Hyundai, the new Kona is uncommonly well-equipped. On the tested Ultimate model, they included LED gauges, a power driver’s seat, heated leather seats, motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels and an innovative head-up display screen that rises from the dashboard and offers comprehensive information on a screen mounted in the driver’s line of sight.

The eight-inch center touch screen displays vehicle functions as well as navigation, Apple Car Play and Android Auto. In what Hyundai says is a first in the class, the Kona also offers wireless smart phone charging. It also is equipped with Hyundai’s Blue Link system, which offers a variety of services, including remote starting.

Large-31689-2018KonaSpecifications

    • Model: 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Lime four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
    • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
    • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
    • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet. (46 2nd folded)
    • Weight: 3,344 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/29/27 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $29,660.
    • Price as tested: $29,775.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Large-31649-2018Kona2.0-litermodelPhotos (c) Hyundai.