2018 Hyundai Kona – Hawaii Cars

2018 Hyundai Kona

Hyundai adds a muscular-looking small wagon to its lineup for buyers on a budget.


The Kona name conjures up images of an idyllic Hawaiian island paradise that offers respite from the cruel winters endured by most North Americans. Kona is also the name of Hyundai’s new compact utility model that recently landed on our shores.

Sadly, Hawaii has nothing to do with the vehicle, but Kona does have a pleasant ring to it, making it more memorable than some alphanumeric mash-ups used by other automakers.

Utility vehicles of all sizes are part of a revolution in automotive design that shows no signs of slowing down. And they’re taking a big chunk out of the traditional four-door family car’s popularity.

The compact and subcompact utility classes have been particularly active and even include vehicles such as the Toyota C-HR and upcoming Nissan Kicks that don’t even offer all-wheel-drive as an option.

By contrast, the Kona — and most other vehicles in the class — can be equipped with either front-wheel-drive (perfectly acceptable for Hawaiian Islanders or for those living in warmer climes), or all-wheel-drive.

Hyundai’s designers have done a masterful job styling the Kona, from the shape of the grille, to the muscular-looking flared fenders. Dark cladding artfully wraps around the entire circumference. Hyundai refers to this treatment as “urban smart armor.”

The properly stanced Kona is constructed on an new platform with ample ground clearance for tackling rough roads and nasty weather. It’s also easy for passengers to enter and exit.

Those in front will enjoy reasonable head, shoulder and legroom, but it will be a tighter fit for adult-sized folks in back where headroom and kneeroom are literally touch and go.

The gauges and control panel are all pretty straightforward and the seven- or optional eight-inch touch-screens each come with actual knobs for operating the audio system (shockingly rare these days) as well as the ventilation system.

For cargo space, the Kona sits mid-point between the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V, whether the rear seat is upright or folded flat.

Kona buyers can choose from two engine/transmission combinations. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard with base trims and makes 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift controls.

Optional is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that puts out 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet. Here, you get a seven-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission.

Note that all-wheel-drive is available with either powertrain. It includes an upgrade to a fully independent rear suspension that’s substituted for the less sophisticated torsion-beam setup found in front-wheel-drive versions.

Both engines get the same combined city/highway fuel-economy rating: 30 mpg with FWD; and 27 mpg for AWD.

Those values will likely degrade somewhat should you activate the Sport mode, which alters throttle response, transmission shift points and dials in more direct steering feel.

The Kona is available in four trim levels, beginning with the SE that’s priced at $20,450 (including freight). That gets you most basic equipment, but moving up to the SEL tacks on pushbutton start, heated front seats and outside mirrors, plus 17-inch alloy wheels (16-inch wheel covers are standard).

Along with the turbo engine, the Limited adds a power sunroof, leather-covered seats and 18-inch wheels. The fully loaded Kona Ultimate includes navigation, rain-sensing wipers, head-up display and wireless phone charging.

Blind-spot warning and backup cross-traffic alert are included for all but the base SE, but a more comprehensive suite of active- safety tech is included with the Ultimate as part of Hyundai’s Smart Sense package.

In an expanding segment, the Hyundai Kona’s artful and detailed design, acceptable cabin and stowage volumes, decent fuel economy — and memorable name — make for a package worth considering.

What you should know: 2018 Hyundai Kona

Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive compact utility vehicle

Engines (h.p.): 2.0-liter DOHC I-4, (147)

1.6-liter DOHC I-4, turbocharged (175)

Transmissions: Six-speed automatic (2.0); Seven-speed automatic manual (1.6 turbo)

Market position: The Kona is yet another niche model in the Hyundai lineup. In short order, the number of vehicles in this category has increased significantly, in line with demand for alternatives to small sedans.

• Arguably the best-looking small wagon in the class.
• A choice of tame or more performance-focused engines should broaden appeal.
• Roomy enough for most, but the Honda HR-V remains the most spacious in class.
• Dynamic safety equipment should be standard and not optional. Hyundai is expected to introduce an all-electric version for 2019.

Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.); lane departure warning (opt.)

MPG (city/hwy) 27/33 (2.0, FWD); Base price (incl. destination) $20,450


Ford EcoSport
Base price: $21,000
Fiesta-based model is shorter (but taller) and less powerful than the Kona.

Mazda CX-3
Base price: $21,000
What it lacks in roominess, the fun-to-drive CX-3 makes up for in sportiness

Jeep Renegade
Base price: $19,100
Smallest member of the Jeep family uses the same platform as the Fiat 500X.