Hyundai Kona: A Cute Ute with Lots of Good Stuff

This driving assessment of the Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD continues The BRAKE Report’s look at the vehicles demonstrating the technology we write about daily. Each week we will spotlight a vehicle with an emphasis on safety features, as well as an overall impression of its merits.

Chatham, Mass. – Hyundai’s reputation for offering solid value to the American car-buyer, or should we say, crossover buyer continues with the feature-packed Kona, the Korean company’s entry into the expanding subcompact segment of this market.

Just how good was this effort? The judges for the North American Car/Utility/Truck of the Year chose the Kona family as the 2019 Utility winner validating its stature in the competitive market.

Within its “Cute-Ute” dimensions of 164-inches long/70.9-inches wide/61-inches tall, the Kona Ultimate we spent a week driving around Massachusetts packed room for five (the rear seat a bit tight unless the front passengers moved their seats forward); a peppy 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine with surprising oomph thanks to its torque rating of 195 pounds-feet, and a substantial list of safety and convenience features.

Safety systems

The Kona Ultimate AWD (all-wheel drive) reviewed included safety systems generally associated with more expensive vehicles, including: eight air bags; anti-lock brakes; electronic stability control; traction control; stability management; lane-change assistance; lane-keep assistance; rear cross-traffic warning; rear-collision warning; forward-collision-avoidance system; pedestrian detection, and parking-distance warning.

Automatic-emergency braking is incorporated into the forward-collision-avoidance assist. If the Kona detects a pedestrian or a stopped vehicle in its path, it warns the driver of the potential collision. If the driver does not respond in time to avoid the collision, the system automatically applies emergency braking to avoid or reduce severity of a collision.

Surprising heads-up display in subcompact crossover

Often an array of safety warning systems comparable to the Kona’s can be daunting, but Hyundai added another feature to the ultimate which, once I got used to it, made the systems easy to interpret – a head-up display (HUD).

The clear-plastic screen rose (when activated) from the dash binnacle in front of the driver projecting key safety, navigation and audio information: vehicle speed, speed limit, turn-by-turn directions; lane-keep assistance (when a vehicle was approaching on either side while driving on the highway as well as vehicles in blind spots when activating the turn signal to switch highway lanes); cruise-control setting; blind-spot-collision warning; audio station, and any warning message (for example “low fuel”).

That may seem like a lot of information – and it is – but it is amazing how easy I could assimilate the material without taking my eyes from the road – which is the point of a HUD (a technology from the cockpit of jet fighters). Very quickly viewing the Kona’s head-up display became second nature, like checking the rear-view mirror – so much so that when I switched to other vehicles, I found myself looking for this information in the windshield and missing it.

Interior packed with comfort and convenience features

The HUD might split the difference between a safety item and a convenience one; the Kona Ultimate’s cozy interior is filled with the latter: eight-way power driver seat; heated front seats; one touch up/down front power windows; automatic headlights; rain-sensing wipers; power tilt/slide sunroof, and heated side mirrors.

But wait, there’s more: leather seating surfaces; rear-center armrest; 60/40-split-rear seats; auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror with integrated Homelink garage-door opener and compass; tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio, cruise and phone controls.

The wheel’s controls simplify operating the 315-Watt AM/FM/SiriusXM/MP3/HD audio system or you can use your fingers to manipulate the eight-inch color touchscreen, which, of course, includes navigation, rear-view-camera monitor and both Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™.

Speaking of cell phones, just drop your wireless-charging capable one into the cubby at the front of the console so the Kona can fill up its battery. Simple, easy – the only issue is remembering to take the phone when you leave the vehicle (something I did a number of times).

What I did not have to remember either getting into or out of the Kona was a key, thanks to keyless entry and ignition.

Living with the Kona

I’m sure I missed some features, but in the end what’s important is how they come together for living with the Kona? Around town its relatively small footprint and peppy engine (remember the torque figure) made it highly maneuverable, easy to zip through congested tourist towns. And despite most of the driving being of the around-town variety, the Kona Ultimate averaged about 29 miles per gallon of regular fuel (better than the Environmental Protection Agency’s rating of 26/27/29 in city/combined/highway driving).

The Hyundai Kona comes in five gasoline fueled versions and three electric ones (Hyundai Kona EV). The latters’ availability is limited to California and headed to Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The gas models range in price from $18,740 (SE) to $30,550 (Iron Man Edition), while the EV’s from $36,950 (SEL) to $44,900 (Ultimate).

The gasoline-fueled Kona Ultimate we sampled added all-wheel drive, floor mats and (of course) shipping for a total of $30,005. Like all Hyundai vehicles, the Kona is protected by a five-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle warranty; five-year/unlimited mileage roadside-assistance; seven-year/unlimited-mile anti-perforation (rust) warranty, and Hyundai’s pioneering 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.