In the nascent world of subcompact crossovers, whose number multiplies like so many rabbits, Hyundai’s all-new Kona adds to the collective with a decidedly distinct menu. Unlike Honda’s HR-V, it won’t offer the most interior space. And if compared to Mazda’s CX-3, the Kona won’t supply the most exterior grace. Instead, finished in its radioactive ‘Lime Twist’, and with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four supplying the motivational grist, Hyundai’s Kona is the intentional outlier, taking the mouse-like subcompact footprint and injecting it with a measured menace.
Prior to launching the Kona, Hyundai offered few hints of this new-found virility. Sure, the Veloster hatch – in turbo guise – conveyed a playful personality, but with its low-slung profile it offers more boy toy than terror. And while the now-discontinued Genesis coupe punched well above its weight and price class, in a segment defined by Mustang and Camaro the coupe’s turbocharged four was ahead of the market. Now, of course, turbo fours are under the hoods of both Mustang and Camaro.
In the walkaround, the Kona sits like a smaller version of Jeep’s Cherokee. The front fascia mimics that of the Jeep, and the long front overhang speaks to the front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive powertrain. Like most aspirational offroaders – even those not really prepared to venture off-road – plastic cladding is standard, and while it works against the Lime Twist exterior we’d prefer a darker metallic, which would mute the visual dissonance of the cladding. But an off-road posture speaks to the times, and these – apparently – are the rules.
Behind the front end, the Kona combines funk with spunk. The windshield is aggressively raked, but there’s been a conscious effort to keep the greenhouse open, allowing ‘them’ to see in and, more importantly, you and your passengers to see out. In our top-of-the-line Ultimate trim, leather is standard. And in a 90-minute drive from the Tacoma, WA area south, four adults found the interior environs surprisingly comfortable.
Had those four passengers been carrying anything beyond their credit cards they’d have found luggage capacity that’s adequate, but certainly not spectacular. ‘Spectacular’ – at least in this subcompact segment – is still held by Honda’s HR-V. The Kona provides 19 cubic feet of stowage with the rear seat up, while the HR-V gives you 23 cubic feet. Fold the rear seats down, however, and the HR-V provides ten more cubic feet – 55.9 vs the Kona’s 45.8 – of capability. Taking a chair? The Kona will handle it. But taking a love seat? The Honda has your love.
“If pondering the purchase, spring for the Kona’s 1.6-liter turbo…”
Under the hood, entry-level Konas are equipped with a 2.0 liter, normally aspirated four delivering 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. We’ve not driven it; given its similar output to Honda’s HR-V and Mazda’s CX-3, we don’t want to drive it. If pondering the purchase, spring for the Kona’s 1.6-liter turbo, available in upmarket Limited and Ultimate trims. With it, you’ll enjoy 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, all of which is distributed to the ground via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The end result won’t have you selling the Cayman, but it will have you rethinking your perception of the Korean driving experience. Relative to what Honda, Mazda and Nissan are selling in the category, this – ladies and gentleman – is the Rocket Man. With a platform designed for, according to Hyundai’s press material, ‘urban adventure’, you’ll more than keep up with freeway traffic, while dodging the masses in the subsequent congestion.
Pricing for the Kona starts at under $20K. And while our Ultimate came in at just under $30K, we think the sweet spot is the Limited, at about $26,000 with all-wheel drive. If navigating the city, forget the motorized skateboards – get a Kona.
Also, check out Adam’s video from the Kona launch in Hawaii!
[more photos from Hyundai]