THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Peppy performance, sharply styled, loads of content
- What’s Bad: Minimal cargo space, expensive for its size
Few things are assured in life, but recent evidence suggests that in addition to death and taxes, the popularity of the sport utility vehicle is also inevitable.
Research is ongoing so perhaps it is too early to lump SUV popularity in with the grim reaper and the taxman, but the sample size is large enough to at least draw this conclusion: new car buyers really like SUVs.
Numbers, as they say, don’t lie and through the first two months of 2019 the evidence is clear. Through the end of February ten of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in Canada are SUVs, including the third (Toyota RAV4) and fifth-ranked (Honda CR-V) overall.
One of the fast risers in the top 20 is the Hyundai Kona, a subcompact SUV that entered the market in early 2018. Despite being a first-ever model, the Kona quickly found favour with Canadian car buyers and it is now Hyundai’s number two vehicle in Canada behind the Elantra with 3,065 units sold through Feb. 28.
The Kona was first shown in 2017 and went on sale later that year. It’s built on a subcompact crossover platform shared with the Kia Stonic, its corporate cousin sold in Europe and Asia. A pure electric variant, the Kona EV, went on sale in North America in late 2018.
For the Canadian market, the gas-powered Kona is offered with two engine and transmission options spread across five models. At the lower end of the grade walk is a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder (147 hp / 132 lb-ft.) paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be had in either FWD or AWD. At the upper end of the model range is a 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder (175 hp / 195 lb-ft.) that is paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and standard AWD.
The Kona’s popularity adds to the natural intrigue surrounding new vehicles, so I was pleased to finally get my hands on one of Hyundai Canada’s press units recently to see for myself what the fuss is all about.
My tester, a range-topping 1.6T Ultimate AWD, is finished in a greenish tint known officially as acid yellow and is crammed with a ton of standard equipment as one might expect given its $31,899 MSRP. Among its many standard features are leather seating, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, 8-inch infotainment / navigation touchscreen, power sunroof, cell phone charge pad any much more.
When I first saw the Kona in person at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Initially I though it might be a bit too small for North American SUV tastes and I wasn’t sure if its aggressive styling would hold much appeal. I thought its generous application of plastic cladding, tiny headlights and big wheels (for its size) might be a little too avante garde for consumers on this side of the Atlantic. To sum up, I wasn’t sure if it would find footing in a very crowded segment here. But I always thought the name was a winner. Catchy and easy to say, spell, and remember. Well done.
Fast forward 18 months and I have to say that after spending a week driving the Kona and seeing how well it’s been selling – it’s only a matter of time before it unseats the Elantra as Hyundai’s bestseller in Canada – my initial concerns have been proven wrong. Consumers have really taken to this small SUV and I can see why.
I still think its looks are aimed at a demographic that’s probably 10-15 years younger than yours truly, but the Kona’s styling has grown on me over time. Its slim notch LED headlights and big wheels look better to me now as does the general sporty character of its design. And while I’m not crazy about acid yellow, I think the Kona looks good in some of Hyundai’s other colours such as blue lagoon, pulse red and, of course, phantom black.
Inside, the Kona’s confines are tight, but I’m impressed with the thought and care Hyundai has put into outfitting a small crossover with so much premium content. As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot here, and while it’s true upper level trims get a lot of stuff in order to justify their bigger price tags, the base Kona isn’t stripped down. Standard features include a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated front seats and 16-inch alloy wheels.
As for my tester, I’m quite impressed with not only the abundance of equipment, but the way in which it’s been executed. The seats are comfortable, the centre stack’s controls are logically laid out and the materials, whether its switches or trim panels, have a pleasing tactile feel.
Happily, the Kona’s good looks and impressive levels of content are matched by its spritely performance on the road. The 1.6-litre turbo offers good zip off the line and with 195 lb-ft. of torque beginning at just 1,500 rpm, there’s little reason to fear highway on ramps. A drive mode selector features a sport mode that makes for even sharper acceleration and a manual mode makes it possible to wind the rpms and bang through the gears of the 7-speed DCT yourself.
All in all, the Kona is a compelling offering for those looking for a garage-able, economical SUV that provides a good amount of versatility, sharp styling and a high level of content for the money. The Ultimate 1.6T AWD model is relatively expensive and cargo space is limited with the rear seats up, but these are minor nitpicks for what is a very impressive vehicle overall.
Recently named the 2019 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, the Kona is worthy addition to any compact crossover shopping list.