DETROIT — It’s real simple. As sport utilities and crossover vehicles become ever more popular, automakers are developing new models to meet the demand. Enter the 2018 Hyundai Kona, an all-new small crossover.
They dubbed the design theme urban smart armor. In a phrase the Kona is meant to be an urban runabout. But don’t get it twisted. I have no doubt that it can gobble up interstate highways on long drives.
Still, the truth is how often do people take long trips? We drove about 100 miles during the course of the day and the majority of it was on surface streets throughout the metropolitan area here, starting downtown.
Several traits were apparent about the Kona. It was awfully easy to drive. Sight lines were great, although it was a small crossover, that doesn’t mean it was small or that it drove small. And it was quiet.
Of course, its summer, this is certainly urban America and that means road construction. At one spot, a jackhammer was pounding away but the noise was subdued. We could tell just how subdued when we let down the window.
Another positive trait of the Kona was its suspension. We were impressed with how the CUV smoothed out the bumps and lumps in the roads here. It was really impressive.
The McPherson strut front suspension used a sub-frame bushing design for enhanced comfort and reduced NVH. It had gas-filled shock absorbers and a hollow stabilizer bar for lower weight and enhanced responsiveness.
The rear suspension design was developed for 2WD and AWD models. The former had a rigid torsion beam design for overall stability and control. The AWD model, which is what we test drove, had an independent, dual-arm multi-link design, optimizing ride comfort and stability in the wider ranges of off-road suspension articulation. Its geometry was specially designed for refined body movement on rough roads and off-road terrain.
The Kona had plenty of oomph. We had the Kona Ultimate AWD. It was powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that was tuned to make 175 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
There is also a 2.0-liter four cylinder that makes 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic with manual shift capability.
I thought the 1.6-liter engine sounded a little weak but that was when I wasn’t driving. From under the wheel, I felt the turbo’s power and that engine didn’t seem wimpy too me.
There was what Hyundai called motor-driven (read electric) power steering which the automaker said was more efficient and quieter than traditional hydraulic systems by reducing parasitic losses from ancillary belts and their continual drag on the powertrain. Further, the steering system was engineered and tuned specifically for Kona’s precise and rapid adjustments in steering feel with changing driving conditions. That may be. All I know is that the Kona handled with rifle shot accuracy.
Hyundai said the “Kona was developed with a focus on enhanced driving dynamics and responsive performance for a variety of urban and multi-surface driving conditions. The long wheelbase, short overhangs and wide track create a planted stance that results in exceptional agility in urban environments with enhanced linear stability and ride comfort.”
As corny as that sounds, it is true. We made several U-turns in a gas station and the Kona accounted itself well. We also had to stop on I-94 coming back to the city, cross over two lanes of traffic to get off because traffic had slowed to a crawl. No problem.
There was also drive mode select which we didn’t bother with. However, in sport mode, there is a greater emphasis on acceleration with earlier downshifts, while in normal mode fuel economy is prioritized over performance with a more conservative, lower-rpm shift schedule.
All the capability came in an eye-pleasing package. The Kona had a low and wide stance with a long wheelbase and short overhangs. It had LED daytime running lights over the LED headlights. It incorporated Hyundai’s new family identity, the cascading grille, featuring a sporty mesh pattern, flanked by flared, wing-like fenders.
Hyundai said the side-profile design elements reinforce the Kona’s tough and functional qualities. Contrasting black armor provides a protective skin and visually connects the front to the rear. As with the front LED arrangement, the rear light configuration also creates a truly unique, signature appearance. The slim brake lights, turn indicators and reverse lamps are in a separate configuration, surrounded by protective skin that begins at the C-pillar garnish.
I thought the interior was minimalist without looking barren. There was a circular motif – speakers, vents and dials. There was some soft-touch material on the dash and on the doors, especially the arm rest. That’s the place that comes in contact with driver and passenger the most.
There was a seven-inch touch screen atop the dash. We could connect to Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay capability. What’s called the floating display design adds to the sense of space, at least that’s what the automaker said. The climate controls were beneath the central vents. And beneath that were the USB and auxiliary jacks. What I thought was particularly nifty was an adapter plugged into the second 12V socket; it held two more USB jacks.
Depending on the model trim, the Kona could be equipped with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane keeping assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning and automatic high beams.
There is also Premium technology availability: an eight-inch navigation system, standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, next generation Blue Link which can remotely unlock car doors and remotely start the engine, monitor the Kona’s mechanical health, send collision notifications, as well as communicate with Amazon Echo or Google Home and much more. It also had a heads-up display with an active pop-up display screen, rain-sensing wipers and wireless device charging.
There are four trim lines. The SE starts at $19,500; the SEL starts at $21,150, the Limited starts at $24,700 and the Ultimate starts at $27,400. Add a $985 freight charge to all base prices.
Now that Hyundai has spun off the Genesis nameplate to form a new luxury brand, Hyundai once again has to move beyond its original identity as a value brand. The company wants to be known for offering a lot more than a great value. The 2018 Hyundai Kona is a good start.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.