Kona

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2021 Hyundai Kona Test Drive Review

The decidedly small and deceptively fun Hyundai Kona is a compelling option for anyone looking for a vehicle with a little ride height, a little storage, and a lot of style.

7.2 /10
Overall Score

After three years on the market, the Hyundai Kona continues to wow with great features, strong styling, and decent specs. The 2021 model year brings subtle changes to the Kona lineup, including new colors, a new Night Edition with Rays semi-gloss black 18-inch wheels, and gloss black exterior and interior accents.

Hyundai offers the Kona in several trims: SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Night Edition, Limited, and Ultimate. A Hyundai Kona Electric model is available as well, but we'll cover that in a separate overview. A high-performance Kona N will be available for the 2022 model year.

The Hyundai Kona competes with subcompact SUVs that include the Kia Soul, Volkswagen Taos, Mazda CX-30, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Venue, and Toyota C-HR. Given its size and price, buyers may also cross-shop the larger Hyundai Tucson. New car buyers have many other choices, then, but the Kona still stands out as a value-forward crossover with a long warranty and plenty of standard features.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

The Kona is a funky small SUV with styling that blends mild and wild. Up front, the grille is flanked by lighting features, but above them there are other lights, and beneath all of that are fog lights for some trim levels. It's a busy look that leans more to toward playful than business, which works for the Kona's target audience of younger buyers. Around back, the style is far more subdued, with a more standard crossover shape and lighting configuration.

The outside shouts uniqueness and fun, and the interior manages to pull off a similar attitude without being too whimsical or busy. The seats feature neat patterns and standard cloth upholstery, while higher trims can be upgraded with leather on the steering wheel and seats. The well organized interior features an infotainment system touchscreen mounted high on the dash and physical climate controls. The layout is simple and intuitive, and works well with the Kona's compact interior.

Performance

7/ 10

Hyundai offers two powertrain options for the 2021 Kona. The base model gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. The optional drivetrain is a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine rated at 195 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The base engine comes paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the turbocharged engine gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard and all-wheel drive (AWD) is available for a $1,400 upcharge. Neither engine is going to wow anyone with power, torque, or acceleration, but both engines deliver ample power to move the tiny Kona around town and on the highway with ease.

Dual-clutch transmissions are great and can improve a car's sporty feel to a high degree, but they're not known for being particularly graceful at low speeds. That's the case with the turbo engine-paired seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that Hyundai employs in the Kona, though things smooth out considerably at higher speeds.

Surprisingly, the Kona handles and drives with much more confidence than its price tag or segment would suggest. Though it's not a rocket ship by any means, the Kona feels agile and ready to go, and the sensation from the driver seat is one of engagement and fun. That said, Hyundai dialed in enough comfort and composure to keep things smooth and planted on curvy roads.

With FWD and the base engine, the Kona returns an EPA-estimated 27/33/30 mpg city/highway/combined. With AWD and the base engine, the Kona returns fuel economy of 25/30/27 mpg. The turbo engine and FWD combine to deliver 28/32/30 mpg. With AWD, those numbers shift to 26/29/27 mpg.

Form and Function

6/ 10

Front-seat passengers get decent headroom and legroom, though the view in the front cabin area is not all that exciting. The good news is that the optional sunroof doesn't chop too much headroom. All dials, controls, and displays are within easy reach of either front passenger. The front seats are wide and well-padded, but could use more support, both in bolstering and in hip padding. This becomes more of an issue when driving spiritedly, as it's too easy to lean one way or the other.

Back-seat passengers will find an upright space with good headroom, but most will find legroom to be lacking. The Kona's large rear door openings make loading and unloading children much easier, but large rear-facing car seats may cause issues with taller passengers up front.

The Hyundai Kona lands near the bottom of the list in its segment for cargo space, only beating out the Mazda CX-3. Most, including the Honda HR-V can swallow much more in their cargo holds. The rear seats do fold, which opens the space further. That said, small-item storage spaces are generous and conveniently located. The door pockets are large and the center console area is surprisingly spacious.

Tech Level

7/ 10

Hyundai equips every Kona with a solid list of tech and entertainment features. They include an eight-inch infotainment system touchscreen, Bluetooth, six speakers, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and USB inputs. Available tech includes SiriusXM radio, navigation, wireless device charging, a Harman Kardon audio system, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen system.

Hyundai's infotainment software is simple, but is colorful and responsive. The system is easy to navigate and does not require several clicks to change a setting or access a feature. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are huge benefits for Kona buyers, especially at the low end of the trim range, as it brings navigation, streaming audio, and voice controls to every model.

Safety

8/ 10

The 2021 Hyundai Kona earned a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The award included "Good" scores in all crash test areas. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)scored it five stars overall.

Every Kona comes standard with forward-collision warning, pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, a driver attention warning system, and rear occupant alert. Optional safety features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display, and parking sensors.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

The Hyundai Kona's MSRP tops out at just about $30,000 fully loaded. That's not all that much, considering how expensive other vehicles have become and how much you're getting with a Kona purchase. Because of that, there's no reason not to spring for the Hyundai Kona Limited or even the Hyundai Kona Ultimate, as there's not much of a price penalty for going all out.

The Hyundai warranty is also one of the best in the business. The automaker covers its vehicles with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Updated by Chris Teague

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