SEOUL, Korea — Given rapidly shifting consumer preferences, it’s fitting that Hyundai’s new design direction was unveiled on a crossover rather than a sedan. Perhaps of more significant than the fresh style of the 2018 Hyundai Kona is the subcompact’s all-new architecture.
That new skeleton was designed primarily to maximize interior space while accommodating available all-wheel drive. Hyundai says it designed the intercooler layout and transmission placement to limit cabin intrusion up front and used some clever packaging at the rear for the fuel, exhaust, and suspension systems. Rear suspension design varies between front-wheel and all-wheel drive; the former gets a torsion-beam design, while the latter benefits from a multi-link. Up front the Kona uses MacPherson struts for both drive layouts.
Of the various engine options that the Kona will be offered with around the world, the U.S. can expect the combination of the Gamma 1.6-liter turbo- cylinder engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic combination seen in the Sonata Eco. In the Kona it will produce the same 177 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, good for 0-60 mph in a reasonable 7.6 seconds. (Max torque is on tap from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm.) A 149-hp, 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission will be offered in the U.S. as well. Europeans will also get the choice of a 1.6-liter diesel and a 1.0-liter turbo-three, the latter making 120 hp. There are also rumors of an all-electric Kona with 217 miles of range, which is said to be coming in late 2018.
Drivers can choose between three selectable drive modes, dubbed Sport, Normal, and Eco. Sport will give the feeling of more responsive acceleration, while also downshifting earlier under braking. Truly though, the Kona is meant for city driving and highway commutes rather than twisty roads.
As we saw in Hyundai’s previous teasers, the Kona has a decent amount of ground clearance that gives it the impression of a larger SUV. Hyundai was savvy enough to place a big emphasis on styling, as looks tend to be a major deciding factor for customers in this space. The effect is more than bit busy, however. A modified version of the brand’s mesh grille sits in the center, positioned between LED headlights and underneath slim eyelid-like daytime running lamps that resemble those on the Jeep Cherokee. Between the headlights is a slit in the hood, presumably as an air intake. The cladding from the headlights then continues all along the front fender into the wheel arches, along the rocker sills to the rear wheel arches, and then straight into the rear fender and bumper. The contrast of the cladding is further emphasized by the fact that it doesn’t exactly match the black-contrast roofline detailing, which starts at the A-pillar and moves over the entire greenhouse, save for the D-pillar kink in body color. It’s certainly the most polarizing Hyundai design to date.
Inside, the Kona features a flat-folding second row along with claimed best-in-class interior space. Active safety features like lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision braking, automatic high beams, and driver attention warning will be available. On the infotainment side, the Kona will come wired for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, displayed onto a 5-, 7-, or 8-inch screen. The driver will also be treated to an optional head-up display projected onto the windshield, which will communicate speed, audio, navigation, and other information. Wireless charging for compatible phones is also available.
Sales will begin in Korea this summer, but don’t expect the Hyundai Kona to come to the U.S. until early 2018, with pricing and equipment details likely coming by the end of 2017. Competition will be stiff, as newcomers like the Toyota C-HR and Ford EcoSport will be contending for every scrap of sales not already claimed by the Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, and Honda HR-V.