The Hyundai Kona Ultimate Is the Best Kind of Crossover

Which is to say that it’s a pleasant small hatchback in disguise.

Billy Rehbockwriter, photographer

EL SEGUNDO, California—Crossovers are here to stay whether I like it or not, and given that's the case, I'll throw my support behind ones like the Hyundai Kona, which is basically a hatchback in disguise. If manufacturers can trick folks into buying more five-door cars by calling them crossovers, I'm in.

The Kona Ultimate, which is the spec I recently drove, is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four engine that produces 175 horsepower and a punchy 195 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque comes on at just 1,500 rpm and only drops off 3,000 revs later, an incredibly tractable range that helps the Kona feel sprightly, especially because it weighs a sliver over 3,000 pounds.

Passing power on the freeway is more than adequate, and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission downshifts eagerly when called upon. The gearbox's weakest point is its somewhat lackadaisical upshifts, which feel more like steps in a CVT than the crisp shifts from other DCTs on the market. Hyundai calls this transmission an "EcoShift," though, so at least it's not pretending the transmission is sportier than it is.

But for a bit more pop, the Kona offers a Sport mode that bumps up throttle response, steering weight, and how long the transmission holds each gear. The front-drive Kona will easily chirp the tires off the line in Sport, making a case for the AWD variant.

Bend the Kona into a corner, and the steering responds nicely and accurately to inputs even as it offers very little in the way of feedback. Of course, its normal use case as an urban runabout demands no more feel than that. The suspension is fairly firm but the strut-front and torsion-beam rear setup still delivers a fairly compliant ride. All-wheel-drive models get a more compactly packaged multilink suspension in the back, if you view that as another reason to layout the additional $1,400 to upgrade. The tires are geared more toward efficiency than grip—meaning the chassis is more capable than its rubber allows—but the indicated mpg during my weekend with Kona was roughly 28 mpg, within spitting distance of the EPA's estimated 30-mpg average.

All of this is wrapped in handsome sheetmetal. The shape was penned under the guidance of Luc Donckerwolke, who also led the design such cars as the Lamborghini Gallardo, Lamborghini Murciélago, and Bentley Flying Spur before joining the Hyundai Motor Group. The standard LED headlights look upscale, and the front fascia is peppered with interesting-looking slits and grilles, although only some of which are functional. Our test model wore Sunset Orange paint, one of several bright hues available, which really stands out in the grocery-store parking lot.

Speaking of grocery shopping, the Kona's hatch opens to a reasonably capacious cargo area in which I was able to comfortably fit a week's worth of items with room to spare. You'll need to put a little force behind closing the liftgate; letting it fall with its own weight doesn't always result in the latch catching.

The Kona Ultimate is rich in features at its $28,670 asking price. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is a 4.2-inch touchscreen. The display is responsive and easy to read, although I and other editors on staff wouldn't mind if it were larger. Other standard creature comforts include proximity entry and start, heated seats, a sunroof, and a power driver's seat. Material quality is above average for this class, and the cabin layout is very intuitive. The dash is covered in a nicely textured grey rubber that keeps the interior from looking too Spartan, and there's a handy storage shelf for a cell phone right above the USB ports and power outlets. Among the Ultimate's standard safety tech is lane-keeping assist, front and rear parking assist, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic collision warning. All of it functions unobtrusively.

The 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate FWD offers a great package for those looking to get plenty of features at a friendly price (the only extra on our test vehicle was a set of carpeted floor mats for $125). As a bonus, the Kona is legitimately fun to drive, it won't pummel your wallet at the pump, either. Everyone who drove our Kona was impressed with how well executed it was, and it gets almost everything right. Buy one, and you'll end up with a good hatchback that you won't have to explain to everyone else in an SUV.

2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate FWD Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $28,545/$28,670 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 1.6L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 175 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE 28/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 164 x 70.9 x 61.6 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,042 lb
0-60 MPH 6.9 sec
TOP SPEED 135 mph
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