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Tested: A Week With the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Is an Eye Opener

Do you think shopping for a small crossover has to be boring? Think again.

Rory JurneckaWriter, Photographer

Venture into the murky subcompact crossover waters, and you will likely feel shopping fatigue before you've even submerged your ankles. That's because there's a whole sea of options out there, and with today's copycat styling, relatively similar specs between broad swaths of the competition and, let's face it, a pretty uninspiring market segment to start with, choosing a new crossover SUV can feel an awful lot like buying a new washing machine. Which incidentally, I just did a week ago. It wasn't fun. The good news is, the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD we recently tested might save you a little time and frustration if you're in the market for a small SUV with all-wheel drive (we already tested the Kona's FWD sibling) around the $30,000 price point—provided you aren't constantly lugging around a growing family or lots of gear.

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD: The Basics

When this Thunder Gray 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD test car showed up in my driveway, first impressions were strong. In this segment, the Kona is about as good looking as it gets. Aggressively slanted, skinny LED headlights are set on either side of a horizontal intake duct and above a rather large, chrome-trimmed grille, as is all the rage these days. The side treatment isn't as ridiculously styled as the worst offenders in this class (we're looking at you, Toyota CH-R), and the chunky plastic fenders, rear roof-edge spoiler, and creased door panels make the Kona look a little more rough and rugged than it probably is.

The interior is similarly subdued, with fairly conventional rounded shapes and a clear layout. An 8.0-inch display sits above the center stack in this top-trim Kona variant (all lesser trims make do with a 7.0-inch screen), which also features factory navigation in this Ultimate package, though there is little real reason to veer from the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto which are also included. It's easy to find a comfortable driving position with a minimum of effort and to appreciate the heated leather front seats, but the fact the climate-control system is only single-zone controllable instead of dual-zone is mildly disappointing.

Despite that omission, the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD is actually quite well equipped, as I discovered quickly during my test drive. Besides features already mentioned, the Kona Ultimate AWD includes 18-inch wheels, head-up display, a premium 315-watt Infinity stereo, remote start, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a wireless-device charging pad at the base of the center stack, a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, and adaptive cruise control. Most importantly, the Ultimate trim level (and the Limited trim just beneath it) swaps out Hyundai's frankly lackluster 147-horsepower inline-four and six-speed automatic gearbox for a 175-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD: Performance Aplenty

That's absolutely the powertrain you want in your Kona if you care even a little bit about driving enjoyment, since it takes the Kona from washing-machine spec to something a little bit extra. Dare we say, the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD is even enjoyable to drive down your favorite backroad, with its 195 lb-ft of torque available from just 1,500 rpm. No, you won't be thinking you're driving a cut-rate BMW X3 M, what with the Hyundai's light-on-feel steering and subdued, uninspired exhaust note, but the Kona actually rides firmly enough to not corner on its door handles, and the brakes have the kind of feel and modulation that some sportier cars would give their rear wings to possess.

Similarly, the Kona's dual-clutch gearbox has no aspirations to match, say, Porsche's PDK unit (or even Volkswagen's DSG transmission), but it operates well enough with sharp shifts both up and down. Sport mode livens things up even further with sharper throttle response and delayed upshifts, though the firmer steering effort doesn't contribute anything meaningful. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option in the Kona Ultimate, and we'd probably take it in climates like the Pacific Northwest where rain is a year-round possibility and winters can have their fair share of snowfall. The Kona's AWD system also plays nicely with the increased power from the turbo-four, resulting in less dramatic standing starts when you nail the throttle to get that hideous Nissan Juke out of eyesight away from the stoplight.

2020 Huyndai Kona Ultimate AWD: Few Downsides

Downsides? If you've got a growing family, you may want something a little larger than the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD. The rear seat is a trifle cramped for most adults, and the cargo area, while adequate, is really only just that. The Kona is really best suited to smaller households of two consenting adults and small children or, say, a dog or two at most. We also found the black and dark grey interior color to feel a little drab and claustrophobic in such a small crossover.

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD: A Solid Value Proposition

Still, with the average price of a new car in 2020 ringing somewhere around the $37,000 mark, our test-driven 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD's all-inclusive $30,380 MSRP felt downright frugal considering its equipment level, driving experience and all-weather capability. Factor in positives like a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, five-year general warranty with roadside assistance, and a five-star overall NHTSA crash rating, and the Kona Ultimate AWD feels like a pretty smart option in a crowded vehicle class. And driving one early in your buying experience just might save you a little time as well.

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Pros:

  • Restrained exterior styling is inoffensive, the best you can expect in this class
  • Perky 1.6-liter turbo-four with smart-shifting dual-clutch transmission
  • Excellent value proposition with strong standard equipment list and excellent warranty and safety ratings

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Cons:

  • Subcompact size leads to cramped rear seat and only average cargo capacity
  • Dark interior colors can make the small cabin a bit dreary
  • Dual-clutch transmission works well but isn't quite as engaging as it may sound
2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $30,255/$30,380 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 1.6L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/175 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE 26/29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 164.0 x 70.9 x 61.0 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,276 lb
0-60 MPH 6.6 sec
TOP SPEED 127 mph