Car Review: Hyundai Kona Ultimate looks to make waves in the crossover segment

Tiny crossovers are a newer segment and many manufacturers have jumped into that market. Hyundai was missing until now. I have driven all the offerings in the sub-compact market and have noticed one theme — the lack of power. Does Hyundai tackle this with its new Kona subcompact crossover?

Hyundai takes on the power problem with some Hyundai Kona models by offering a more powerful turbo-charged engine for a price. The turbo-charged engine adds about $5,000 to $20,000 base models. For that price, you finally get some pep in the subcompact crossover market. A little turbo four-cylinder engine delivers the goods: 175 horsepower is enough to turn the Kona into a speedy little ride. The Kona has no problem keeping up with traffic, and merging onto the highway is simple with good power and torque. The transmission that comes with the turbo engine is a dual-clutch, which acts like a faster-shifting automatic. But it seems a little strange at times and feels like a manual, especially at lower speeds.

While it takes a bit of getting used to, the seven-speed unit offers quick shifts and does pretty good with fuel economy. I managed 29 miles per gallon for my week of sometimes spirited driving. The handling is surprisingly good for a small crossover. It’s happy in the corners and also good as the normal daily commuter. It has a nice ride with some upsets over the bigger bumps.

I had the Kona Ultimate for a week, which is nearly $30,000 and is the going rate for a top trim level subcompact crossover these days. You’ll get a nice interior with heated, leather seats; the power sunroof adds a nice, airy feel. The front seats have good space and offer decent comfort to the driver with eight-way power settings and power lumbar support. The rear seat has the average amount of space for this class. Taller riders might find it lacking, though. I noticed the rear bench is a bit hard on your bottom after a while. Cargo space is decent, but there are some others in the class with a bit more space.

There’s no power rear hatch on the Kona Ultimate, so you have to lift and close the hatch yourself, and it’s a bit of reach. The controls are easy to use and the large eight-inch touchscreen with NAV is standard on the Ultimate trim level. You can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and have your phone features on the large screen.  Nice safety features like Heads-up display, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection are samples of the safety tech on the Kona Ultimate.

The styling is different for the Hyundai Kona, with a more daring look than the Hyundai vehicles of late. It doesn’t say conservative at all. Instead, it has stylish front end styling with a modern look and a lot of lighting. There are slender modern light clusters toward the top of front fascia, with larger headlights below that and fog lights hiding out at the bottom of the grill. Large 18-inch wheels are standard when you choose the Ultimate trim package.

The Kona is small but looks chunky, with rugged black body cladding on the lower body. Even out back, the little Kona is pretty stylish with its many lights. The brake lights are separate, and the backup lights and turn signals are housed farther down, on the outer edges of the rear bumper.

The Hyundai Kona Ultimate is the first subcompact crossover I’ve driven that puts it all together. With power, style and technology, the little Kona packs a punch for your buying dollar. Add in that 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that is standard, and the Kona is a safe bet for the long haul.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.

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