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2018 Hyundai Kona Quick Drive Review: Korea-Spec Taste of What is to Come

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/14/2017 Motor Trend Staff
2018-Hyundai-Kona-front-three-quarters-05.jpg 2018 Hyundai Kona Quick Drive Review: Korea-Spec Taste of What is to Come

Full disclosure: Our first drive of the all-new 2018 Hyundai Kona subcompact SUV lasted about 8 minutes. So this drive review won't ask more than 8 minutes of your time to read.

Another disclaimer: We were in Seoul, and the prototypes we drove were Korea-spec. The Kona is a global car that engineers say will have different suspension, steering, and general dynamics depending on the region where it is sold.

In presentations as part of the global premiere of the vehicle in Seoul, it was described as having nimble driving for Korea, comfort for the U.S., and fun for Europe. Steering effort and dampers will be tweaked for each region.

© Motor Trend Staff

We drove the Kona on the handling course at Hyundai's massive R & D Center in Namyang, about 90 minutes outside Seoul. The first thing we noticed was that the steering had enough heft to suggest this is a more mature entry into a hot segment with quirky offerings such as the Nissan Juke and new entrants such as the Toyota C-HR and the Ford EcoSport due late this year. The steering was surprisingly heavy and solid, and the steering wheel also felt substantial and comfortable to grip. We suspect the steering will be adjusted for the U.S.

Our mini test drive included some uneven surfaces and crowned roadways. The suspension sopped it up fairly well, but again we expect it could change for the U.S., and there was some disagreement as to whether it would get stiffer or softer. Koreans generally prefer a softer ride, and Europeans prefer a stiff suspension, so the U.S. could find itself somewhere in the middle.

The standard engine is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the SE and SEL trim levels; it gets 147 hp at 6,000 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. It is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. That puts it in line with competitors such as the Honda HR-V (141 hp) and Toyota C-HR (144 hp).

2018 Hyundai Kona front three quarter in motion 02© Motor Trend Staff 2018 Hyundai Kona front three quarter in motion 02

However, the preproduction models we drove had a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that will be available in the Limited and Ultimate upper trim levels and is expected to have a 3540 percent take rate. The engine delivers 175 hp at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. That would give it the oomph to take on the Jeep Renegade (160 hp).

The upscale engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The power seemed adequate on the straight stretch, courtesy of a pretty fat powerband. Hyundai executives feel their engine lineup is plenty powerful and say there are no current plans for a Kona N performance SUV. We noticed there are no paddle shifters.

All-wheel drive is optional on all trim levels. Executives expect 45 percent of buyers will add the feature.

The Kona was engineered with three driving modes: Sport, Normal and Eco, which change the torque distribution and gearshift settings. Sport was programmed for greater acceleration and, conversely, early downshift on braking, and Eco uses longer gear ratios to optimize fuel efficiency. But Eco will not be offered in the U.S.—to avoid people unwittingly leaving it in that setting and complaining that the vehicle is underpowered.

2018-Hyundai-Kona-front-three-quarters-02.jpg© Motor Trend Staff 2018-Hyundai-Kona-front-three-quarters-02.jpg

The base SE still requires a key in the ignition, rides on 16-inch wheels, and has cruise control, Bluetooth, and a 7.0-inch floating infotainment screen.

Step up to the SEL for push-button start, 17-inch wheels, roof rails, and safety systems such as blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Emergency braking is optional.

Limited and Ultimate trim levels have the turbocharged engine and seven-speed transmission, 18-inch wheels, leather seats, a power sunroof, and LED headlamps and taillights. Ultimate also offers rear park sensors, lane keep assist, rain-sensing wipers, an 8.0-inch navigation screen, and a wireless phone-charging pad.

All trim levels have standard daytime running lights; none offer adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, or ventilated seats—only heated seats.

The head-up display is projected onto a "combiner," which is an 8.0-inch screen that pops up in front of the driver to show speed, cruise control, directions, and fuel level warnings.

2018-Hyundai-Kona-front-headlamp.jpg© Motor Trend Staff 2018-Hyundai-Kona-front-headlamp.jpg

If your Kona comes with lime green paint--but only lime green--there are nice color accents on the seats, air vents, and other splashes in the interior. The roof color on all models will be either black or gray, depending on the body color.

The Kona is notable for its cladding, described as "body armor" to evoke a sense of safety and being protected. It is more than just show. We watched a Kona in a 35-mph crash test, and the cladding stood up remarkably well as the metal and glass around it took a beating. Luc Donckerwolke, head of Hyundai design, said the cladding is unique to Kona and won't be part of the design of other future SUVs.

The design concept came out of Hyundai's Irvine, California, studio after a global competition between Hyundai studios around the world. Kona's look was to be expressive, lifestyle-oriented, and appealing to a younger urban buyer. It has a bit of a raked windshield and a shark fin C-pillar. Kona is a latecomer to the segment and seems to have incorporated bits and pieces from some of the offerings that have come before it. Some might find the look polarizing. Hyundai executives say they spent a lot of time identifying what their customers want, and the findings are reflected in the design and effort to offer maximum interior space.

The Kona rides on a new global architecture that is 18mm (0.7-inch) lower and wider than the existing low-cost, emerging-market Creta mini-SUV platform, and thus it is considered a second-generation platform. The Kona has a long wheelbase and short overhangs for a planted stance and greater agility to navigate the urban areas where it is expected to spend much of its time.

The platform will also underpin some sedans in the future, but executives declined to provide further details. The upcoming Accent will not be on the Kona platform, but it is a car that would be expected to eventually migrate over.

The vehicle will start arriving in showrooms in March. Pricing has not been disclosed, but officials say it will be competitive with others in the segment and less than the Toyota C-HR, which starts about $23,500, while entries such as the Honda HR-V start around $20,000 or less.

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