Good fuel economy
Advanced safety features
Smallish back seat and cargo area
Pricey upper trims
2020 Hyundai Kona
The Hyundai Kona rolls into its third model year nearly unchanged from 2019, although there are a few items worth mentioning. The first is a new color, Sunset Orange, that features orange interior accents much like the Lime Twist color that’s carried over. The orange-accented interior is also available with the Ultra Black exterior color. Second on the list is adaptive cruise control – an advanced safety item heretofore unavailable that’s standard and only available on the Ultimate trim. The third items are a 4.2-inch color instrument display and wireless charging that trickle down from the Ultimate and are now standard on both the Limited and SEL Plus trims. Finally, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, previously standard on Limited and Ultimate models is now also standard on the SEL Plus.
For good or ill, the exterior remains unchanged. It’s good because we like the aggressively-sculpted body that blends well with the tall mesh grille and high-mounted LED daytime running lights that dominate the front fascia. What we do find disconcerting – stylistically speaking – is the Kona’s overly-zealous application of chunky body cladding. Euphemistically referred to as “smart armor” by Hyundai, it envelops the wheel well/low-mounted headlamp enclosures up front, as well as the wheel well/lower turn signal/backup light/reflector pods that dominate the lower rear fascia. As such, the Kona looks best when rendered in either gray or black, as the cladding tends to blend in well with both.
The interior is not only more conventional, it’s also a step or so above the class with splendidly-textured matte interior trim that extends to the cargo space, sturdy cloth on the base trim that looks and feels nicer than it’s required to be, and soft leather trimmed with a lime piping that matches the trim that outlines the shifter and vent bezels on our Ultimate tester. The layout of buttons and knobs is ergonomic and logical, the high front seats make ingress and egress a breeze, the trim panels all match up nicely, while the cubby in front of the shifter features an open storage shelf (or a wireless charger on Ultimate models), two power outlets, one USB port, and one AUX port.
Depending on trim, a 7- (SE, SEL, Limited) or 8-inch (Ultimate) color touchscreen dominates the center dash, flanked by redundant buttons on either side for the major functions, including station presets and phone pairing, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard regardless of trim level. The front seats offer all-day comfort – surprising in a vehicle this size - with enough leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for tall adults. Thanks to narrow A-pillars, driver sight lines out the front and sides are very good, while a wide hatch opening and low load floor make loading and unloading a breeze. Flipping both rear seats forward, we were able to haul a 52cm road bike without having to remove the front wheel – although the short load floor meant we had to angle the front wheel nearly upright in order to close the rear hatch.
At the same time, 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room that expands to 45.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded is just average for the class, the lack of a sunroof in SE and SEL models makes the interior in both feel darker and almost cave-like, the wide C-pillar hinders the rear three-quarters view, while the rear head rests and small rear window block much of the view out back. Finally, despite seating for five and generous head room, three adults will find accommodations tight in the back row, while even two taller adults will notice that leg room isn’t particularly generous.
Under the hood
Gasoline versions of the Kona (an all-electric model is also available) are offered with a pair of engine/transmission drivetrains. SE, SEL, and SEL Plus trims feature a 147 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a conventional six-speed automatic. Limited and Ultimate models are equipped with a 175 horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
Fuel economy from both engines is class-competitive, with an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 30 combined for front-wheel-drive (FWD) 2.0-liter trims and 25 city, 30 highway, and 27 combined mpg when equipped with all-wheel-drive. FWD trims equipped with the 1.6-liter turbo score an EPA-estimated 28 city, 32 highway, and 30 combined mpg, while AWD lowers those numbers to 26 city, 29 highway, and 27 combined mpg. We observed a vehicle-measured 25.2 miles per gallon in our Ultimate tester in aggressive mixed driving. At the same time, fuel economy in the more efficient turbo isn’t markedly better than the normally-aspirated base engine.
On the road
The base engine is adequate, while buyers looking for a bit more should consider either the Limited or Ultimate, as maximum torque from the 1.6-liter turbo-4 is available at a useful 1,500 rpm, and delivers solid, if not exciting, step-off. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission has been criticized for a lack of smoothness at low rpm, although it’s an issue we’ve never experienced. And while even the turbo-equipped models are hardly corner-carvers – lacking the agility of the Mazda CX-3 - the Hyundai makes up for shortcomings in the handling department with 27 additional horses and nearly 50 more lb.-ft. of torque than the Mazda.
The suspension setup is MacPherson struts up front, with a torsion beam in back on FWD models that’s swapped out for a much nicer multi-link arrangement when the AWD box is checked. In either case, the ride is calibrated for smoothness over handling, absorbing road imperfections with ease. In addition, the steering has a nice weight to it with decent feedback, the brakes are easy to modulate, and there's a nice initial bite to the brake pads.
At the same time, the Kona shares a commonality with many small crossovers: mediocre ground clearance (6.7 inches), an AWD system that isn’t remotely up to the task of off-roading, road noise over rough and uneven surfaces, and body lean during cornering.
2020 Hyundai Kona prices
2020 Hyundai Kona pricing starts at a very reasonable $21,420 for a front-wheel-drive SE with a value proposition that includes the usual power bits (windows, locks, mirrors, air conditioning) plus 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, automatic projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, keyless entry, a 7-inch color touchscreen with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capability, 2 front USB ports (1 data), dual-level cargo floor, and a rear cargo area cover.
Standard advanced safety features include automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and driver attention warning.
The $23,220 SEL adds larger 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as black roof rails, side mirrors with turn signals, keyless push-button start, heated front seats, an under-floor storage tray in the cargo area, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, sliding, illuminated vanity mirrors, outside temperature display, satellite radio, and rear, quarter, back privacy glass, and optional contrasting roof paint schemes on select exterior colors.
Additional advanced safety systems include blind spot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Moving up to the $25,070 SEL Plus (which replaces the 2019 SEL with Tech Package) deletes the contrasting paint option, but adds fog lights, power moonroof, a 4.2-inch color instrument cluster display, an 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, wireless phone charging, an Infinity audio system, and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematic services.
Take it one more step, however, and the value starts to fade. The $27,220 Limited trim features the more powerful turbo engine and augments the list with larger 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with low-beam assist, LED taillights, chrome grille trim, dark gray body cladding, metallic door sill plates, leather seats, and automatic climate control.
Finally, the top trim $29,070 Ultimate model, like our Lime Twist test vehicle adds automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display, and a larger 8-inch color touchscreen with navigation. Sunset Orange models come with orange interior accents, while Lime Twist models feature lime interior accents.
All-wheel-drive is an across-the-board $1,400 option, as is the $135 charge for carpeted floor mats, which meant that our Limited tester should’ve had a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $30,605 (the actual sticker price, $30,380, indicates that it was an early build).
That $30K price also bumps up hard against the larger, more stylish, and more comfortable Tucson – and not even a stripper version, but the Limited mode - as well as larger competitors such as the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4.
The Bottom Line
Issues we had with the 2020 Kona include overwhelming styling, average handling, a small back seat and cargo area, and upper trims that belie Hyundai’s traditional value proposition. At the same time, the smooth ride, class-above interior, decent fuel economy, and broad range of standard advanced safety features making it a solid choice in the small crossover class.