2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD Review: The True Crossover

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The beauty and the issue with the “crossover” is that it’s not bound by any conventions or a specific set of guidelines like a sedan or station wagon is. To think of it, the roofline must extend slightly towards the rear and the vehicle must feature a hatch. That’s it. I was about to add four doors but then Range Rover Evoque Coupé…

I’ve come to accept this and this is why the Hyundai Kona is thus the new crossover poster child. It’s nothing and everything at once and adheres perfectly to the descriptive. It’s funky, original, borderline unattractive and cool at the same time, it’s affordable, spacious enough and a hoot to drive. There, that’s the review…

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme

It’s only a Hyundai…

But seriously, I only just now sampled the 2019 Hyundai Kona for the first time and my expectations were mild. I’ve recently reviewed the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe and was left wholly underwhelmed by the product. The Santa Fe’s front-end was clearly inspired by the Kona which fooled me into thinking the little oddball CUV was going to leave wanting for something.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive Review

Boy, was I wrong.

The Hyundai Kona is not perfect, but it’s not that far off. Let’s jump into my list of gripes with the thing.

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme

What’s wrong?

Steering is calibrated all wrong. There’s an unforgiving amount of on-center play followed by far too much resistance once input is dialed in. This could easily by fixed with a few lines of code.

The included 7-speed dual-clutch DCT transmission is slow to pick up. The one best example is when performing a three-point turn. Moving the shifter from “D” to “R” back-to-back a few times will allow you discover what it’s like when a clutch disc slips. This can be annoying but with a little patience, it’s tolerable.

Next, although the ride is lovely, sporty even when there are no more than two passengers aboard, the chassis’ dynamics change for the worse once weight (aka people) finds its way closer to the rear axle. Suddenly, the dampers experience difficulty maintaining steady control over amplitude changes. It’s quite unfortunate however it confirms my suspicion that this vehicle is not destined for a small family. Its target market is empty-nesters or single young adults.

To further support my hypothesis, the trunk is tiny. Although Hyundai boasts that it’ll hold nearly 550 litres of gear, it won’t, unless it’s a liquid and it is allowed to run into the panels and under the load floor, below the extra storage compartment. In other words, maybe it can hold that much but not in a usable way.

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme

For the drive

Everything else about the 2019 Hyundai Kona is really, really good. The turbocharged 1.6-litre 4-banger produces 175-horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque (as of 1,500 rpm!) and is always lit. The Kona’s no rocket but the 7-speed DCT is, once underway, is quick to swap cogs – it’s almost as though it enjoys it.

The base 2019 Hyundai Kona is delivered with a normally-aspirated 2,0-litre engine and a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission for $20,999. At this price point, you get a 7-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth and other stuff. AWD is a $2,000 option for the first few trims and from there, the 1.6T arrives with an 8-inch touchscreen and 18-inch wheels.

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The Ultimate, and for the value

The tested $31,799 Ultimate deserves its name. It’s got everything including leather, wireless charging, LED headlights, satellite radio, navigation, to name a few items. While pricey, it delivers all the goods in a fun and energizing way, quite at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Santa Fe.

The ideal Kona slots somewhere between the $24,749 2.0L Preferred AWD and the $26,899 1.6T Trend AWD. Reliability-wise, it’s a toss-up between the two engines but the 6A might be a safer bet than the DCT.

The 2019 Hyundai Kona takes on countless competitors, from the ill-conceived Ford Ecosport to the wonderful Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. With the exception of real useable space, specifically in the second row and the boot, the Kona strikes a fun and cool balance between utility and getting around.

I think you’ll agree with me that the Kona is now the true crossover. If you don’t agree,  notice how many are on the road today after being available for only six months.

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD | Photo: Olivier Delorme

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