2018 Hyundai Kona: a four-minute first drive

2018 Hyundai Kona: a four-minute first drive

- in Auto Industry
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The cars are running, the clock’s ticking when I slide sideways in the seat. Mirrors? Check. Youthful attitude? Check.


Jet lag? On hold. Test drives in the 2018 Hyundai Kona leave every 30 seconds, and I’ll have four minutes to come up with something to tell you about the Kona. That’s one minute for every letter in its name.


There’s a lot to learn about the 2018 Kona before it erupts in showrooms next March. It’s Hyundai’s fourth crossover SUV, the smallest, and it’s Hyundai’s best shot at grabbing some of the eyeballs staring down cars like the Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, and Honda HR-V.

New look, not the same as the old look


Slotted below the compact Tucson and the mid-size Santa Fe Sport and three-row Santa Fe, the Kona makes perfect sense in size and mission.


It doesn’t always make sense, visually. Its young-at-heart looks veer into the Toyota C-HR and Juke end of the buzz-fed spectrum. The Kona has a wedge shape with thick fenders and lots of body armor in the form of black plastic cladding.


The cladding splits up body panels for more pizazz. A flying wing of cladding darts in at the rear roofline, playing up the contrasting roof color available on some models. Three separate pieces of cladding circles the wheel wells. The Kona loves plastic as much as it loves cutlines, and that really straddles the line between playful and busy.

MORE: Read our full 2018 Hyundai Kona preview


Busy’s the only way to describe the front and rear ends. The deep grille has a mesh pattern like fish scales, and the headlights protrude in black-plastic surrounds below the Kona’s LED running lights. Engineers say the lighting’s split for safety. Headlight rules mandate a certain height and placement, but taller vehicles become more visible when running lights are placed higher on the nose. Plastic-framed taillights jut into an otherwise tame rear end.   


The look is on-trend inside as well as out. The cabin has a softly styled dash with a central infotainment display. Soft rubberized trim on the dash turns to hard trim over the lower doors. When painted in colors like lime green, orange, and red, the Kona wears bracelets of body-color trim around some controls.


Thank the Veloster


Hyundai set up a section of its on-campus road course for our brief test drive, and all the Kona SUVs came with a 1.6-liter turbo-4 and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.


When it goes on sale in March, the base Kona will come with a 147-hp inline-4 coupled to a 6-speed automatic. All-wheel drive will be an option, and 0-60 mph runs of 10 seconds and a top speed of 121 mph have been published by the company.


(Abattery-electric Kona may be in the works, and could have a range of more than 200 miles, but Hyundai hasn’t confirmed its release date, or its existence, for that matter.)

MORE: Would the Kona be the same if it had the Veloster name?


The Kona I pull into Drive has a 175-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo-4 with 196 pound-feet of torque, most of that torque being available from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. On loan from other Hyundais like the Veloster and Elantra, it’s quoted at 7.7 seconds to 60 mph and a 131-mph top end.


A brisk launch down a straight runway reminds me that the Veloster’s biggest asset is perky response. In the Kona, the turbo-4 turns its eager grunt into pleasantly quick acceleration, with just enough sound filtered into the cabin to amp up the Juke-like appeal.

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