My first impression of the 2020 Hyundai Kona was that of sore disappointment. Not with the Kona itself, mind you, it is a peppy, fun-to-drive subcompact crossover with an upscale feel.
No, my disappointment stemmed from the exterior color options for the Kona. In any trim you can have bright, eye-catching Surf Blue, or my favorite, Sunset Orange with orange contrast stitching on the seats and orange trim on the air vents and around the gear lever. Opting for Limited or Ultimate trim, and you can really stand out with Lime Twist exterior paint with matching stitching and interior trim pieces.
I absolutely love cars that stand out among this crowd like a cherry on cream pie, but instead of my tester sporting one of the aforementioned hues, and I was really hoping it would, the Kona that showed up on my driveway sported silver paint with black interior. Well then.
At least Hyundai has offered some actual colors to its options, even if dealers are unlikely to stock Lime Twist models in the fear they won’t be able to move them. And to those dealers I say, the audience that appreciates vivid exterior paint is larger than you think.
While I was thoroughly disappointed with the color of my Kona, little else detracted from my overall experience with the crossover.
Even in silver paint, the Kona is certainly a looker, sporting razor-thin headlights and taillights, Hyundai’s handsome grille topped with a rectangular inlet, engaging character lines along the sides and angular styling where angles on the bumper are mirrored by the lower hatch.
But even if the Kona was about as attractive as John Goodman wearing nothing but a corset and thigh highs, it would certainly have ugly duckling syndrome, because it is certainly one of the most engaging and fun-to-drive offerings in the subcompact crossover market.
It starts with the peppiness of the 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 under the hood. Though the engine is only available in the Kona’s highest trims — lesser models get a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four — it makes up for the price in admission with sprightly performance.
The turbo-four is has the liveliness akin to an overly friendly dog who will not stop eyeing your left leg with passion in its eyes.
The turbo engine provides 175-horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, an increase of 28 horsepower and a whopping 63 torques over the naturally aspirated power plant.
While all-wheel drive is available on all models, the front-wheel drive Kona is still sprightly off the line, and its peak torque lasts from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm, giving drivers a steady pull and ease when overtaking at highway speeds. The Kona is far from shredding the doors off larger crossovers or sedans, but with torquey punch and a helping of horsepower, the Hyundai feels fast.
Paired with the turbo-four is a 7-speed automatic (the naturally aspirated engine gets a 6-speed) which is velvety, but it can be a bit indecisive in stop-and-go traffic, switching too often from first gear to second and back down again.
The steering isn’t the Kona’s strong suit, it can be fairly numb, but it will easy enough for most drivers to overlook.
Those small infractions hardly take away from the overall experience. The Kona is balanced through corners with negligible body roll, the brakes are strong and its small stature make the Hyundai agile when driven with aplomb. And when running to the grocery store, the Kona provides a comfortable ride that well-dampens a blacktop’s bumps and lumps.
The Kona offers 19 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, which is on the scrimpy side of things in the compact crossover market. Only the petit Mazda CX-3 offers less cubic feet.
Passengers in the front are not want for space, but adults will be a bit cramped for legroom in the rear.
Not much has been changed for 2020 models in the third year of Kona sales, but smart cruise control is now available in Ultimate trim and a 4.2-inch color display in the gauge cluster and wireless charging is now standard on SEL Plus trim and above after being offered just in Ultimate trim in 2019 models. SEL Plus has replaced the SEL with Tech Package trim.
Pricing starts at $20,300 for a front-wheel drive SE, which includes the turbo-less engine, lane keep assist, forward collision avoidance assist, a 3.5-inch information display, 7-inch infotainment screen and Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Siri and Google Now connectivity.
While buyers pay a premium for Limited or Ultimate models, the top two trims add an upscale cabin feel and useful and desirable amenities, starting with the turbocharged engine.
Limited trim adds LED head and taillights, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, wireless charging, heated front seats, blind-spot collision warning with lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, 8-way adjustable driver’s seat, sunroof and other features — some of which are available on lower trims. Front-wheel drive Limited models start at $26,100 with all-wheel drive adding $1,500.
My Ultimate tester ($28,980 with destination) included some added safety features — reverse parking distance warning and high beam assist — smart cruise control, an upgraded 8-inch infotainment screen and a not-so-common-in-the-market head up display.
With its engaging drive, comfortable ride and sprightly turbocharged engine, the Kona is likeable player in the subcompact market. While buyers will have to shell out a bit more than some of its rivals, the Kona provides an upmarket interior, bold styling and a bevy of features.
But perhaps most importantly, the Kona is available in Lime Twist, Sunset Orange or Surf Blue.