(Images: Hyundai Motor America)
The Hyundai Kona was awarded the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year this past January by the jurors of the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY) organization. It bested the other two semifinalists, the Acura RDX and the Jaguar I-Pace.
Think about that for a minute. The other two are premium brands. Hyundai is a mainstream brand. Yes, the Kona is that good.
As it had been some time since I’d driven the Kona, I must confess that I had forgotten that it took the NACTOY trophy—and I am one of the 50 jurors.
But my immediate reacquaintance to the Kona made me quickly realize what a well-done vehicle it is, with clear thought given to the design outside and in. Perhaps the reason why I’d forgotten its victory is because while it was in the “Utility” category, which is what Hyundai positions it as, I think of it more as a hatchback car (and as I did remember that the Genesis G70 took the “Car” category for this year’s NACTOY awards, presumably my mentally putting the Kona into the “car” slot in my melon didn’t allow it to get the trophy. But more than enough about me.)
The compact crossover space, where the Kona is positioned, is one with strong demand, as the competitive set including the Mazda CX-3, Chevy Trax, and Honda HR-V all showed double-digit sales increases this past September compared with September 2018, and it was no different for the Kona.
The Kona is powered by a 175-hp 1.6-liter, turbocharged four. In the front-drive setup as driven here, it is mated to a seven-speed DCT automatic. Given that this is a vehicle that tips the scales at just over 3,000 pounds and that was conceived, designed and executed as an “urban ute” (e.g., towing is “Not Recommended,” which pretty much isn’t an issue for urban habitués), the powertrain arrangement is absolutely suited to the use.
Although this may seem to be a stretch of sorts, if you think about South Korean companies, Samsung has to come to mind, a company that is certainly capable of creating all manner of consumer electronics that are highly competitive in their various fields. And maybe because South Korea is a comparatively small country—about the size of Minnesota—there is a real electronic tech intensity of the Kona (and other Hyundai products) as it includes such things as forward collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning, Apple CarPlay. . .as standard on the Ultimate trim. There is even a small heads-up display that elevates up from the top of the IP (or retracts should you not be interested in seeing it).
The interior is well executed with materials that seem a smidgen better than what would be expected in a vehicle that starts under $30K.
During the week that I drove the Kona I had to do more than a usual amount of around-town driving. And I found that the overall experience was positive, which is more impressive than it might sound.
Plenty of interior components are injection molded. But some companies—such as VW—are using a process for trim pieces that both mold a component and cover it in fabric in a single molding process. And it is coming to the U.S. in the not-too-distant future.
The Kia Stinger was a finalist for the 2018 North American International Car of the Year Awards.
A young(ish) guy that I’ve known for a number of years, a man who spent the better part of his career writing for auto buff books and who is a car racer on the side, mentioned to me that his wife has a used Lexus ES Hybrid.