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“There is a group of first-generation vehicles trying to find space in the marketplace,” says Mike O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America vice president of Product, Corporate and Digital Planning. He lists off vehicles like the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Toyota C-HR. Small, or B-segment crossovers (CUVs). And while the sales of these vehicles in the market are comparatively small vis-à-vis things like the subcompact crossover, which dominates the category of vehicles below midsize, O’Brien cites data from IHS Markit indicating a steady rise in the number of the small vehicles that will be sold by 2024, a 16 percent gain over a 10-year period. Perhaps not a stratospheric rise, but we’re talking about small vehicles.

When it comes to the small CUVs, O’Brien says that the reasons why people purchase them over subcompact, compact or midsize vehicles are Price (10 percent) and Value (9 percent). In other words, buyers of these vehicles want something that is affordable.

But what might not be expected is that the third thing that people are looking for in a small CUV compared to purchasers of the larger vehicles isn’t fuel economy. Rather, it is Styling 
(6 percent). That is a key differentiator, which is followed by Fun to Drive (4 percent).
Hyundai has in its lineup subcompact, compact, and midsize crossovers, the Tucson, Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL.

In order to join into the competitive space with something that is distinctive, they developed a new platform and set the stylists and designers to work on creating what has become the Kona.

Which brings us to Chis Chapman, senior chief designer at the Hyundai Design Center in Irvine, California, the studio in which the design of the Kona was created. (Chapman explains that as with other vehicles-in-becoming there was a competition among the Hyundai studios in Korea, Europe and the U.S. The U.S. team’s approach was the one that was selected. Production design was done in Korea, as the vehicle is produced at Ulsan Plant 1, where the Hyundai Veloster and Ioniq are also built.)

First, let’s set up what we’re dealing with here. The Kona is 164 inches long, 70.9 inches wide, 61 inches high, and has a wheelbase of 102.4 inches. It is available with front- or all-wheel drive. And as seemingly everyone—be they designers, engineers or even tire kickers—knows, the front overhang that comes from the FWD configuration is the bane of designers.
Chapman asks, rhetorically, “How do you turn a negative into a positive?” How do you deal with the cards you are dealt?

Rather than trying to disguise the fact that they have the front overhang, as other OEMs have done resulting in something of a truncated look in many cases, they decided to work with it.

And Chapman makes what might be considered to be something of a heretical comparison when he says, “The proportion of the Kona is classic Italian sports car kind of design. We always talk about short overhangs on SUVs, wheels on the corners. But in the Kona’s case, because it is such a small CUV, we wanted to give it more presence.

“The front overhang is not, in a designer’s mind, the most optimal way to design a car, but it brings a lot of presence to the car because it turns it into what we call this ‘little devil,’ poco diablo. If it is so small and the wheels are at the corners and the wheelbase is really short, the car starts to look diminutive. And we wanted to incorporate more presence in the vehicle.”

So what they did was to bring some mass to the front of the vehicle; they accentuated the face of the vehicle, bringing attention to it rather than trying to avoid reality. Chapman: “The bumper beam isn’t going to go anywhere.”

As this is a vehicle for the 25- to 30-year-old “urban adventurer,” they had to add something of toughness to the vehicle’s appearance, so they not only added cladding to the Kona, but created what Chapman describes as a “Spartan helmet” in the front, by wrapping the cladding from the front fender forward to surround the headlamps (which are low on the fascia, with the DRLs being higher, intersecting with the hood), and down around the bottom of the fascia.

Another thing that Chapman and his team did in designing the car that is somewhat counterintuitive, or at least not the norm in many designs is to deliberately use what he describes as lines that are “abrupt and short.” He explains, “Our point was to create short, abrupt, sharp turns, to have a spontaneous language—sort of the way a 25- to 30-year old lives their life. We really considered it that way.”   

Kona Goes Electric


Hyundai is making major efforts in the electrification of its lineup, and in the fourth quarter of 2018 will be launching the 2019 Kona Electric, a fully electric version of the crossover that is powered by a 150-kW (201-hp) permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor that uses a high-voltage, liquid-cooled, 64-kWh lithium-ion battery for an estimated range of 250 miles.

The Kona Electric has an on-board Level II charging system. It features an SAE-Combo charging port so that Level III DC quick charging can be used; this allows an 80 percent charge to be achieved in 54 minutes. The charging port is designed into the front grille area of the vehicle.

About the Kona
The Kona is based on an all-new platform. Although the vehicle is small—measuring 164 inches long, 70.9 inches wide, 61 inches high, and having a 102.4-inch wheelbase—Mike O’Brien describes it as being the result of “the miracle of engineering,” in as much as they’ve concentrated on providing as much room for passengers as possible: the vehicle offers total interior space of 113.3-ft3, of which there is 94.1-ft3 of passenger space and 19.2-ft3 of cargo space—45.8-ft3 if the second row of seats is folded down. “Let’s face it,” O’Brien remarks, “Nobody cares about how much space the engine has. You’d rather minimize that and turn it into passenger space.”

And speaking of the powertrain, the Kona is available with two engines, a 147-hp, 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle four and a 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four. The former is mated to a six-speed automatic and the latter to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The vehicle is available either as front- or all-wheel drive; the suspension for the front drive Kona is MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam in the rear; the all-wheel-drive setup has MacPherson struts and a rear multilink setup.

“We’re the only manufacturer that has its own steel manufacturing capacity. We have more than 350 engineers at our steel plant in South Korea dedicated to developing proprietary steels for our vehicles,” O’Brien says. And they’re taking full advantage of that as the Kona structure consists of 52 percent advanced high-strength steels.

In addition to which, O’Brien points out that the Hyundai Tucson, which is a bigger vehicle—176.2 inches long, 72.8 inches wide and 64.8 inches high—uses less “structural catalyzed aerospace adhesives” than the Kona: the Tucson uses 330 feet, while the Kona uses 375 feet. O’Brien explains that the adhesive, which supplements the welds, helps create a more rigid body structure, which translates into benefits for ride, safety, and noise isolation.

From a technology point of view, the Kona is equipped with an array of sensor-based systems standard, including blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning 
and forward-collision avoidance assist with pedestrian detection.

One bit of clever engineering that Trevor Lai, manager, Product Planning, points out: there is standard rear-view monitor with parking guidance. Rather than having some sort of washing mechanism in order to keep the camera lens clean, they have coated it with an anti-glare layer and a water repellent, which does the job simply and effectively.

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