The Kona is a spunky, bright, and friendly tiny CUV. So far we are averaging 28MPG with less than 170 miles on the car. Some of that was back road “performance” testing, and the requisite “spirited” test drive (it had 13 miles on it when we pulled out of the dealer lot.
The stability control cannot be fully disabled, but the traction control can be. First gear is actually quite low in the 7-speed DCT in order to let it creep in traffic like a torque-converter automatic without slipping the clutch all the time, this means it is fully, and somewhat surprisingly, capable of launching with all four tires spinning. This is not your standard sub-compact CUV fare. It also likes to vector torque to the rear on slippery surfaces and tries to become a drift-missile on snow and ice. It kicks the ass out to point and then drags the front back around through the corner in a very controllable way. Just when you really start to have fun the stability control comes and puts a kibosh on the sideways action. :p The suspension is well considered, with a very good compromise between ride quality and body control. Almost like an e46 3-series. Almost.
If the SC were defeatable I think the AWD system tuning and chassis balance would let you just drive sideways all day long. It also pivots on trail braking and overall is just a surprisingly “pointable” little car. Sadly, it *IS* a modern (non-N) Hyundai (although there are rumors a Kona N might become a thing, frankly I think the chassis can handle it), and that means the electric power steering is one step — maybe 0ne and a half steps — above no feeling whatsoever. The steering wheel is small, well shaped, and has a nice gripping surface. As this is a Limited, and not an Ultimate we have heated seats and side mirrors (both work well), but no heated steering wheel or ventilated seats.
The DCT is the most natural feeling one I’ve driven yet in traffic. It’s ALMOST as smooth and seamless as a torque-converter automatic, and shifts under power or when decelerating are near-instantaneous and completely smooth. I have not played with the manual mode yet, as it doesn’t have paddles (The Ultimate gets those, I think...), and the stick shift goes the wrong way (push forward to upshift, pull back to downshift... I mean really, Why is it that this has a become a thing? What idiot thinks that’s the “right” way to do it? Or do the manufactures do it wrong on purpose? /rant).
The brakes are fine. Perfectly adequate, not stellar, but pedal feel is good, initial bite is predictable and dependable, and the ABS is unintrusive. I have not driven to a point that might begin introducing fade yet.
The seats are firm, but well shaped and bolstered. The leather feels like it might be bullet-proof. It is NOT buttery soft, but it sure feels like it should be durable as hell. I wish the driver’s seat would adjust a little lower. I can get a comfortable position, and there’s plenty of head room, but it feels like I’m sitting in a chair, rather than a car. On the plus side, it’s easy to get in and out of and the visibility is excellent. Rearward visibility is very good for the class, with a well sized and positioned rear window.
The gauges are large and clear and so is the center info LCD. Unlike the F150, the brightness of the info LCD is almost identical to the instrument illumination and can be turned down VERY low if you like dim gauges.
The blind spot and rear-cross-traffic warning system works well. I have not tried the lane-keep-assist at all. The auto-dimming rear-view mirror is every bit as wonderful a feature as I remember it from my Buick days, every car should have these. Oh, it has cornering lamps too! What joy! It’s almost like I’m back behind the wheel of my ‘97 LeSabre!
Speaking of lights, the Limited comes with a full LED illumination package and the headlights are excellent. The evenness of the coverage in both high and low beam is really impressive, and the daylight color temperature makes details pop. The LED brake lamps are so damn bright you might want to be warned to not follow a Kona too closely, lest you be blinded.
All the controls have a quality feel, the texture of the plastic used on the stalks feels very high end, as do all the movements. Nicely done Hyundai. The infotainment is responsive, clean, intuitive, and the Infinity stereo sounds great. I haven’t mucked about with Android Auto yet, but the hard-buttons, programmable custom mode and function buttons, and excellent ergonomic positioning of the touch-screen are a revelation coming from SYNC, or virtually any other curernt system for that matter. The UI designers at Hyundai get a hearty “well done!” from me.
Interior materials quality is fine. The hard plastic is where you probably won’t touch it, and the molded-in textures make it look better than it feels. The door and center armrests are adequately padded and most touch points are either SOLID or soft-touch, both of which feel better than the plastic in places you don’t regularly touch. It’s a <$26,000 car, give it a break. So far, no interior rattles or squeaks, and if my old 2011 Elantra Touring is any indication, there won’t be for a very, very long time. I am still struck by how QUIET the interior of our F150 is, the Kona is quieter, both wind, and road noise than the FieSTa was, but that damn F150 is like an anechoic chamber on wheels. Speaking of sounds: The engine note is completely charmless and any and all noises from the turbo are totally muted /sadtrombone.
tangent/ The service guy who showed us out for the testdrive (see this story:
) Said many of the performance parts for the Veloster turbo fit (including intercoolers and downpipes), and he knows of at least one tuner that is already working on an ECU/TCU flash for the Kona turbo. He also chatted about his 2010 Special Edition WRX STI and we talked tires too. Frankly, it was probably a much better experience than if there had actually been sales people there...
I am always nervous about spending money on a new car, but we got the better of the dealer pretty well on our trade-in value (again, see above linked story), and I have no buyer’s remorse. I will miss having a stick, and I will miss the FieSTa’s party-trick handling, but I feel very much that I got the least boing of the mainstream subcompact CUVs. The Mazda CX3 has better steering and driver feedback; see Jinba Attai, but the Kona’s driveline is superior, and so are the comfort and absolute road-holding limits. It may be late to the game, but it’s got game.