The continued popularity of sport utility vehicles has encouraged automakers to expand their range of compact SUVs. Recently, Hyundai added the compact Kona, slotting below the Tucson, and above the subcompact Venue in the model range. In this crowded segment, the Kona competes against the Honda HR-V, Jeep Compass, Chevrolet Trailblazer, and Nissan Rogue among many others. Hyundai's reputation for value is established, but now the Korean automaker intends sporty variants like the Kona N-Line to inject performance into the lineup.
Most Kona buyers will focus on the base SE ($21,200) and SEL ($23,100), but the N-Line ($25,850), and Limited ($28,600) are aimed at more affluent customers. Hyundai also sells the high-performance Kona N ($34,200), and the Kona Electric ($34,000). We tested the Kona N-Line equipped with AWD ($1,500) and the Tech Package ($2,500). The total including the $1,245 freight charge added up to $31,095. The Tech Package adds a sunroof, Harman Kardon audio system, highway driving assist, smart cruise control, electric parking brake, LED headlights and taillights. Other significant standard equipment includes 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, 10.25-in. touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and rearview monitor. Standard active safety technologies include blind spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist, and lane following assist.
Depending on the model, the Kona is powered by one of three inline fours ranging from a 147-hp 2.0L (Kona SE, SEL) to a 276-hp 2.0L turbo (Kona N). The midlevel 1.6L turbo in the Kona N-Line and Limited is rated for 195-hp @ 6,000 RPM and 195 lb.-ft. from 1,500-4,500 RPM. The all-aluminum inline-4 features dual overhead-cams and direct fuel injection. Both the Kona N-Line and Limited get a 7-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) driving the front or all four wheels. Hyundai's DCT has two separate final drive ratios: gears 1,2,4 and 5 are coupled to a 4.294:1 ratio, and gears 3, 6, 7 and reverse drive a 3.174:1 ratio. The Kona N has an exclusive 8-speed DCT, but the SE and SEL are equipped with Hyundai's IVT, a variant of a continuously variable transmission (CVT). EPA fuel consumption estimates are 27/32 MPG (city/hwy.) for the Kona N-Line AWD. We averaged 24-25 MPG in mixed urban and highway driving.
The Kona's front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar. FWD Konas have a semi-independent rear torsion beam axle, coil springs and dampers. AWD models are upgraded to a multi-link independent rear layout with coil springs, dampers, and stabilizer bar. Both Kona N-Line and Limited models are fitted with 18-in. alloy wheels and 235/45R18 all-season tires. Our test vehicle was equipped with Goodyear Eagle Touring tires. Brakes are all discs: 12.0 in. dia. rotors in front and 11.2 in. dia. rotors in the rear axle. FWD Konas get smaller 11.0 in./10.3 in. dia. (front/rear) disc brakes. The electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is geared for 2.5 turns lock-to-lock. Kona N-Line curb weights range from 3,271 lbs. (FWD) to 3,327 lbs. (AWD).
Hyundai's interior design highlights excellent build quality, but some indications of cost control are apparent in the hard plastics on the dashboard, doors, and center console. Instead of the typical analog gauges, Hyundai inserted a tablet-like digital display in the instrument binnacle. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has integrated audio, phone and cruise control settings. Dual USB ports, a 12V power outlet and a wireless Qi charging pad in the center console should support most mobile devices. The infotainment display also includes rotary knobs and buttons for commonly used functions. Climate controls are similarly accessible and easy to use.
Distinguishing the N-Line from other Konas are exclusive bolstered cloth sport seats trimmed in red stitching. Lateral support and seat comfort is above average, but only the driver gets power adjustments. Front headroom is adequate for occupants up to 6 ft. tall. Rear seat comfort is acceptable for two occupants but the hard seatback in the center rear position limits usability for a third passenger. Six-foot tall occupants will probably consider rear headroom to be barely adequate, but the Kona's decent legroom may keep them from feeling too cramped.
Hyundai's 1.6L turbo four cranks out impressive torque once the turbo spools up, but need revs above 2,000 RPM for acceptable throttle response. The 7-speed DCT executes smooth, rapid shifts automatically or in manual mode. At highway speeds above 70 MPH, the turbo delivers immediate acceleration, assisted by quick downshifts from the DCT. We left the transmission mode in Normal or Smart since either setting was suited for urban and highway driving. A differential lock button on the center console enhances traction on slick or muddy surfaces by reducing wheel spin. Even under full throttle acceleration, the Kona's AWD system eliminates torque steer by shifting power to the rear wheels as needed.
We were pleased to discover that Hyundai's engineers tuned the N-Line to appeal to driving enthusiasts. The Kona's low curb weight, firm suspension and low-profile tires provide excellent turn-in response. The steering is tuned for moderate effort, and communicates road surface textures effectively. On winding roads, the chassis exhibits moderate understeer and minimal body roll for an SUV. The Kona's brakes provide decent pedal feel, but actuation is nonlinear: initial pedal application results in minimal speed reduction, but as heavier pressure is applied, braking force increases rapidly. At highway speeds, the Kona shows decent tracking and stability on smooth road surfaces. On patched roads, the suspension tuning is too stiff to absorb bumps effectively, resulting in a jittery ride. Cruising at 70-80 MPH, engine and tire noise are relatively subdued, but wind noise is fairly significant. In urban driving, we appreciated the N-Line's firm suspension and sharp handling, but for a long road trip, owners may prefer a different choice.
In a crowded compact SUV segment, the Kona N-Line stands out for its attractive pricing, handling and standard equipment. For enthusiasts on a budget, the N-Line is a solid choice, but a test drive is essential to assess if the Hyundai's firm suspension tuning is acceptable for daily driving. Other customers considering the Kona should look at the SEL or Limited as alternatives.