2018 Chicago Auto Show: Hyundai's New Kona

I couldn’t help but think of the bizarre Citroen Cactus when I finally saw Hyundai’s new “small SUV,” the Kona, up-close. But this is better, much better in my coffee-high opinion. As my aging Saabaru wagon continues to age, my potential list of new “adventure-mobile” replacements grows. The 2018 Kona just earned a spot on it.
First of all the color is a win. There was a gray one on the showroom floor too but it kind of blended in to the carpet below. Second, it has plastic body side panels! Yes, vehicles like Pontiac’s doomed-from-the-start Aztek and the Chevrolet Avalanche had them and well, did it bad, I think the Kona pulls it off well. It almost makes it a bit more outdoors-ready. I could drive it on a dirt road between an aisle of trees on either side and not worry about stones getting chipped up or pine branches gouging it away.
The simple and well-appointed interior, with heated seats, a generous cargo hauling capacity and standard Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, could keep me content on long drives to state and national parks.

Pricing starts at $19,500 for the base front-wheel-drive model which moves along thanks to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that pairs with a six-speed auto. I’d splurge for the all-wheel-drive Kona with the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder which teams with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. There’s a multi-link rear suspension and even  a locking differential!
Other treats at additional costs include wireless charging, various driving aids like blind-spot collision, roof rails and a heads-up display. I’ll take a black one with a ski rack on top. As the Kona starts to hit the market, I’m anxious to see how and if it sways potential Subaru Crosstrek buyers, which includes me. I’d easily park a used XV Crosstrek outside my apartment of course, but after exposure to the Kona…now I’m torn.
But the fact you can drive home a new Crosstrek with three pedals, still puts it above the Kona. I’d rather row my own gears on my way to the nearest climbing crag, ski hill (we call ’em mountains in Wisconsin) or lake with my kayak atop.
What’s your take?
[All images copyright Robby DeGraff/Hooniverse 2018]

By day, Robby DeGraff is an industry analyst for an automotive market research and product-consulting firm. Based an hour from Road America in Wisconsin, he once piloted a Suzuki Jimny around Iceland for two weeks alone. Robby's personal fleet includes a bright red 2001 Chevrolet Camaro that sometimes runs, his second Saabaru wagon, and hopefully a Volkswagen Vanagon in the future.


  1. I’d like it more with a panoramic sunroof (it’s standard size). It does have one of Hyundai’s best motors. I expect it to be a smash hit in Australia, where Hyundai is both popular and liked. Does it come with colored seatbelts? The price is right. I’d take this over a Honda HR-V. I wouldn’t take it over a Jeep Renegade. Oh and the squinty / stacked headlights? So C4 Cactus! When do we get THAT in the States? 🙂

    1. Coincidence: my neighbor (working at a car dealer that also has Kia) got the demo car home, so he passed my window with 12″ letters The New Wife – he said they’re just embracing the theme (what else can you do), and he’s happy that it’s not as bad as the Honda Fit (which in certain grammar conditions would be the Honda C#nt).

      1. Reminds me of a few NSFW DIY rebadged Fiat Puntos I’ve seen (hint, the changed letter tends to come from a Citroen badge)

  2. I would contend that Hyundai will have a winner on its hands, There is just enough design touches to separate this from this crowded segment.

  3. I think it is overstyled and not in an attractive way, plus I would be wary of the dry clutch DCT. It only has 170mm ground clearance which in my book makes it a fat hatchback not a realistic crossover.

    1. Interesting number. A Volvo 240 gas about 120mm ground clearance, if I’m not mistaken. The GAZ 24 has 185/174mm front/rear.
      /random facts

      1. From what I can find 120 mm for the Volvo would be the clearance when fully laden which is obviously very different, and 150 or 140 mm otherwise.

      1. Driving modern fwd cars with how long front overhangs have become, the extra clearance would be welcome, but otherwise I agree there is more value in buying a ‘normal’ hatch for the same price. Typically the CUV is based on the next size down hatch, eg Mazda CX3 based on Mazda 2, for the same price as a Mazda 3.

  4. ” my potential list of new “adventure-mobile” replacements grows.”
    Respectfully, nobody needs a tall wagon body style to have an “adventure.” You can carry your climbing gear in a traditional sedan or hatchback just as effectively. You have fallen prey to all the marketing hype surrounding these tall wagon profit-generators.

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