2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate FWD Review by David Colman
An efficient and proficient urban combat vehicle
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Let's face it. Not everyone buys a new vehicle because they need ten percent more horsepower or slightly more interior room. While such improvements constitute logical justification for an expensive new purchase, more goes into the buying decision than simple practicality. Just as important a factor is the ego boost you'll get from driving something new and different. The 2020 Kona Ultimate is definitely something new and different. And if you order yours in startling Lime Twist, you're in for a visual treat, a mental uplift, and a bounty of useful features.
The Ultimate label means the Kona we tested is the top of the line model. About the only thing missing from the specification sheet for our Kona was all wheel drive, which is optionally available for $1,400. Otherwise, the Ultimate, which retails for $27,750 is better equipped than all five lesser variants (SE/SEL/SEL Plus/Limited) in the Kona model line If you compare the Ultimate to the next level down, the $26,100 Limited, you discover that the extra $1,650 buys you the following useful features missing on the Limited: Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian Detection, Parking Distance Warning, High Beam Assist, 8" Color Touchscreen (versus 7"), Head Up Display, 3 Year Blue Link Guidance Package, and Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go. For the money, that's quite an array of safety and convenience additions.
The other day I noticed that Zest body wash promises its "Invigorating" scent will produce "Mood Boost" due to "Scent Technology." While that claim may be specious, I can promise you that if you choose your Kona in Lime Twist, you will enjoy a Mood Boost due to color shock. Bottom line, this is one spectacular looking SUV, with an iridescent exterior finish that carries over to the interior, where matching lime green outlines the vent orifices, the dash control panel, the beading on the black leather seats, and the stitching on the steering wheel and shift knob. This Kona looks like a refugee from the Kal Kustom display at the Oakland Roadster Show. So if Mood Boost is on your short list for buying incentive, this Kona's got it in spades.
On top of that, you also get Turbo Boost. Under the hood lies a 1.6 liter, 4 cylinder, turbocharged motor which produces 175hp and 195lb.-ft. of torque. That output is more than sufficient to launch the Kona in decisive fashion when you tromp the accelerator. So much so that the front wheels tend to get light at the drop of full throttle. Since peak torque kicks in at just 1500rpm and maintains peak all the way to 4500rpm, the Kona jumps to attention the instant you request full power. The Ultimate features a very sophisticated dual clutch, 7 speed sequential gearbox with paddle shifters. Between the willing engine and the advanced gearbox, the Kona Ultimate provides far more driving pleasure than you might expect from a sub $30,000 product. With 22.5 cubic feet of storage space, the Kona is also very handy transportation device. At just 164 inches in length, with an abbreviated wheelbase of 102 inches, the subcompact Kona is small enough to be agile, compact enough to slot into tiny parking spots. In terms of sensible size and intelligent packaging, the Ultimate is a really proficient urban combat vehicle.
Handling is unexpectedly responsive. The 18 inch alloys, shod with 235/45R18 Goodyear Eagle Touring all season radials, handle switchbacks with aplomb. Even in the Normal ride setting mode, suspension compliance is well attenuated. Ride is even stiffer if you dial up Sport mode, but the sport payoff comes when you thread the Kona through a series of "S" bends without encountering any suspension slop. Fully independent underpinnings front (MacPherson strut) and rear (multilink, coupled torsion beam axle) work in consort with gas pressurized shocks to produce acceptable comfort inside a very quiet cabin. The Kona's light curb weight of just 3,145lbs. works to keep this mini SUV well glued to the road.
The base model SE and SEL Kona utilizes a non-turbo 2.0 liter engine that produces just 147hp. As you work your way into the turbo Kona lineup (SEL Plus, Limited, Ultimate), you gain a very useful 28hp bump. If that's not enough, you can opt for a 201hp electric version, but the Kona Electric costs $37,190. With the Ultimate we drove good for 30MPG in overall use, it's hardly worth the recharging inconvenience and higher initial outlay to go electric.
2020 HYUNDAI KONA ULTIMATE FWD
ENGINE: 1.6 liter inline 4 turbocharged Gas Direct Injection
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 28MPG City/32MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $28,980
HYPES: Zinger Looks, Easy To Love, Fully Equipped
GRIPES: Short Wheelbase Squeezes Back Seat Legroom
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10