TEST DRIVE | 2024 Kona urban car grows up, and out

2024 Kia Kona (Photo courtesy of Kia)
2024 Kia Kona (Photo courtesy of Kia)

Longer and wider than the model it replaces, the all-new 2024 Hyundai Kona is a roomier and more comfortable urban runabout than the model it replaces.

More of everything is certainly in order in the fiercely competitive subcompact SUV segment, where 17 models chase consumer dollars. We think the Subaru Crosstrek or Mazda CX-30 are the class of this field but looked over regional sales trends and let those guide our selections for the attached table.

Hyundai developed the new Kona platform with an electrified powertrain first, in line with the company's accelerated electrification strategy that will bring 11 new Hyundai EVs to market globally by 2030. The car is now 171.3 inches long, 5.7 in. longer, with a wheelbase of 104.7 in., a 2.3 in. increase. At 71.9 inches, the Kona is an inch wider, which is not good for people but OK for small cars.

In a gas-powered model, such as the Limited AWD model we tested, that translates into a little more elbow and shoulder room up front and a rear that is spacious enough for adults, a rarity for this segment.

Make no mistake, though, this is a vehicle best suited to daily commutes. Though the longer wheelbase allows for a more absorbent ride, the Kona's modest cargo area and somewhat noisy cabin – common to compact and smaller vehicles – do not make for an amicable traveling companion. Well, maybe for 20-something drivers and even for young families, but not for us geezers.


EV IN TRANSIT

We have yet to test an electric version, which will start at around $35,000 and is expected to have a range of 260 miles. Those are expected in showrooms soon.

For now, two gas engines are available.

A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson engine that produces 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm, is paired with a continuously variable transmission. Preprogrammed shift points make the CVT feel like a geared transmission.

Our tester came with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder direct-injected, turbocharged engine that generates 190 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,700-4,500 rpm. It couples to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Though the rig suffered noticeable turbo-lag, once it made up its mind, it was a sprightly performer in city traffic.

On a favorite desolated stretch of curvy winding road, however, we quickly decided that the Kona was sprung more for comfort than performance and decided a leisurely drive was the order of the day.

The EPA estimates the base engine will deliver 29 mpg in combined driving for 2WD models, 27 for AWD. Fuel economy on turbo models drops to 26 for 2WD and 24 for AWD. There was once a time when that was seen as excellent fuel economy, and one reckons that for people driving F-150s and Suburbans, it still is.

However, in 2023, when it is beginning to appear that this climate change might be a thing, there are dozens of vehicles that offer 40 mpg or better. For the week, our Kona tester delivered 23.8 mpg, and this is not impressive at all.

By way of comparison, Beautiful Blonde Bride's Ford Escape hybrid plug-in, which goes 40 miles on an overnight charge from a 100-volt outlet, continues to average more than 400 miles per gallon. It is similar in price but better equipped than a top-of-line 2024 Kona EV.

In this transitional stage of the auto industry, caveat emptor applies more than ever.


DIGITAL DOMINANCE

One place where Hyundai and its subsidiary dominate is in electronics, and the new Kona has many examples of why.

Let us begin with driver assistance technology. Unlike several American models we have tested recently, the Kona flawlessly kept itself centered in its lane and a safe distance behind vehicles ahead. An in-dash monitor gives a display showing when radar detects a vehicle ahead or approaching from the rear in a blind spot.

Turn on a turn signal – a rarity in Texarkana, one might observe – and a screen in the dash provides a camera view from the outside mirror. Fiddle with the windshield wiper control, and a little display immediately tells you what you have selected.

Go to park the thing, and a camera system provides surround views from multiple selectable views. In case of inattention, sensors offer warning sounds and visual cues to keep one out of fender-benders.

An available eight-speaker, Bose© premium sound system plus subwoofer delivers a rich and immersive listening experience. Driver and passengers alike have access to two USB-C chargers (including one with data support) and a 12V power outlet in the front, as well as two USB-C chargers in the rear and wireless device charging capability. Kona also offers available Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

Do you forget to dim your bright lights? The Kona will do it for you and turn them back on when the coast is clear.


CABIN COMFY, BASIC

Though the cabin has a space-age vibe, it is undercut by a profusion of cheap-feeling hard plastics.

Seats are comfortable enough and a driver-centric front row is accentuated by a floating horizontal C-Pad with integrated, dual 12.3-inch panoramic display screens that affirm Kona's high-tech character.

Ambient interior lighting options are also available that correspond to driving modes, acceleration, or to suit the mood of the driver.

Hyundai says it will soon deliver an over-the-air update to allow for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it had not yet reached our tester; neither did a USB-C charger, so we were forced to listen to radio that week. Ouch.


BOTTOM LINE

Our only real knock on the new Kona is its mediocre fuel economy. We are surprised that Hyundai does not plan a hybrid (HEV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants. Both would be more appealing to American consumers, who live in a land of long distances and a still underdeveloped charging structure.

Then we remembered that Hyundai competes first in the Eastern Hemisphere, where adoption of EVs is occurring six times faster than in the U.S.

Auto manufacturing, like politics, is driven by local issues.

  photo    
  photo  2024 Kia Kona (Photo courtesy of Kia)
 
 
  photo  2024 Kia Kona (Photo courtesy of Kia)
 
 
  photo  2024 Kia Kona (Photo courtesy of Kia)
 
 

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