2018 Hyundai Kona First Look: Big Things Expected From Small Package

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Much like the big Hawaiian island Hyundai’s new subcompact crossover is named after, Hyundai sees the tiny 2018 Kona as a big deal.

The all-new subcompact crossover slots below the compact Tucson in Hyundai’s lineup. It is Hyundai’s first B-segment SUV and competes in one of the hottest segments in the auto industry right now—one that is growing in virtually every corner of the world. The Kona joins a growing field of subcompacts, which recently saw the introduction of the new Toyota C-HR, and Ford is bringing its EcoSport to the U.S. Even sister Kia will have a competitor with the all-new Stonic, which will also use the new platform that underpins the Kona.

Hyundai has brought us to Seoul, South Korea, with about 400 other journalists for the Kona’s global premiere. The small SUV will be sold around the world, starting in Korea next month and followed by North America and Europe. The 2018 Kona will go on sale in the U.S. in the first quarter of next year.

The Kona joins Hyundai’s SUV/crossover lineup, which includes the Tucson, Santa Fe, and Santa Fe Sport. These vehicles are crucial to Hyundai’s success in today’s market, where customers continue to choose utility vehicles over cars. Hyundai has posted a series of declines in quarterly profits as sales slumped in China and the U.S., and in 2016 Kia did the unthinkable when it outsold Hyundai.

Before he was fired late last year, Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski openly spoke of the sales challenge the automaker faced in the U.S. With a portfolio heavily weighted in cars, compared to companies that flourished with strong light truck and SUV lineups, Hyundai has frantically tried to catch up with the Kona crossover and Santa Cruz pickup getting green-lighted for production.

The Kona has the potential to turn fortunes around. It is being billed as an urban SUV with a low, wide stance and bold and modern styling for an adventurous buyer, complete with “armor” on the front and sides and wing-type fenders. The Kona also offers the first look at the design direction for the next generation of Hyundai SUVs, complete with Hyundai’s now-signature cascading grille with a mesh pattern.

Like the other SUVs in the stable, the Kona was named after a travel destination, with Kia this time choosing the coastal region of Hawaii’s big island.

Hyundai also used the press event to show the Kona Iron Man Special Edition with armor styled after the suit worn by the Marvel character. The crossover is actually 40mm (1.6 inches) wider than the regular Kona, and it has special LED headlights under a matte gray hood with red and gold accents and an Iron Man mask badge in the center of the 19-inch wheels and off-road tires.

Like with many small vehicles, the design intent of the Kona is masculine and aggressive, making every attempt to look bigger and fiercer than its size would suggest, with a long wheelbase and short overhangs. The designer went for contrast and a high-tech look with futuristic LED lighting and slim running lights that incorporate the turn signals and slim taillights.

“With the Kona, we have created a stylish and highly functional compact SUV, perfectly suited to the needs of customers who pursue challenging, action-filled lifestyles,” said Eui-sun Chung, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Company. “We aim to set new standards for the compact SUV segment, with appealing design, cutting-edge connectivity, and class-leading safety features.”

The Kona was also designed to be customized with an assortment of color variations and a two-tone roof. It has a sleek and simple interior, and Hyundai executives claim it has best-in-class interior space. The infotainment touchscreen, which comes in an assortment of sizes, appears to float on the dashboard, and the Kona has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is even a head-up display and optional smartphone wireless charging that reminds you to take your phone when you leave the vehicle.

Kia’s Kona competitor, the all-new Stonic, went for even edger styling. It also adopts slim headlights, which is becoming part of the company’s look under designer Peter Schreyer. Even the upper-scale Genesis brand adopted slimmer headlights on the GV80 SUV concept shown at the New York auto show.

The Kona rides on a new compact SUV platform that gives it greater ground clearance, optional four-wheel drive, an elevated seating position, and split-folding rear seats that fold flat for more room for suitcases and gear. There is also a two-level loading floor to make it easier to grab a bike or golf clubs.

The engine choices include:

  • base engine is a 2.0-liter Atkinson engine that generates 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission;
  • a 1.6-liter turbo GDI engine producing 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission;
  • and in Europe, a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission or a 1.6-liter diesel engine.

There will also be an all-electric Kona next year for the Korean market, in keeping with previous Hyundai promises of a 200-mile-plus EV by 2018. The Kona will actually have a range of 242 miles or more. Officials are not saying if or when it will be sold in the U.S. but we expect that it will. It is expected to cost in the $35,000 to $39,000 range, making it another affordable alternative alongside the Chevrolet Bolt EV which has a range of 238 miles. The Kona is a size smaller and will be the only small electric crossover until the Kia Stonic hits the market.

Hyundai also has the electric Ioniq, and Kia has the Niro Electric coming next year, a testament to the Korean commitment to pure electric vehicles. They are both derived from the same dedicated platform.

The Kona has a McPherson strut front suspension; there are different rear suspensions for two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive vehicles, the latter having a dual-arm multilink system. The Kona’s lightweight steel body is made, not surprisingly, of Hyundai steel.

Safety systems include forward collision avoidance that brakes automatically if the driver fails to, lane keep assist that will steer when required, high-beam assist, driver attention warning when the car recognizes you are not driving well, blind-spot collision warning, and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

Through May, Hyundai sold 41,707 Tucsons in the U.S. (up 17.6 percent from the same period in 2016), 11,807 Santa Fe SUVs (down 3.6 percent), and 35,619 Santa Fe Sports (a 32.6 percent sales jump). The light truck lineup was up almost 20 percent overall while car sales were down 16.2 percent.

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