Savvy: 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate

Style or substance? The Hyundai Kona proves that you can have your cake and eat in too in the subcompact CUV class. In the automotive landscape, there have historically been many different vehicles that will give you a lot of syle or the substance, but fail to deliver both in proportionate measures. Enter the 2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate, which we return to after our early winter drive back in 2018.

2020 Hyunai Kona 1

Our Kona Ultimate came packed to the brim with plenty of substance. Fans of tech will rejoice in the heads-up display, standard on the Ultimate. No, it isn’t the fanciest or most informative heads-up display, but it is easy to read and presents your speed very clearly (and is still leigible with polarized sunglasses). The interior was was replete with soft leather that wouldn’t be out of place in a vehicle costing $10,000 more. The infotainment is very user-friendly and intuitive. Hyundai has resisted the urge to bury all of the climate functions in the infotainment screen, and has dials to tune the station, turn the volume up or down, and adjust your climate settings. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are standard. This is an interior than you can sit down in and get comfortable with in no-time. Straightforward, functional, and full of our favorite S-word: substance.

The Infinity branded sound system in the Kona provided impressive mid and high range clarity. In particular, the system was able to present the timbre of most well-recorded vocals in a manner that sounded very natural and “alive.” The imaging from the driver’s seat was well focused, leading to an immersive and involving auditory experience. You could turn it up loud with much noticeable distortion, too. Other than the system’s lack of rumble and thump to fill out the bottom end of more demanding songs, the system truly punched above its price class and was a highlight of the interior experience.

If you had entered the Kona blindfolded, you’d be amazed that the functional, mature interior design has given way to an extremely funky exterior design. Love or it hate it, I’ll let you decided. One thing is for certain: the Kona stands out. Looking like nothing else on the road, the Kona has been out for a few years now but still looks fresh, contemporary, and different. If you’re tired of blending in, well…have you seen the Kona? Hyundai packs the Kona Ultimate with some go as well as show, again packing in substance to justify the style. The 1.6T engine propels the Kona with surprising gusto, and will have you realizing as soon as you step on the throttle that this is no penalty box. However, the Kona lacks the polish found on some other vehicles. Throttle tip-in is a bit unnatural, feeling lethargic in all drive modes but sport, and sometimes being tricky to modulate between smoothness and just the right amount of power. On the flipside, if your driving criteria focuses more on fuel economy than winning stoplight drag-races, this tuning will suit you perfectly. Stomp on the gas, however, and you’ll be grinning in no time, with the quick-thinking transmission quickly dropping into the right gear, and the Kona’s diminutive stature and quick acceleration making it easy to dart into holes in traffic easily. Paddle-shifters would add to the sense of driver engagement in the Kona, and were noticeable absent on more “enthusiastic” drives.

2020 Hyunai Kona 3

Chassis wise, the Kona is very well set up to deliver a firm yet comfortable ride, and sporty, agile, stable handling. The Kona does a very good job of filtering out most bumps, but due to the short wheelbase, undulating bumps aren’t filtered out the best. The Kona grips surprisingly well for a front driver and did not exhibit understeer in all but the most aggressive corners. However, the steering needs further refinement. It is extremely numb, and does not communicate what the front tires are doing at all. On top of that, it is surprisingly heavy, usually done to provide a sporty feel, but a bit overdone here. Finally, the steering feels much more like a simulation rather than actual steering. Oftentimes, I found myself inputting too much or too little, without being able to exactly predict how much or how little I’d begin to corner. It’s certainly not dangerous, and anyone short of a driving enthusiast might not even notice – but I did, and I’d be remiss not to mention. Despite this, once you get used to the steering, the grip the Kona is capable of is nothing short of shocking. You can comfortable corner 10-20 mph more quickly than you’d expect in something not immediately branded on its sporting credentials, and could probably keep up with many a hot-hatch. Substance!

2020 Hyunai Kona 4

Also available with AWD, the Kona is very versatile everyday transportation. Combine that with Hyundai’s 3 years/36,000 miles complimentary maintenance and 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty, and you have tons of substance baked into the Kona. The Kona may not be the only choice in the ever-growing subcompact crossover class, but it certainly represents an unparalleled intersection between style and substance.

-Ken Wilson

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate FWD
Carpeted Floor Mats$135
Destination Charges$1,095
As Tested MSRP$28,980

Related: Big Kahuna: 2018 Hyundai Kona

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