The Hyundai Kona is a subcompact crossover that seats five and comes with front- or all-wheel drive. Kona is given a mid-cycle refresh for 2022 with a host of changes including new exterior styling, a revised interior, additional features, and a more powerful sports trim called N. Introduced in 2018, Kona competitors include the Buick Encore GX, Chevrolet Trax, Kia Niro, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Kicks, Subaru Crosstrek and Toyota CH-R. In addition to gas engines, Hyundai offers an all-electric version called the Kona Electric.
The Kona gas model lineup includes SE, SEL, N Line, Limited and, new for 2022, N. SE and SEL models are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. That engine pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission. N Line and Limited get a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that makes 195 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The new Kona N borrows its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine from Veloster N and Elantra N. It makes 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. Sole transmission offering is an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional for all save the Kona N.
Beyond new exterior styling, the '22 Kona gets a reworked interior with new center stack and new materials and ambient lighting. An 8-inch touchscreen comes standard as does wireless support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Other technology upgrades include an available digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen. Finally, advanced safety and driver assistant features have also been updated, with the most notable being adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and rear automatic braking.
The new sport-tuned Kona N brings 19-inch wheels with summer performance tires, upgraded brakes, variable exhaust, electronic limited-slip differential, aerodynamic body kit, rear spoiler, selectable driving modes, upgraded interior plastic trim with blue accents, adjustable driver-seat lumbar support, and leather upholstery with suede inserts. Hyundai also offers a Tech Package that includes LED headlights and taillights, sunroof, 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation system and adaptive cruise control. Prices start at $22,545 and climb to more than $35,445.
While the base 2.0-liter engine in the SE and SEL provide adequate acceleration, it is saddled with a continuously variable automatic transmission that lowers the overall enjoyment factor and creates a constant drone when accelerating. Much better is the turbocharged 1.6-liter four that is offered in N-Line and Limited. Not only does this engine get a traditional automatic transmission, but is also makes considerably more torque, which helps boost passing response.
The Kona N promises to be the hot rod of the litter but brings along a lot of pomp-and-circumstance. The engine provides robust acceleration at all speeds and mates well to the 8-speed automatic. There's also a limited-slip differential to help quell torque steering and even out acceleration when rounding corners. Unfortunately, there's also quite a bit of exhaust noise and, while some may love it, the constant buzz gets annoying over time.
Like most subcompact crossovers, Kona's all-wheel-drive system is not intended for off-road use. Rather it provides additional traction on slippery roads. Those living in urban areas can save a few bucks and opt for front-drive with a good set of all-season tires. It should also be noted that N models come with summer tires that are not appropriate for cold-weather use.
With all-wheel drive and the 1.6-liter, Kona is EPA rated for a combined 29 MPG. That's roughly on par with AWD-equipped competitors. In typical suburban commuting it is easy to average more than 30 MPG overall and, as a bonus, the Kona doesn't require premium-grade gasoline.
Though Kona is quite petite, it provides a ride that's more comfortable than you'd expect. On most models the suspension easily soaks up pavement imperfections and highway expansion joints and there's enough rebound control to limit secondary motions and unwanted oscillations. The ride is firmer than you might expect but doesn't grow harsh or hard -- in most cases. N-Line and, in particular, the new N ride firmly and occasionally pound over bumps.
Dynamically, most buyers will be impressed with the Kona's athleticism when the road grows twisty. The wagon-like build helps lower the center of gravity (compared to some taller crossovers) and there is little body lean in quick maneuvers. The steering is firm and fairly accurate when rounding corners, but lacks feel. Brakes have adequate stopping power but are prone to premature rear anti-lock activation in hard stops. N-Line models up the handling game with only a minor ride-quality penalty. N models ride much more firmly but have amazing grip around corners.
Interior noise levels are appropriate for the class. The base engine groans in hard acceleration and the N's youthful exhaust note is an acquired taste.
Kona's new interior mimics all of Hyundai recent small-car offerings with a design that's modern and functional, but not overly stylized. Materials are class appropriate, but there's more hard plastic than you might expect at this price point.
The front seats are supportive and a good range of adjustments. However, they lack lateral support. Rear seats are flat and broad with an adjustable backrest. Head and leg room are adequate up front. Rear-seat riders will complain that there's not much knee space. Outward visibility is good to all directions. Entry/exit is easy thanks to wide-opening doors and a low step-in height.
From a functionality standpoint it is hard to fault the Kona's interior. Controls are quite logical and clearly marked. The radio and climate system have proper buttons and dials and the infotainment system doesn't require a PhD to operate. Of course, everything is covered in hard plastic, but that's to be expected at this price point. The digital gauge cluster and larger infotainment system provide a more upscale flair.
From a tech standpoint the Kona is feature-rich, with a lot of standard and available technology that all works well. The Harman Kardon stereo system in the N-Line that provides plenty of bass response and good sound quality. Navigation system gets the job done with an easy-to-read display and useful turn-by-turn prompts. Apple Car Play and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard, though there are few USB ports inside. Wireless charging is available. One demerit is the fact that wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play are not supported in the uplevel system, owners must still connect a cable.
The optional adaptive cruise control and semi-automated drive mode is impressive at this price point, but it doesn't track as true as systems in more expensive vehicles and is prone to false alerts in congested highway operation.
As is typical in this segment, Kona's wagon body style proves useful, but its small size means cargo space is modest. Overall capacity is just 45.8 cubic feet and with the rear seats in use there's a scant 19.2 cubic feet available. More than a typical compact sedan but trailing the class leaders like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Volkswagen Taos. Interior storage is also quite limited with a diminutive cellphone tray up front and a small center console and glovebox.
Bottom Line -- With the changes for 2022, Kona emerges as one of the best subcompact crossovers on the market. Attractive pricing and an outstand warranty make it even more appealing. Demerits include a plasticky cabin, cramped back seat and modest cargo capacity. The overtly sporty N might appeal to a subset of buyer, but the more modest N-Line is the real sleeper of the group. It provides crisper handling, strong acceleration, lots of features and reasonable fuel economy at a very affordable price.