2021 Hyundai Kona Review
The 2021 Hyundai Kona is one of our favorite extra-small SUVs. It has an easy-to-use infotainment interface, smooth-operating driving aids and quick acceleration from its optional turbocharged engine. It's also pretty fun to drive thanks to its nimble handling and small size. Hyundai's long warranty and reasonable pricing are two other big draws.
There are a few minor downsides — you can read more about them in our Expert Rating below — but overall the Kona is a smart pick for a pint-size SUV. We recommend checking it out alongside other highly ranked models such as the upscale Mazda CX-30, roomier Kia Soul or outdoorsy Subaru Crosstrek.
The Kona is a top competitor among subcompact SUVs thanks to a strong optional turbocharged engine, sharp handling and a usable interior. But there are a few shortcomings that keep it from being an easy winner, such as inconsistent transmission shifting and a plasticky cabin.
How does the Kona drive?
The Kona is a sporty subcompact SUV with above-average acceleration and handling. In Edmunds testing of a Kona Ultimate (with the turbocharged engine), we measured 0-60 mph in just 7.2 seconds, which is a very quick time for this class of car. The Kona is surprisingly composed and grippy through turns, too. It maintains control and doesn't exhibit excessive body roll.
However, the turbo engine's dual-clutch automatic transmission can be slow to engage when accelerating from a stop. Once the Kona gets going, upshifts are usually smooth, but downshifts are always a little rough. Maximum braking performance is also underwhelming.
How comfortable is the Kona?
The Kona's suspension irons out smaller imperfections and takes the edges off just about any bump. But over larger bumps, the Kona tends to be busy and bouncy. Road noise is a bit intrusive too, but that's not uncommon for the class. Overall, the Kona is quieter than competitors in city driving.
The Kona's front seats are well shaped and pretty supportive, with plenty of adjustability. The available leather upholstery is stiff, and the cushions are noticeably firm. In back, the seats are flat and broad but not too upright. The climate control struggles a bit to cool the entire cabin when it's sweltering outside. But the rest of the time it's effective at keeping you comfortable.
How’s the interior?
It's hard to ignore the Kona's plasticky feel, but overall the interior is easy to live with. The buttons are grouped logically and clearly labeled, and Hyundai's infotainment interface has a logical menu structure. The relatively narrow roof pillars allow for good forward and side visibility. The backup camera's wide, clear picture fills in the gaps when reversing.
There is a suitable amount of space for the driver and front passenger. Rear-seat headroom is decent for the class — more than enough for average adults — but legroom is tight, especially behind a tall driver. Fortunately, there is generous space under the front seats for the rear passengers' feet. The relatively short doors can be opened wide even in tighter parking spaces, making for good access.
How’s the tech?
The Kona is a feature-rich vehicle, with lots of standard and available technology features that work well. We also like the optional Infinity stereo system that provides plenty of bass response and good sound quality. The navigation system gets the job done with an easy-to-read display and useful turn-by-turn prompts. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are fitted on all but the base trim, and a more extensive suite of features is available. The Kona's systems are consistently accurate, not triggering false alarms in our time with the vehicle.
How’s the storage?
The Kona really only falters in terms of utility when compared directly to class leaders. Thanks to a low liftover height and a wide load floor, the trunk is easy to use. But compared to similar SUVs such as the Honda HR-V, the Kona comes up short on maximum cargo space.
There are lots of water-bottle-size pockets, a diminutive cellphone tray, and a relatively small console box and glovebox. So while small-item storage is decent, it lacks variety. The car-seat anchor points are clearly marked and close to the surface, but they're tucked between firm cushions.
How’s the fuel economy?
The 1.6-liter AWD Kona gets an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in combined driving. That's a few mpg behind AWD-equipped competitors, but this engine provides more power. On our evaluation loop of mixed driving, our test Kona averaged 28.3 mpg, so drivers should be able to match the EPA estimates in real-world driving.
Is the Kona a good value?
The base car has a good set of features at an affordable price, but choosing the much more appealing 1.6-liter optional engine makes for a pricey subcompact SUV. Everything feels robustly built, but only the primary touch points, such as on the steering wheel and shifter, have been treated with soft-touch materials. The alternating textures break things up visually, but there's no hiding the dreary plastic.
Hyundai's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty continues to be an industry standout, and the five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty is also better than the coverage for the other vehicles in this class that we'd buy.
The Kona is easy to use, and it gives you a bit more of that SUV-style seating and view. Handling is better than you'd expect. In this class, it's hard to have more fun. In a lot of ways, the formula is right. But a handful of problems and polarizing styling keep the Kona from true greatness.
Which Kona does Edmunds recommend?
The SEL offers a lot of bang for your buck. It costs more than the base model but gets you a lot of desirable extras such as heated seats, keyless entry and a blind-spot monitor. But the Kona is at its best with its available turbocharged engine. This year's new Night trim level is the cheapest way to get it. We also recommend all-wheel drive; in addition to the extra traction the system provides, the rear torsion beam is replaced by a multilink suspension that improves ride quality and handling.
Hyundai Kona models
The 2021 Hyundai Kona is a subcompact crossover SUV available in six trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Night, Limited and Ultimate. The SE, SEL and SEL Plus models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (147 horsepower, 132 lb-ft of torque) that is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The others use a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine (175 hp, 195 lb-ft) mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional across the lineup.