AUTO REVIEW: The Over-Caffeinated 2019 Hyundai Kona Is Like a Really Great Cup of Coffee

(Tribune News Service/TNS) —
Hyundai Kona
The 2019 Hyundai Kona (David Dewhurst/Hyundai/TNS)

It’s ironic that my coffeemaker would give up the ghost the same week I’m driving the all-new 2019 Hyundai Kona, a vehicle as satisfying as the cup of coffee it brings to mind. The question is, is it a Braun or a Keurig?

From a looks standpoint, it’s a Braun, albeit a new one. There’s little sense of classicism here, merely an over-caffeinated design that wears its cheap, gray plastic cladding reminiscent of a Pontiac Aztek. Couple that with an over-caffeinated headlight design, a large aggressive grille, swoopy side sculpting, bulging wheel arches and the cliched blacked-out rear roof pillars, and you’ll wonder if Homer Simpson — or someone at De’Longhi — designed it.

It cloaks a perfectly ingratiating subcompact crossover, one that starts at a reasonable $21,035. Offered in SE and SEL trim with a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, it’s also available in plusher Limited, Ultimate and Iron Man trim (the latter being finished in gray and red) starting at $26,595, and fitted with a 174-horsepower 1.6-liter four mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All models come with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Opting for all-wheel drive brings an added benefit beyond added traction; it also replaces the primitive rear beam axle suspension with a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.

Consider the base vehicle a Keurig. It’s adequate, but you’re missing the extra flavor and zip that comes from the turbocharged four, which is truly a Braun — albeit a new one. But when it comes to handling, it’s more the Braun of old. It’s truly frisky nature and responsive reflexes outguns most of its competitors, although it comes with abundant amounts of road noise. Engine is responsive, although it takes a heavy throttle foot to overcome some initial turbo lag. Nonetheless, the transmission makes the most of the available power. Steering is rather numb, with a scintilla of road feel filtering through, and body lean is evident but not excessive. It adds up to a playful driving experience, especially when hitting the driving mode button changes, which changes the Kona’s mode from normal (decaf) to sport (caffeinated).

The Kona can be fitted with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot warning. After far too many false alarms, I turned the systems off.

Interior quality was about what you’d expect given its price. As you’d expect, the instrument panel is anchored by a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen depending on model and is framed by shortcut buttons, making the system a snap to operate.

Head and legroom are very good in the front seat, but more limited in the second row. Cargo space is adequate.

In a class known for its tight accommodations and unremarkable handling, the Kona stands out for both, not unlike its corporate sibling the Kia Soul, which is far more convincing as a modern funk wagon. Nevertheless, if you like the Kona’s potent look, its handling and features won’t disappoint.

Despite the quibbles, the 2019 Hyundai Kona delivers a delicious driving experience, much like a Braun coffeemaker — albeit a new one.

Base prices: $21,035-$32,995

Engine: DOHC 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 147

Torque: 132 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 25/30 mpg

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Length: 164 inches

Cargo capacity: 19.2-45.8 cubic feet

Ground clearance: 7 inches

Curb weight: 3,259 pounds

Hyundai Kona
Hyundai Kona
Hyundai Kona

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