More "Aloha" For The Money

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL
2018 Hyundai Kona SEL – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Hyundai Kona

Back in June, I had my first drive in the 2018 Hyundai Kona in Detroit. This car exhibited an "aloha" feeling as it drove through a chunk of Southeastern Michigan and into some really cool parts of the city. This "quickie" drive was done in an Ultimate AWD model with the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

With that first taste of the Kona, I wanted to bring it to our home stomping grounds of the Twin Cities to see if that "aloha" feeling remained. Instead of a turbocharged top-of-the-line model with all-wheel-drive, I received the value model – the SEL with front-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

It does seem odd that in our Minnesota climate that anyone would want just front-wheel drive. That was the first thing that popped in my head prior to its delivery. However, winter has not arrived. It means there's plenty more decent days of temperate air and drier conditions to drive on.

This model also signifies a value point for customers. With most transactions for SUVs scaling well above the mid-$20,000 range, it is refreshing to have one that only cost south of $23,000 complete. This is why I consider the SEL the better value in the Kona lineup.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

Not everyone wants a fully-equipped model. They do not want to spend almost $30,000 on it, either. What they want is the essentials – air conditioning, cruise control, some safety equipment, a decent audio system, solid performance to keep up with traffic, and good fuel economy.

The Hyundai Kona delivers on all of the above. It does so with a face that is seen as controversial, which makes it stand out in a crowd. You can say all want about Hyundai's "exoskeleton" design – including plastic cladding on the lower part of the body and several aggressive details all around – but it works extremely well.

The key to the design is in the details. The rear turn signals are just above the bumper, higher in position than the Kia Sportage (someone pointed how their turn signals could be seen as unsafe of someone close to it might not see it). The brake lights are on the tailgate, which helps in vision from drivers behind the Kona. I also love the wide opening doors and large tailgate opening.

The one thing the SEL distinguishes itself from the base SE is its 17-inch alloy wheels, shod on 55-profile Hankook Kinergy tires. Those tires provide good grip on both dry and wet surfaces.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

While high models offer plenty of luxury and higher quality materials all around, the SEL offers a more utilitarian construction inside. Yet, I like how the instrument panel is laid out even with the harder plastics. The instrumentation is comprehensive, with all analog gauges and a center TFT screen full of information. Controls are well laid out and tactile on the steering wheel, the door armrests and throughout the instrument panel. You do get a solid air conditioning system and heated front seats.

The seats are black cloth with a black-and-white houndstooth insert. They are supportive and comfortable up front. Rear seat room is fine if you are an average-sized adult, but you do get great headroom for humans with tall torsos. Behind the rear seats, you get 19.2 cubic feet of cargo space, expandable to 45.8 cubic feet.

A 7-inch touch screen crowns the center stack, offering various options for audio playback. On the Kona SEL, you do get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM standard. Luckily, both mobile connection architectures allow for navigation from their proprietary mapping apps. Sound is fed through a standard set of speakers throughout the cabin. I enjoyed the sound enough to not think about the Kona Ultimate’s Infinity 8-speaker system.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

The SE and SEL get the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower on tap. It is a very spunky engine capable for scooting around town and keeping up on the highway. There is a bit of torque hole when passing and getting up on-ramps. A six-speed automatic transmission is attached to this tester’s engine, sending power to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is available on all Kona models.

In terms of fuel economy, this front-drive, 2.0-liter tester turn an average of 32.6 MPG in my care.

The ride quality is quite good. The suspension works hard to absorb the ruts in the road, allowing us to enjoy the drive. There is a bit of roll in the corners, but nothing to be alarmed about when dealing with evasive maneuvers. I like the steering with its tight turning radius. There is a bit of numbness at the wheel and it does take quite a number of turns to get to lock. However, I found the steering system precise and easy to work with.

Where the Kona really stands out is its braking system. I like how the pedal action feels, and it shows in normal stops. Panic stops are also good with great response from the Anti-Lock Braking System resulting in short distances.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

During my time with the Kona, I ended up doing some incidental "water testing." A serious storm came through for which dumb ol' me decided to go out for dinner. Needless to say, I was indeed the smart one. The Kona got through some high water at several spots in and around Robbinsdale and Golden Valley with flying colors. Of course, I took it slow and cautious. Some vehicles got waterlogged and stalled in the middle of the high water. Not the Kona. It swam through it like Ian Thorpe (OK, Michael Phelps).

And, there was no damage to the exoskeleton or the engine bay! That is a true test of how good the Kona really is.

Earlier, I mentioned how the Hyundai Kona is a great bargain. An SE with front-wheel drive starts with a base price of $19,500. My SEL front-drive tester came with a sticker price of $22,405. You can move up the ladder to the Limited and the Ultimate if you want select luxuries. Because I can get navigation from my smartphone connection, the SEL remains an excellent value within the lineup. For the sake of my home area, I would add all-wheel drive and, maybe, a second set of wheels with winter tires.

Perhaps it is not exactly "aloha" to consider the Kona for winter use. However, you must understand the definition of "aloha." "Aloha" means peace, love, affection, compassion, and mercy. In Hawai'ian, it is a term of endearment with very deep meaning to the state’s culture.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

With that in mind, the Hyundai Kona is truly the embodiment of the definition of "aloha." It is a fun vehicle – perhaps the best in its class as we speak. If one must get a small SUV/crossover for life’s adventures with great value for the money – get the Kona.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America

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