Hyundai’s smallest SUV is a great value

Hyundai’s recipe for success in the American market is based on two basic elements. The brand’s initial calling card was valuable, if a bit lacking when Hyundai first arrived on U.S. shores with the $4,995 Excel in the mid-1980s. The model proved the cliche “you get what you pay for,” but by the early 2000s, Hyundai’s low prices were coupled with quality that rivaled Japanese cars, a fact that American buyers have increasingly discovered and embraced over the past 20 years.

The second phase of Hyundai’s success was built on the same concept that drives the sales charts of every modern car company – SUVs. Hyundai representatives told us that SUVs accounted for 37 percent of sales in 2017, when the subcompact Kona was introduced. Six years later, the numbers have flipped, with Hyundai’s eight SUVs accounting for 73 percent of its sales. The Kona, the brand’s smallest SUV, doubled its internal sales forecast shortly after going on sale, and it continues to thrive.

However, Hyundai is aware of the highly competitive nature of the small SUV market and decided to make the all-new 2024 Kona bigger and more refined without sacrificing the company’s brand attribute – value. As with the current Kona, the new Kona features an all-electric petrol version. But for this model, the electric version was designed first to ensure a futuristic exterior, along with a high-tech, youth-oriented interior.

This approach is evident in the form of the aerodynamic Kona (drag coefficient 0.30) which features a wide ‘horizon lamp’ just below the bonnet line. The “Z surface” side panels seen on other Hyundai electric models are visible here, along with body-colored fender flares on the electric model or contrasting black fender flares on the gasoline versions. The sweeping roof panel above the Kona’s rear window houses a raised third brake light, while another body-level skylight is located below the rear window.

These new design elements appear in the Kona in the same proportions as the previous model. However, overall length increases by 5.7 inches, and the bulk of that benefits from rear-seat legroom (improved by 3 inches) and cargo space (grows by 6.3 cubic feet). The new Kona is also one inch wider and 2.6 inches longer, with a 2.3-inch longer wheelbase. It all adds up to the largest passenger volume in the class and the second-highest overall interior volume for the 2024 model.

Driving the Kona reflects not only this increased passenger space and driver-focused interior design, highlighted by two 12.3-inch digital displays that come standard on all models, but also Hyundai’s efforts to improve refinement. A combination of upgraded external seals, underlayment and new suspension bushings reduce interior noise by 1.5 dB. The 2024 Hyundai Kona has a remarkably quiet cabin at highway speeds, a feature you don’t typically find at this price point in this segment.

The new Kona is powered by two relay engines. The base SE and mid-range SEL models offer 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while N Line and Limited models offer 190 hp and 195 lb-ft from a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. Both use an 8-speed transmission, with mpg ratings at 31 for the base engine and 28 mpg for the turbo. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive a $1,500 option – except for the electric model, which only comes with front-wheel drive.

With two battery packs available, 48.6 kWh for 200 miles or 64.8 kWh for 261 miles, the new Kona EV produces 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque. It uses a 400-volt charging architecture with faster Level 2 charging than the previous model – 85 kWh versus 75 kWh. This cuts about 3 hours off the charging time of a fully depleted battery. It also features pixelated exterior design cues similar to the Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6. Pricing for the Kona EV will be released closer to its on-sale date in a few months.

While the Kona Electric benefits from the instant torque offered by all electric cars, the turbocharged petrol model only seems adequate when maximum acceleration is needed. Once started, the turbo responds relatively quickly, but from a standstill, it takes a few pulses for the engine to hit its stride. We didn’t test the base model with the less powerful 2.0-liter engine, but potential buyers should sample the acceleration during a test drive to make sure it meets their expectations.

The base Kona SE now comes standard with the aforementioned dual 12.3-inch displays, plus LED exterior lighting, a proximity key with push-button or remote engine start, over-the-air software updates, and front and rear USB-C charging ports. Hyundai SmartSense driver-assist technology is also standard, meaning every Kona has forward collision warning and braking, blind-spot warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention warning, and high-beam assist.

Premium features on higher trims include a stalk-mounted electronic shifter, a multi-box center console, dual-zone climate control, rear-seat air conditioning vents, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging, and Intelligent Cruise Control. And a digital key, which lets you use your smartphone or smartwatch to operate the Kona. Performance-minded buyers can choose the N Line model to get unique front and rear fascias, body-color bumpers, 19-inch wheels, and Alcantara leather seat inlays.

Our time sitting in the petrol-electric Konas underscored Hyundai’s efforts to improve interior space, refinement and technology. The base SE model’s quiet cabin and list of standard features are impressive with a starting price of $25,435 (including $1,335 destination charge). The Kona Limited feels like a true luxury car with ventilated front seats, remote parking assist, smart cruise control, wireless charging, and a digital key for $32,985.

For buyers looking for Hyundai’s trademark traits – high value combined with a well-executed SUV – both appear in the new 2024 Kona.

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