New sub­com­pact cross­over dives in

The Maui News - - AUTO - By DEREK PRICE www.cargaz­

Sub­com­pact cross­over ve­hi­cles didn’t ex­ist un­til a few years ago, but th­ese days they’re rapidly re­plac­ing tiny sedans and hatch­backs as the most pop­u­lar en­try-level ve­hi­cles in Amer­ica.

Now Hyundai is jump­ing into the fray with the Kona, a small ve­hi­cle that looks like an SUV, is priced like an econ­omy car and slots be­low the Tuc­son on the show­room floor.

For the most part, the Kona fol­lows the same for­mula as the Honda HR-V, Toy­ota C-HR, Chevro­let Trax and their kin: start with a short-wheel­base car, raise the ride height, add a lift gate and fold-down seats in back for cargo, toss in a dash of beefy SUV styling, and voila! Your brand’s sales get a boost be­cause that’s what to­day’s buy­ers want.

The Kona takes things a step fur­ther by of­fer­ing a few things its com­peti­tors don’t al­ways make avail­able. It comes stan­dard with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, of­fers a choice of two dif­fer­ent en­gines, and, above all else, has spunky styling that doesn’t blend in like road-go­ing cam­ou­flage.

I’m glad Hyundai of­fers a choice of en­gines, some­thing many com­peti­tors don’t. While most ve­hi­cles in this class give you a lone four-cylin­der, usu­ally un­der­pow­ered en­gine as your only choice, the Kona has two avail­able.

Base mod­els come with a 2.0-liter, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine that makes 147 horse­power, while the high-con­tent Lim­ited and Ul­ti­mate trims get a tur­bocharged, 1.6-liter, 175-horse­power en­gine.

Even more no­table is the turbo en­gine’s 195 pound-feet of torque at just 1,500 RPM, some­thing that makes it feel dra­mat­i­cally quicker and more re­spon­sive.

Its han­dling also is among the best, ri­val­ing the Mazda CX-3 for driv­ing en­joy­ment. It stays rel­a­tively flat in cor­ners and of­fers com­mu­nica­tive steer­ing and brake feed­back. That sporti­ness comes at the ex­pense of high­way smooth­ness, though, where it feels a bit rougher than oth­ers in this class.

With one no­table ex­cep­tion, it fol­lows the typ­i­cal Hyundai play­book of of­fer­ing en­tic­ing fea­tures at ev­ery price level. You can even get it with un­usual con­tent like a heads-up dis­play that most of its com­peti­tors don’t of­fer.

The ex­cep­tion is adap­tive cruise con­trol. I was sur­prised to see that use­ful and in­creas­ingly com­mon fea­ture isn’t avail­able at any price level on the Kona.

On the out­side, this is one of the most ag­gres­sively styled ve­hi­cles in its class. Big, con­trast­ing-color wheel arches, a sleek hood, swept-back head­lights and dra­matic rear styling make it catch your eye from ev­ery an­gle.

In­side, it’s not quite as ad­ven­tur­ous. The base mod­els feel mun­dane in­side, at least com­pared to the strik­ing body that sur­rounds them. Higher-end trims can get lime green ac­cents that pop vis­ually, some­thing I think makes them much more ap­peal­ing.

The cabin feels well de­signed and com­fort­able for front-seat pas­sen­gers, es­pe­cially the driver. Con­trols are all easy to op­er­ate, in­tu­itive and nat­u­ral feel­ing, a tes­ta­ment to Hyundai’s er­gonomic ex­perts who are out­do­ing the Ja­panese at their old game.

The back seat is bet­ter for chil­dren than adults, though, some­thing true of ev­ery ve­hi­cle in this class. Rear cargo space is also lim­ited when the seats are up.

Ag­gres­sive styling makes the Hyundai Kona, an all-new model for 2018, stand out among an in­creas­ingly packed crowd of com­peti­tors.

The Kona’s cabin has a com­fort­able, easy-to-use lay­out. Higher end mod­els can add lime-green color ac­cents to make it more vis­ually in­ter­est­ing.

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