A stereotypical road map of American adulthood starts off something like this: Move to a hip urban area, establish a career, fall in love, get married, then move out of a one-bedroom apartment and into a suburban starter home. The 2024 Hyundai Kona is just about to enter its white picket fence era, having grown bigger and more mature than before, with a slightly larger $25,435 base price than last year’s $23,925 entry point. But is bigger always better?
Some of the reasons for the outgoing Kona’s (that’s the one directly below) success were value, the benefits of a compact footprint, and a decent all-wheel-drive system. Looking at the spec sheet for the new one, it certainly seems larger and techier than ever before, but does it give up too much of the original’s spirit in pursuit of growth?
[Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me to Baltimore, put me up in a hotel, and fed me some regional and not-so-regional meals during the Kona drive event. I passed on the offer of a Yeti soft cooler, but the siren call of Old Bay-seasoned popcorn fell within ethical limits.]
How Does It Look?
The first thing you’ll notice about the new Kona’s appearance is its size—this thing is huge compared to last year’s model. Not huge in a mammoth sense, mind you, but more in the jumbo shrimp genre of size. The wheelbase is 2.36 inches longer than on the old Kona, and the overall length is up by a whopping 5.7 inches. Despite this impressive growth, the new Kona is still one of the smaller vehicles in its segment, mostly because everything else is enormous now. The Subaru Crosstrek is 5.1 inches longer, and the Honda HR-V is a substantial 8.5 inches longer.
Once you get used to the new Kona’s growth spurt, you get a chance to take in all the lines, creases, and trim elements that make the new car an interesting object to gaze at. Giant Z-shaped forms on the doors, pantomime Gandini arches, wedgy lamps, and Geordi La Forge’s visor all mash together, creating a design that takes some time to process. Despite evoking some of the previous-generation car’s styling cues, it’s a fresh and daring look that’s as current as it is polarizing.
What’s The Interior Like?
On models with the curved, driver-centric single-frame screen setup, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be rolled out through an OTA update, likely before the end of the year. Can I get a hell yeah? For the record, here’s what last year’s interior looked like:
Integrating the digital cluster and the infotainment system under a single pane of glass on more expensive models certainly feels modern, but don’t think that buyers of entry-level models get shafted. Even the base trim gets a 12.3-inch infotainment screen and free lifetime telematics for first owners.
Beyond tech, there are some neat design and material choices inside the 2024 Hyundai Kona. Shiny black plastic is beautifully absent, the soft-touch textiles on the doors jazz up an interior largely made of hardwearing plastic, the brushed trim on Limited models feels wonderfully expensive, and the shelf on the dashboard is fabulously quirky. Sometimes, it’s all about the little things.
Weirdly, substantial chunks of the new interior are optional, and I’m not necessarily talking about tech. The clever, space-saving shift-by-wire system and the particularly capacious center console are only available on SEL Convenience and higher trims, meaning that a significant chunk of affordable trims’ interiors are different from what you see here. On the one hand, this isn’t necessarily a downgrade over competitors. On the other, wouldn’t it be nice?
Nonetheless, the Kona basically leads the subcompact crossover pack for passenger space with a respectable 101.5 cu.-ft. of occupant room—compare that to 98.7 cubic feet for the HR-V, for example. At that point, the Kina isn’t giving up much passenger volume over the larger compact crossover set. Hell, 38.2 inches of rear legroom is more than competitive in an entire class up. Don’t let the subcompact label fool you, this could easily be a usable family car.
What Makes It Tick?
The old Hyundai Kona offered multiple powertrain choices, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the new one follows the same playbook. Buyers can choose from a 147-horsepower two-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine hitched to a CVT, a 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine hitched to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and two front-wheel-drive electric powertrains—more on those later.
Sadly, the hybrid powertrain available in other markets didn’t make the boat to America, and the raucous high-performance Kona N isn’t coming back in a new shell for 2024, but six powertrain choices in a subcompact crossover would be a bit nuts, yeah?
The all-wheel-drive system available on the Kona is surprisingly versatile. Different drive modes correspond to different torque split ranges, including a designated 50:50 lock below 50 mph. Normal mode sends between 20 percent and 35 percent of torque to the rear tires, Eco mode maxes out at an 80:20 split and can freewheel the rear axle for efficiency, Snow mode sends between 20 percent and 50 percent of torque to the back, and Sport mode includes a minimum 35 percent of torque directed to the rear axle and a maximum of 50 percent. You don’t typically see this sort of adjustability in the subcompact crossover segment, and snowbelt-dwellers are sure to appreciate being able to dial up extra capability.
Of course, stick any car in deep enough snow, and torque split won’t matter. Ask anyone who’s beached a car. To mitigate the risk of getting high-centered, all-wheel-drive Kona models offer between 8.1 and 8.3 inches of ground clearance, up 1.4 inches over front-wheel-drive models. Unless you live in Buffalo, that should be plenty.
A bigger body than before generally means more weight, and the 2024 Hyundai Kona certainly hasn’t gone easy on the pies. The most feathery front-wheel-drive base model gains 105 pounds, while the porkiest all-wheel-drive model sports a massive 302-pound weight gain over the plushest all-wheel-drive 2023 Kona. Interestingly, there’s an exact 500-pound weight swing between the 3,005-pound base front-wheel-drive model and the 3,505-pound Limited AWD model.
All 2024 Hyundai Kona models run on Kumho tires, although the type depends on trim. Naturally aspirated 2.0-liter models get fairly pedestrian rollers, but 1.6-liter turbocharged models step things up to fancy foam-lined acoustic-damping gumballs. Formerly the domain of luxury cars, it’s cool to see these noise-suppressing tires trickle down into the subcompact crossover segment.
With touches like that, you can’t help but wonder how the Kona is so reasonably priced. Look closely and you’ll notice where Hyundai has strategically cut costs from areas the average consumer couldn’t care less about. The rear wheel arch liners are plastic and partial rather than felt and full. The plastic atop the door cards is hard but richly textured. The fuel door release is still a lever on the floor. The front indicators are standard bulbs. The cost engineering on this crossover is fascinating and sensible, something that grows easier and easier to appreciate the closer you look.
How Does It Drive?
Part of the old Kona’s appeal was that it didn’t drive like a crossover as such. Tuned far more like a hatchback, it was a reasonably nimble machine—capable transportation through weather fair and foul. Those who bought the original based on the way it drives may be disappointed by the 2024 model’s on-road behavior. With physical growth typically comes softening, and Hyundai seems to have pulled some fun out of the new Kona in search of broader appeal.
Granted, the engine options still have plenty of hustle for their size. The optional 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is swell, a willing instrument of power and torque with a raspy note at full whack. It makes merging enjoyable, flings this crossover down the road at an entirely respectable pace, and even got 28 mpg on my drive loop.
The new eight-speed conventional automatic gearbox is far more livable than the old DCT, but it has tradeoffs. Lean on the skinny pedal, and the new slushbox takes a hot minute to figure out what gear it wants. Creep through bumper-to-bumper traffic, and you won’t arrive at your destination smelling of clutch material. Swings and roundabouts, but the conventional automatic clinches victory through familiarity.
Another solid improvement is very low levels of noise, vibration and harshness for the segment. Save for some pattern noise from the foam-lined Kumhos over coarse aggregate and the occasional freeway chop, the new Kona kept things reasonably hushed on first impression. Stepping up to a bigger Tucson will give you substantially more refinement, but the Kona still feels quieter and more isolated than most of its competitors.
So far, the changes seem minor, but there are some tuning choices that stand out beyond the Kona’s core competencies. Steering weight builds rapidly as cornering forces rise, but due to being overly light on-center, things don’t quite feel natural. There’s a similar strangeness to the underdamped rear suspension that lets the back end wallow around over large or sharp road imperfections such as freeway expansion joints, frequently resulting in a pronounced secondary bounce after the initial impact of hitting a bump. Popping for the sporty N-Line trim won’t fix this, since all-wheel-drive Limited and N-Line models share identical suspension calibrations and tires.
The pros and cons all add up to a car that’s peppy and quite competent, but won’t excite you. For most buyers, that’s okay. After all, a subcompact crossover is first and foremost a way of getting people and their things from one place to another, and the new Hyundai Kona is a comfortable way of doing just that.
What About The Electric One?
Well, the Kona Electric I briefly drove was a pre-production unit, but it’s developed enough to get the gist of things. The new Kona Electric gains a tiny frunk and loses a rear seat footwell hump over its gasoline-powered counterpart, but otherwise, it looks and feels much like any other 2024 Kona until you turn it on.
The new electric powertrain with a mere 188 lb.-ft. of torque responds exceptionally smoothly, but with a certain gradualism owners of most combustion-powered cars will be used to. There’s no immediate snap of torque, no traction control light auditioning for Ibiza, blinking its heart out as little granite eco tires try to turn rotation into forward motion. The previous Kona Electric did magnificent rolling burnouts, but the new one is firmly a non-smoker.
Reduction in juvenile silliness aside, the EV-centric updates Hyundai has made are seriously impressive. One-pedal driving is now a thing, the blend between regenerative and friction brakes is absolutely seamless, and even noise from the electric motor is quieter than before.
Level 2 AC charging gets a useful bump to 11 kW, handy when extended-range models sport a 64.8 kWh battery pack and an EPA range of 261 miles. The base standard range SE model gets a city-sized 48.6 kWh battery pack and a range of 200 miles, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that trim sees low take rates. If you aren’t a speed demon, an early taste suggests that there’s a whole lot to like about the new Kona Electric.
What’s The Early Verdict On The 2024 Hyundai Kona?
So, does growing bigger make the 2024 Hyundai Kona better? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. When viewed as a transportation device, it’s better than ever before. With more space, tech, style, and comfort than the outgoing model had to offer, it’s now perfect for young families. I just wish it had any sense of fun that wasn’t formed in a design studio.
If you want your subcompact crossover to be unexpectedly good to drive, this isn’t it. The Mazda CX-30 and Chevrolet Trax both have better suspension tuning in my view, as well as more natural on-center steering weighting, more responsive gearboxes, and more confident brake pedals. However, the subcompact crossover segment isn’t a general high watermark for driving experiences, so we need to give some leeway here.
Pricing starts at $25,435 including a $1,335 freight charge for the base SE model, rising to $32,985 for the top-tier Limited trim. As you might expect, all-wheel-drive commands a premium—$1,500 to be exact. For that sort of money, you’re stepping into mid-range Hyundai Tucson territory on the high end, and loaded Chevrolet Trax money on the low end. While a decked-out Kona has more gadgets than a modestly equipped Tucson, the larger Hyundai crossover offers a substantially more refined driving experience and loads of extra space. Meanwhile, the Trax continues to be sensational value for the money and surprisingly good to drive, so long as you don’t require all-wheel-drive.
For some, though, the 2024 Hyundai Kona will hit a Goldilocks spot of size and price, especially when compared to more direct competitors like the Toyota Corolla Cross and Honda HR-V. Expect turbocharged 2024 Hyundai Kona models to be rolling into dealerships shortly, with lower trims coming by the end of the year. For the typical subcompact crossover buyer, this new Hyundai could very well be the one to aim for.
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