Hyundai recently unveiled the Kona, the company's entry in the red-hot subcompact SUV segment, expected to go on sale in America in the first quarter of 2018. While at the introduction of the Kona, we learned much about the upcoming vehicle, including details on its trim levels and engine options. Hyundai also gave us the chance to drive the Kona, albeit an extremely brief drive of a Korean-spec pre-production model at Hyundai's proving ground. With that grain of salt in place, here are our first impressions of the Kona.

The Kona will come with a choice of engines: a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or a 175-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four. The base engine's power puts it right in the heart of the competitive set (Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3), but the turbo four's horses bring the Kona closer to the Nissan Juke NISMO's 188 horsepower and the larger new Jeep Compass' 180. The Kona we drove was equipped with the more powerful engine, backed by a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.

Quick, with two driving modes

The first part of our drive was on a long straightaway. With the 1.6-liter under the hood, the Kona is nice and quick. After a long there-and-back stretch, we ventured onto a longer winding road loop, complete with varying road types and quality. The Kona suspension did an excellent job of absorbing bumps and irregularities, and didn't feel jittery or stiff on any road surface. The steering was nicely weighted, with just the right amount of response. We did notice some road noise, possibly the only negative about the drive. U.S. models will get two driving modes, Normal and Sport, while global markets will also get an Eco mode. The Kona will not be available with adaptive cruise control, nor are there paddle shifters for the transmission.

The interior layout is clean, with a good combination of buttons and knobs set up in an easy, logical layout. Contrast stitching and matching accents around the air vents were nice touches and the main screen has a sharp, new look compared to other models in the Hyundai lineup.

We were told that both suspension tuning and steering will be different for Korea (where the Kona will be nimble), Europe (tuned for fun) and America (set up for comfort), but the setup in the Korean pre-production model was quite good, and may not need much tweaking to satisfy American buyers. If the Kona that comes here is close to what we briefly drove in Korea, this new entry into the subcompact market is more refined than you might expect, and should be poised to do well.


 

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