Hyundai Kona Still Good Value, Electric as Fun as Ever

The second generation of Hyundai’s Kona carries over a lot of what proved popular with the first-gen CUV, including two engine choices and an all-electric variant, but it gets bigger and techier.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

September 12, 2023

7 Min Read
2024KonaLimited main cropped
Second-gen Kona on sale now at U.S. Hyundai dealers.

BALTIMORE — When it debuted in the U.S. in 2018, the Hyundai Kona was one of the latecomers to the modern small-CUV segment, repopulated roughly 10 years ago after the original cute utes, including Hyundai’s own Tucson, grew into midsize models.

But the Kona’s later entry didn’t stop Hyundai from establishing itself in the segment. Wards Intelligence data shows the Kona was the fifth best-selling model in the group last year with 63,000 sales. For the first eight months of 2023, it was the eighth best-selling model in Wards Small CUV segment, today consisting of a whopping 28 nameplates.

Adding Kona’s tally to that of Hyundai’s smaller Venue CUV and sister brand Kia’s version of the Kona and Venue, the Niro and Seltos makes Hyundai/Kia the segment’s highest-volume small-CUV seller in the U.S., with more than 113,000 sales this year, Wards Intelligence data shows. (Subaru has the No.1-selling small-CUV nameplate in the U.S. in the Crosstrek.)

With relatively strong sales, it is easy to see why Hyundai has done a somewhat mild redesign of the Kona. The CUV’s platform and two engines carry over, as do many elements of its fun but sleek exterior design.

However, the ʼ24 Kona tested here rides on a stretched version of its original platform, fixing one of the few issues Hyundai believed needed addressing: its relatively small size. The Kona has grown by nearly 6 ins. (152 mm) in length and has a 2.3-in. (58-mm) longer wheelbase than before. That’s enough to help increase rear passenger and cargo room but keep the CUV relatively compact. (Hyundai product planners here at a media briefing for the vehicle note this still falls closer to 170 ins. [4,318 mm] in length vs. some players in the segment getting close to 180 ins. [4,572 mm] long.)

Hyundai also wanted to update the CUV’s technology for 2023 tastes. It has done so in a variety of ways, including via a new infotainment system with standard dual 12.3-in. (31-cm) display screens that will roll out through the Hyundai brand’s lineup, as well as a forthcoming over-the-air update to give the vehicle wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While we didn’t stuff the Kona’s cargo area to gauge its increased volume, we can report the second row is more spacious than before. That’s not only helped by the added length and longer wheelbase, but also by 30% thinner front seat backs. Seat backs are carved out with knee room in mind, but it proved unnecessary for this 5-foot, 8-inch test driver whose knees were a good distance away from the front seat back with the front passenger seat set in a normal position.

2024KonaElectric infotainment screen.jpg

2024KonaElectric infotainment screen_0

The CUV’s new infotainment system, while new to Hyundai brand models, resembles that in the automaker’s luxury Genesis lineup, with similar fonts, icons and layout. Gone are the smaller icons spread across rows in the previous model, replaced by fewer, bigger icons taking up the full height of the display screen. It makes for less visual clutter. And Hyundai has physical buttons below the screen for quick access to main categories, such as map and media, while driving.

That said, we have to dig pretty deep to turn off lane-keep assist, which annoyed this test driver due to its befuddlement by narrow, unlined roads in suburban Baltimore. A dedicated icon to directly access ADAS functions would be a great addition.

As with the infotainment system, the Kona’s interior design is familiar too, borrowing heavily not from Genesis but Hyundai’s own Ioniq 5 and 6 battery-electric vehicles. The beige, flat, shelf-like instrument panel in the Kona, as well as its door panels, are reminiscent of those elements in the Ioniq lineup. It’s an inoffensive look, and materials are matte and free of flashing in our test vehicles.

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2024KonaNLine interior resized_0

Depending on the grade or powertrain of the Kona, interior color varies between black and gray. And the Kona Electric has available sage green faux leather, while the sporty N Line grade is black with red accents.

Inspiration from the Ioniq lineup can be found on the outside of the Kona as well, specifically, the Kona Electric. The second generation of that BEV, tested here in pre-production form, has the pixelated design detail from the Ioniqs on its front and rear fascias. (All Konas continue to ride on Hyundai’s B internal-combustion-engine platform while the Ioniqs are on Hyundai’s new dedicated electric platform, E-GMP.)

The Ioniq design elements inside and outside the Kona are fun, but we wonder if this sharing will make Ioniqs less unique over time, potentially turning off certain BEV intenders who value exclusivity.

The Kona’s interior is pretty darn comfy during our time at the wheel and in passenger seats. The power driver seat in our Limited and N Line testers is highly adjustable, with great lumbar support.

We are also impressed by the ride and handling of this relatively affordable vehicle. Cobblestone streets of downtown Baltimore are rendered smooth in our two all-wheel-drive testers, which have MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspensions.

Hyundai’s claims of a quieter interior mostly ring true. It undertook various noise-mitigation measures, including adding foam block to wind entry points, soundproof pads to 19-in. tires and a driveline damper to 1.6T models.

Unfortunately, the latter measure doesn’t quite quell “powertrain rumble noise,” as Hyundai puts it. The 1.6T motivates the car just fine, but the new 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the first generation’s 7-speed dual clutch transmission upshifts too quickly to a higher speed, resulting in clear engine rumble. We somewhat solve the issue by putting the Kona in sport mode, which increases the hang time in a lower gear.

Fuel economy may suffer a bit by driving in sport all the time, but we return a respectable, and EPA-estimate topping, 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) in a drive route of about 30 miles (48 km) aided, no doubt, by about 10 miles (16 km) of freeway driving. The 1.6T-equipped Konas are rated at 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) combined.

We test the Kona’s adaptive cruise control system on that route and find it very good at keeping pace with traffic. The CUV’s lane centering, on the other hand, is not as enjoyable, applying torque to the wheel against the direction of turns into curves. 

The Kona Electric, a three-time Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems winner, also gets a redesign for ʼ24. We test here on a short route a pre-production version of the extended-range Kona Electric, a smidge better in range to the first-gen model at 261 miles (420 km) vs. 258 miles (415 km) and come away as impressed as we always were with the vehicle.

That it felt as fast and ready as it was before shouldn’t be a surprise because this model’s powertrain mostly carries over, although with a bit of rework of battery-pack offerings and layout.

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2024KonaElectric yellow resized_0

New for the second-gen Kona Electric is a less energy-dense battery pack, 48.6 kWh vs. 68.4 kWh of the extended-range pack, to create a lower price point, 133-hp, 200-mile (322-km) entry level model. It isn’t available here, and pricing hasn’t been announced, but we doubt it will come in below $30,000, considering the 1.6T Konas start there and an electric-propulsion system costs more today than an ICE. But the shorter-range Kona nevertheless will be more affordable than most BEVs in the U.S., which is great thing for inflation-stung BEV intenders.

Because we flog our 201-hp, extended-range Kona Electric tester in hot weather, our range retention isn’t great. We travel seven miles (11 km) and use 10 miles (16 km) of range, although we get 3.4 mi/kWh, which isn’t shabby. As usual for a Hyundai BEV, the range estimate in the Kona Electric differs per drive mode (more miles in eco, less in sport), as well as fan speed. As our cabin cools, we gain seven miles of range every time we knock down the blower.

Overall, the redesigned Hyundai Kona is a good, well-equipped CUV. And, in a market where the average new vehicle costs about $50,000, the SE base grade at $24,100 is an incredible deal; even the luxury Limited, starting at $31,650, gives a CUV buyer a lot of bang for their buck.

The new ʼ24 Hyundai Kona ICE models, assembled in Ulsan, South Korea, are on sale now at U.S. Hyundai dealers, while the new Kona Electric is expected to arrive in the fourth quarter.

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