2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: Spirit over economy

It looks ready for fun and that begins when you hit the gas pedal.

The 2020 Hyundai Kona.
The 2020 Hyundai Kona. –Hyundai

The Hyundai Kona enters its third year for 2020 and it’s flush with the usual attributes: low-end pricing, good fuel economy, and Hyundai’s popular 10-year powertrain warranty.

But, practicality aside, the Kona — especially the top-line Ultimate — is equally about personality, a spirited turbocharged ride, cool color schemes, and surprisingly upscale features like a wireless phone charger and head-up display — both normally found in pricier crossovers.

The new Kona gets some modest changes, like adaptive cruise control in the Ultimate and some higher-end features available on lower trim levels. A new color, Sunset Orange, has been introduced and automatic emergency braking now is standard. An electric Kona also is now available.

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The Kona looks strange enough to turn heads, with its narrow row of LED lights resembling eyebrows over the fenders. Headlights are clad in gray vinyl and fog lights are set low on the bumper.

It looks ready for fun and that begins when you hit the gas pedal. The Ultimate is equipped with a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine capable of 175 horsepower. But it’s the high torque available at low speeds that makes it feel brisker than many in its class. It gets 195 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 to 4,500 rpm.

Paired to a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, the Kona gets to 60 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds. That’s not blazing fast but it is arguably best in the subcompact class. Available in front-wheel or all-wheel-drive, it also has good road manners with reasonably little lean on corners and curves. The ride is unusually smooth with a multilink suspension absorbing most of the road bumps.

It delivers all this while going easy on the drink: 32 miles per gallon highway, 28 city for the front-wheel-drive and 26-29 for the optional all-wheel power.

The cabin offers decent comfort for five and it’s pretty classy looking for this segment, too. Seats are trimmed in leather, heated in front, and offer eight-way power adjustments for the driver. Rear seats are not as roomy for taller folks with seven inches less legroom — better phone in your “shotgun.”

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The cargo area is among the smaller in the segment, too, with 19 cubic feet behind the seats and only 45.8 with the rear seats (60-40 split) folded down. There is some hidden storage under the cargo floor, though.

Some upscale features are startling for an economy car. A wireless charging pad, seldom found in this class, eliminates wires getting caught in console lids. And a head-up display with driver data is another unexpected treat. It also has rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors with turn signals, power sunroof, and tilt and telescoping wheel.

An eight-inch touchscreen hosts the infotainment and is one of the easier to learn. It responds quickly to inputs and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Tunes are heard via an eight-speaker Infinity sound system.

Impressive tech continues in Hyundai’s expanded safety package, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist and a driver-drowsiness monitor. Ultimate trim adds adaptive cruise control with pedestrian detection and parking sensors.

If the best cargo space is essential to your needs, better to shop around. Otherwise, the fun and feature-laden Kona Ultimate is a good one to keep on your subcompact shopping list. When neighbors drop by, there’ll be lots more to talk about than mileage.

2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate FWD

MSRP: $27,750

What’s all the excitement about? An economical car that doesn’t act like one: peppy performance and upscale features

Powertrain: 1.6-liter turbo four, mated to seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

How’s the performance? Low-end torque means brisker acceleration, 0-60 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds

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How’s the fuel economy: 32 miles per gallon highway, 28 city for 30 combined on FWD; 29 highway, 26 city for AWD

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