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2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate Road Trip; Seattle, Tacoma and The LeMay – America’s Car Museum


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SEE ALSO: Hyundai Kona Content Archive - Reviews, Specs, Manufacturers Information

A Road Trip Story from A Shunpiker’s Journal

By Steve Purdy
Shunpiker Productions
September 2019

The excuse for this trip (as if we ever really need an excuse) is the annual fund-raising event for the LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, one of the finest presentations of automotive heritage in the country. If you’ve not visited the LeMay you’re missing something special. While we’re there we’ll spend some time in, and evaluate, Hyundai’s small crossover called Kona.

The museum folks invited us to be part of their annual fund-raising event to induct our Automotive Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award permanent trophy into the museum honoring more than 20 years of distinguished automotive journalists. We present that annual award during the Concours ?Elegance of America near Detroit each July. Folks who read about cars will know most, if not all, of the honorees – David E. Davis, Jr., Denise McCluggage, Jim Dunne, Tony Swan, Peter Egan, Beverly Rae Kimes and their ilk.


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The huge LeMay Gala event with live and silent auctions, elegant diner, live music, fireworks and even a pop-up lightning storm filled a warm summer Saturday night and surrounded our trophy presentation. While we’ve presented the last two Lifetime Achievement Awards, the others go back nearly 20 years having been part of the late International Automotive Media Competition. We are carrying on that tradition for the benefit of the profession.

We decided to stay a few extra days in Tacoma to explore the area and spend some time with friends we don’t often get to hang out with. Hyundai graciously offered up a new, top-of-the-line, 2019 Kona Ultimate to get us around the congested metropolitan area and out of town to enjoy some scenery. Kona is Hyundai’s small crossover. Or is it a compact hatchback? Or maybe we call it a cool little urban conveyance or some other ephemeral vehicle category. Whatever it is, it’s a nice little car with good utility, great looks and the ultimate in content for its class. This one shows a sticker price of thirty-grand. [Kona Design]


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Tacoma, is rife with convoluted, poorly-designed traffic patterns. After visiting the verdant Defiance Point Park and strolling along the shore where mostly locals walk their dogs enjoying the narrows, we got caught up in multiple challenges finding our way around detours and confusing routes. The Kona’s excellent nav system helped, but not enough. We finally made it across the famous Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge for lunch in the upscale little village of Gig Harbor. The stylish Kona in “Sonic Silver” looked right at home among the eclectic mix of fun cars we saw there. Kona’s design details include just the right amount of shinny bits and reflect the swoopy, angular trends in current crossover design.


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Our little Hyundai Kona sports the efficient 1.6-liter, turbo 4-cylinder making a decent 175 horsepower and nearly 200 lb.-ft. of torque. While it sounds and feels a bit wheezy on heavy throttle, it gets us onto the busy freeways expeditiously. The 7-speed automatic transmission boosts efficiency keeping us at best revs for speed and conditions with shifts that are mostly unobtrusive. When we get on and off the throttle at low speeds she can be a little crass. The EPA says we can expect 29 mpg on the highway, 26 in the city and 27 combined, but our on-board computer says we managed just over 30 mpg in about 300 miles of mixed conditions.


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We felt compelled to visit a couple of places we already knew – the popular Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle where fish are thrown and local artists, craftspeople and food producers play their products, and the spectacular Snoqualmie Falls about 45-minutes east of Seattle not far off I-90. We spent much more time in the car this day so we got a good sense of what it would be like to live with. The cabin is handy and well designed with good fit and finish and lots of creative storage, but it would never be accused of being luxurious. Simple and intuitive controls are near the leading edge of mainstream small cars. We had a lot of trouble-free interaction with easy-to-read navigation system featuring a remarkably accurate traffic reporting function. Ergonomics were well thought through and driving dynamics were competent but unremarkable.


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The Pike Place Market is one of the most popular attractions in the area for good reason. While the fish throwing gets much of the attention, hundreds of other vendors, shops, artisans and hippies display and sell everything from floral arrangements, to local produce, to baked goods, to crafts, all interspersed with eateries of all kinds. Foodies will find it inspiring.


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Snoqualmie Falls graces a rocky cliff in the foothills of the Coastal Range and represents a partnership between Mother Nature and Father Government. The former compromised her integrity a bit to make power in order for the latter to civilize this part of the Pacific Northwest. The result is this spectacular waterfall of close to 300 feet, bordered by a luxurious inn and a state park. We’ve seen the falls rushing after torrential rains but this time they are much tamer, though still dramatic.


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Best of all, in my estimation, was a visit to the Washington State Fair with our Tacoma friends, Don and Candy. Every state fair has its own culinary specialty, and here it is a “scone,” just a hot, fresh biscuit, barely split with a generous dollop of raspberry jelly pushed inside. We’re gratified to see a modernized fair that still includes lots of livestock, farm equipment, parades, grandstand shows, merchants’ buildings . . . everything we could want from classic state fair adjusted to the modern world. Well done!


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We hope you’ll visit The LeMay – America’s Car Museum next to the Tacoma Dome at the busy intersection of I-5 and I-705. It’s a real architectural treat as well as a world-class car museum– sort of a big, fancy, ovoid Quonset with inviting glass covering both ends. Through the north end we watched both natural and man-made fireworks described above. An inspired team led by David Madeira raised an amazing amount of money about a decade ago to save this the wonderful collection of historic automobiles for posterity. Its owner, the late Harold LeMay, looked toward his mortality and made an altruistic decision. His family remains involved as the museum has become part of America’s Automotive Trust. (That’s another story I’ll tell you another time.)


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The award-winning Hyundai Kona compact crossover starts at just under 19-grand and offers 5 trim levels. All-wheel drive is offered at each level. It comes with a 5-year/60,000 mile vehicle warranty and 10-year/100.000-mile on the powertrain. And, you might be interested to know, Hyundai and sister brand Kia have led the overall JD Power ratings for initial quality the past few years.

We found the Hyundai Kona a trendy, efficient little conveyance as we explored this bit of the Pacific Northwest where we find one of the most complex interactions of sea and shore in country. Ferries are an integral part of the transportation infrastructure, after all. The famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge, began life as one of the longest suspension bridges in its day, then swung itself to death in gale-force winds in the 1930s. It’s since been rebuilt and is now a sturdier pair of bridges.