The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2021 Hyundai Kona - Review by Thom Cannell +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Brief observations based on decades of experience.


By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor, Technology Desk
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

What would you say if I told you there was an all-wheel drive, 4-5 passenger compact SUV equipped with a heads-up display (HUD), sophisticated navigation, automatic wipers, automatic high beams, steering wheel controls that are intuitive rather than confusing, with an automatic HVAC system, Qi charger for your smartphone and pleasingly comfortable powered seats, and that it could be yours for under $30.000? Or that a less optioned, but still AWD version was under $22,000 and a base model was priced well below 20 large? That was the 2020 Hyundai Kona we recently tested, which for 2021 remains similarly (MSRP) priced and outfitted.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Kona bounded onto the automotive scene in 2019 and has changed modestly; 2021 delivers a slightly longer (40mm) version with upgraded grille, headlights, rear facia and taillights. Unchanged is Kona’s fun character, fun-to-drive experience and its value for your money.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Kona’s appeal starts with an open and inviting face, which for 2021 undergoes a modest change to the grille and headlamps that further enhance its friendly visage. Side views are largely unchanged, and the rear has revised tail lamps and bumper. Together, the changes make this an even sportier SUV. While Kona is obviously aimed at lifestyle consumers and softroad adventurers, its standard feature set and safety suite are what will motivate many customers.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Obviously, the Limited and Ultimate have the most goodies, yet even the base model has a 6-speaker sound system, rear heater ducts, steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, cruise control (Ultimate gets Smart Cruise), driver information screen on the gauge cluster, remote keyless entry, stability control/traction control with brake assist, even forward collision avoidance assist and lane keeping assist, backup and forward automatic braking (AEB) and more.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The feature set, whether at the base or top levels, works harmoniously and delivers a vehicle with plenty of power, poise, pleasing ride and handling, and most of the technology consumers are willing to pay far more to obtain.

In 2021, Kona’s power remains sturdy, not stupendous, whether the 2.0-liter I-4 and 6-speed automatic transmission (147 hp/132 lb-ft) or 1.6-liter GDI turbo-4 with 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (175 hp / 195 lb-ft), which our test vehicle had. Every model, every engine delivers about 30 mpg on the highway and around 26 in the city, which is respectable for a small crossover SUV.

We put hundreds of miles on our Kona, colored in Lime which, regrettably, is discontinued. We loved how the color “flop” around the vents looked illuminated in daylight, how comfortable the seats were, and pretty much every aspect of this mini-SUV, even how much cargo it could hold behind the large second-row seats.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

So, amidst all this wonderfulness, are there any negatives? Yes, and it’s 100-percent dependent on the roads in your area. If you have what are called chip seal roads—crushed stone embedded in asphalt— Kona’s cabin becomes unpleasantly noisy. We think much of that is due to the low rolling resistance tires, which we do not like on any car. Normal blacktop, concrete, even dirt roads don’t cause the same issue. Take a long test drive on varied local road surfaces, please.

Would we buy one? Yes. Kona fits our need for a dependable, identifiable, fun-to-drive small SUV, one that uses fuel efficiently and has most, if not every desirable technological innovation.

The Good:

  • Big value—small price
  • Big comfort
  • Big space in a small SUV
  • Power and technology to suit most singles, couples or small families

Needs Improvement:

  • Tire noise: offer other tires or re-engineer sound deadening
  • Lamentably, Lime Twist and Sunset Orange are not offered for 2021. Damn, I really liked Lime.

Cool Hacks:

  • Pop-up HUD keeps cost low, value high.
  • Snarky 2021 NIGHT Edition delivers 1.6L Turbo with 7-Speed DCT, 18” RAYS Semi-Gloss Black Alloy Wheels, LED Headlights and Taillights, Aluminum-Alloy Sport Pedals and as much black paint and accents as you’d ever crave

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)