Auto review: The over-caffeinated 2019 Hyundai Kona is like a really great cup of coffee

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 20, 2019

           

The engine in the 2019 Hyundai Kona is responsive, although it takes a heavy throttle foot to overcome some initial turbo lag.

Maybe itís me, but things are no longer what they seem. Itís as if everything is, in reality, something else.

Many brands that were once hallmarks of American innovation are now merely labels for the manufacturing prowess of foreign companies, including RCA, Westinghouse, Motorola, GE and Frigidaire. Even Apple and Dell are guilty; Chinaís Foxconn builds their products.

Yet it also works in reverse, something I discovered when my beloved Braun Aromaster finally broke, leaving me to find a new coffeemaker.

It turns out that Proctor & Gamble, the company that produces Puffs, Pampers and Pepto Bismol, owns Braun. And although coffeemakers wear the name of the famed German manufacturer, they are actually made by Italyís DeíLonghi.

Regardless, the Aromaster is no longer available in the U.S., although itís still sold in Europe. Which leaves me with the question of what to replace it with. A Keurig? Never! Iíll stick with Braun, but will have to settle for one of the charmlessly large model available.

Itís ironic that my coffeemaker would give up the ghost the same week Iím driving the all-new 2019 Hyundai Kona, a vehicle as satisfying as the cup of coffee it brings to mind. The question is, is it a Braun or a Keurig?

From a looks standpoint, itís a Braun, albeit a new one. Thereís little sense of classicism here, merely an over-caffeinated design that wears its cheap gray plastic cladding reminiscent of a Pontiac Aztek. Couple that with an over-caffeinated headlight design, a large aggressive grille, swoopy side sculpting, bulging wheel arches and the cliched blacked-out rear roof pillars, and youíll wonder if Homer Simpson ó or someone at DeíLonghi ó designed it.

It cloaks a perfectly ingratiating subcompact crossover, one that starts at a reasonable $21,035. Offered in SE and SEL trim with a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, itís also available in plusher Limited, Ultimate and Iron Man trim (the latter being finished in gray and red) starting at $26,595, and fitted with a 174-horsepower 1.6-liter four mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All models come with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Opting for all-wheel drive brings an added benefit beyond added traction; it also replaces the primitive rear beam axle suspension with a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.

Consider the base vehicle a Keurig. Itís adequate, but youíre missing the extra flavor and zip that comes from the turbocharged four, which is truly a Braun ó albeit a new one. But when it comes to handling, itís more the Braun of old. Itís truly frisky nature and responsive reflexes outguns most of its competitors, although it comes with abundant amounts of road noise. Engine is responsive, although it takes a heavy throttle foot to overcome some initial turbo lag. Nonetheless, the transmission makes the most of the available power. Steering is rather numb, with a scintilla of road feel filtering through, and body lean is evident but not excessive. It adds up to a playful driving experience, especially when hitting the driving mode button changes, which changes the Konaís mode from normal (decaf) to sport (caffeinated).

The Kona can be fitted with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot warning. After far too many false alarms, I turned the systems off.

Interior quality was about what youíd expect given its price. As youíd expect, the instrument panel is anchored by a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen depending on model and is framed by shortcut buttons, making the system a snap to operate.

Head and legroom are very good in the front seat, but more limited in the second row. Cargo space is adequate.

In a class known for its tight accommodations and unremarkable handling, the Kona stands out for both, not unlike its corporate sibling the Kia Soul, which is far more convincing as a modern funk wagon. Nevertheless, if you like the Konaís potent look, its handling and features wonít disappoint.

Despite the quibbles, the 2019 Hyundai Kona delivers a delicious driving experience, much like a Braun coffeemaker ó albeit a new one.

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Stats

Base prices: $21,035-$32,995

Engine: DOHC 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 147

Torque: 132 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 25/30 mpg

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Length: 164 inches

Cargo capacity: 19.2-45.8 cubic feet

Ground clearance: 7 inches

Curb weight: 3,259 pounds