The Hyundai Kona Is Fun to Drive Most of the Time But Skip the Ultimate Trim

Arriving as a new model for 2018, the Hyundai Kona is a subcompact crossover SUV that gets plenty of great reviews. It arrived with its own identity, and with its small size, good fuel economy, and modern design and colors, it offers an attractive option for younger buyers.

It takes its name from a district in Hawaii, following the place-name theme of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs. It offers five trims to choose from, so drivers can find one to fit their budgets. CARFAX recently reviewed the 2020 Hyundai Kona’s highest trim, the Ultimate. While it includes extra features, CARFAX suggested helping out your budget and considering a lower trim rather than the Ultimate trim.

The Hyundai Kona is fun to drive

U.S. News chose the 2020 Hyundai Kona as a finalist for its 2020 Best Cars for the Money in the Best Subcompact SUV category (the Kia Soul won the category). The Kona has gotten a number of other positive reviews as well, with Car and Driver calling it “the whole package.” Consumer Reports described it as “playful and inexpensive” and “much more enjoyable to drive than either the Chevrolet Trax or Honda HR-V.” CARFAX agreed, saying it’s “a ton of fun to drive.”

Powertrain options

The Hyundai Kona’s five trim levels have two engine options plus an electric version. The first three trims (SE, SEL, and SEL Plus) have a 147-hp four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The top two trims (Limited and Ultimate) offer a 175-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

CARFAX found the Kona Ultimate had good handling and was enjoyable to drive; however, there were some “harsh transmission shifts when traveling at low speeds.” While front-wheel drive comes standard, all-wheel drive is an optional feature.

Hyundai Kona features

The Kona comes with plenty of technology and safety features as well. Four of the five trims have a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The top Ultimate trim comes with an 8-inch touchscreen that also includes navigation and real-time traffic information.

All trims are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Kona comes standard with multiple driver-assist features, including standard automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, and a driver attention monitor.

The Ultimate trim

The Hyundai Kona’s highest trim level offers a slightly larger touchscreen along with a navigation system and traffic updates. The Ultimate trim also has a head-up display. The Ultimate trim provides drivers with adaptive cruise control, a new feature for 2020. The trim also includes automatic high-beam headlamps, forward collision-avoidance assist that has pedestrian detection, and parking distance warning.

Both the Ultimate and Limited trims have LED headlights and taillights, and both trims have leather seats and automatic temperature control. They both also have an auto-dimming rearview mirror. While the Kona Ultimate trim has leather seats, it also includes hard plastics. CARFAX still felt the cabin “looks good” and has “a youthful feeling.”


The Kona is a pretty affordable SUV option for buyers. It starts at less than $24,000 for three trim levels, and all trims start at less than $28,000. The SE trim’s starting price is currently $20,300, while the SEL trim’s starting price is $22,100. The SEL Plus starts at $23,950, and the Limited trim starts at $26,100. The Ultimate trim has a starting price of $27,950, though CARFAX tested a model priced at $30,380 (including destination charges).

All the trim levels of the 2020 Hyundai Kona are fun to drive, so consider one of the lower trims unless the Ultimate provides some extra features you just can’t live without.