At first sight the all-new Hyundai Kona in lime green made me look twice to see if what I was seeing was really real. This lime-green subcompact crossover had so much body cladding over the wheel arches and fenders that it evoked the big ugly known as the Pontiac Aztek.
But -- you knew there was a but coming -- during a longer look without contrasting two-tone colors, it looked like a small crossover convenient for urban errands, suburban slogging and weekend getaways. Not too garishly edgy, not too artificially off-road suggestive. The thunder-gray body appeared more unified in design and less like a silly attempt to stand out in a class full of quirks such as the Kia Soul, Toyota C-HR, Ford EcoSport and Nissan Kicks.
By the end of our week together, I really liked this cute ute, which is odd due to the otherwise homogeneous nature of the small crossovers being churned out by automakers at a rate that would make bunnies blush.
We logged more miles than usual in and out of the city. It hauled hockey gear and kids, grocery bags and hangry tweens, and was one of the few vehicles our midsize puppy eagerly jumped into. And the lime-green interior trim circling the vents and lining the leather-trimmed seats was loved by the girl.
Kona drives like a hatchback, with nimble handling and punchy bursts of power from the familiar 175-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder, also used in the Tucson crossover and Sonata sedan. The AWD Kona is a few hundred pounds lighter (3,276 pounds) than those vehicles, so even though there is turbo lag from a dead stop, once it's up and moving, Kona is pleasantly responsive.
More impressive is how it tucks in and out of turns around town without feeling like it may roll into that landscaped suburban lawn. The visibility and seat height is still high like a crossover, and the proportions inside don't feel cramped, yet the Kona is narrow enough to pass through alleyways and double-parked delivery vehicles without hesitation. It's good for city folk who need something slightly larger, and suburban folk ready to downsize.
Our 31 mpg average exceeded EPA estimates, partly because we were driving in that sweet-sipping 55 mph range, and partly because of the smooth-shifting seven-speed transmission. In sport mode with the dual-clutch transmission, the shifts are more noticeable and more fun.
The best part of the Kona in the top Ultimate trim is the interior. For under $30,000 fully loaded, it has the refinement of premium makes from Acura to Buick, and easy-to-use technology that is actually convenient, from the eight-inch touch screen to the comprehensive vehicle info display in the instrument cluster. Even though the recently announced 2019 model comes standard with advanced driver assistance systems such as lane keep, we wished the loaded 2018 also came with adaptive cruise control.
The rear seats are tight, which is common for this class, but we comfortably fit two tweens and two adults. Two hockey bags fit in the hatch, but the goalie pads and the sticks had to ride shotgun. A pass-through would have been nice for the sticks. These are such minor complaints in what is otherwise one of the better overall packages in the subcompact crossover class. And there's the choice of contrasting two-tone schemes, if that's your thing.
2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD at a glance
Vehicle class: Subcompact crossover
Base price: $19,500 (base SE trim) As tested: $28,825 (excluding $980 delivery)
Mpg: 26 city, 29 highway, 27 combined
Engine: 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Competitive rank: Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3