Last year I drove the new Kona SUV. It had the performance 1.6-liter 175-hp turbo engine, all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It was a blast to operate, being very quick with sports car handling, yet practical to drive. It was the best small SUV I ever had.
So this year Hyundai sent me another Kona, but the more sedate version with 147 horsepower engine and six-speed gearbox. With a test sticker of $24K, it is reasonably priced as well.
The cabin has lots of good features. The climate controls are simple, with three basic knobs. A large manual emergency brake is better than the lousy electric ones we get on other brands. The gauge cluster is well designed and provides useful information. The radio has real knobs for volume and tuning. A button offers normal or sport mode driving. Overall, this is a nice place to sit.
This is a pleasant SUV to drive. Acceleration is quick enough, the steering has good feel, cornering ability is very good, and brakes work just fine. Real world fuel economy was less than claimed at 21 mpg in city driving but more than claimed at 37 mpg on freeway trips. Overall, the Kona is a great small SUV, but for those who can afford to spend more, the upgraded turbo version is far better and more fun to drive. Take your pick.
Next up is the Hyundai Veloster. It starts out as an inexpensive economy car at $19K. But this is the upgraded “Turbo N’ version. It’s a real screamer, with a turbocharged 250-horsepower engine. This one has the optional performance pack. For your $2,100 we get larger 19-inch wheels, summer tires, variable exhaust sound, limited slip differential and a boost to 275 horsepower. The total tab comes to $30K. For this fee you would expect a spare tire, but there isn’t. The factory claims this is done to save weight. I suspect it’s also done to save production costs!
This car is a blast to drive. Just punch the Sport mode button, the “launch control” button, press the pedal, and 60 mph comes in 6 seconds. Add to this great cornering ability and quick steering, this ends up being a sharp street racer. It is also a pussycat to use in daily commuting. I got 28 mpg on highway trips.
The main competition for this Veloster N is a Honda Civic Type R, with its 306-horsepower turbo engine but a $37K price. This Hyundai is far cheaper to buy, has a better warranty and offers similar performance. It’s a good deal.
Chad Haire, of Phoenix, test-drives vehicles for this feature.