We drove a $30,000 Hyundai Kona SUV to see if it's ready to compete against Jeep, Honda, and Toyota. Here's the verdict.

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Hyundai KonaBenjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Hyundai Kona is one of the newest contenders in the subcompact crossover SUV market.
  • Its rivals in the market include the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, Nissan Kicks, and Mazda CX-3.
  • Kona comes standard with a 147 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A 175 hp turbocharged engine is available as an option.
  • We were impressed by the Kona's peppy turbocharged engine, sporty driving dynamics, and its solid array of standard tech features.
  • We aren't quite in love with Kona's quirky styling and limited cargo capacity.

From the armada of Cadillac Escalades invading mall parking lots across America to the millions of the car-based crossovers dotting the nation's driveways, SUVs are everywhere these days

While the idea of the SUV within the collective conscious may be that of a rugged off-roader, the vast majority of SUVs sold in the US are actually car-based crossovers. In many cases, they are nothing more than economy hatchbacks with some extra ride height.

This is especially the case for entry-level subcompact crossovers SUVs.

But, these "cute utes" have become increasingly popular thanks to the recent tidal wave of demand for SUVs.

According to data from Kelley Blue Book, the segment accounts for 3.6% of the American auto market. While it doesn't have the sheer sales volume of the compact SUVs and full-size pickup trucks, it is still a rapidly growing segment.

Read more: We drove an all-new $32,000 Subaru Forester SUV to see if it could compete with Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. Here's the verdict.

Over the first 11 months of 2018, manufacturers have sold more 560,000 sub-compact crossover SUVs in the US that's up more than 30% over the same period last year.

One of the newest additions to the segment is the Hyundai Kona.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to spend a few days behind the wheel of a 2018 Hyundai Kona complete with a Thunder Gray paint job.

The base 2019 Hyundai Kona SE starts at $19,990 while the top spec Kona Ultimate starts at $27,500. The mid-grade SEL and Limited trims start at $21,800 and $25,550 respectively. All-wheel-drive is available as a $1,400 option. With options and fees, our 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD carried an as-tested price of $29,850.

Here's a closer look at the 2018 Hyundai Kona.

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Here it is! The 2018 Hyundai Kona.

Here it is! The 2018 Hyundai Kona.

It's the entry-level crossover SUV in Hyundai's lineup and slots in below the Tucson compact crossover.

It's the entry-level crossover SUV in Hyundai's lineup and slots in below the Tucson compact crossover.

In the market, the Kona's rivals include the Mazda CX-3, ...

In the market, the Kona's rivals include the Mazda CX-3, ...

... Honda HR-V, ...

... Honda HR-V, ...

... Nissan Kicks, ...

... Nissan Kicks, ...

... Toyota CH-R, and...

... Toyota CH-R, and...

... The segment-leading Jeep Renegade.

... The segment-leading Jeep Renegade.

Let's start with the most controversial part of the Kona. Its styling. It's quirky and unconventional. While I'm not in exactly in love with it, I have to admit the modern looks fit the upbeat personality of the car.

Let's start with the most controversial part of the Kona. Its styling. It's quirky and unconventional. While I'm not in exactly in love with it, I have to admit the modern looks fit the upbeat personality of the car.

The front end is the least conventional part of the design. Even though the hexagonal Hyundai corporate grille takes up the most real estate, it's the headlight setup that receives the most attention.

The front end is the least conventional part of the design. Even though the hexagonal Hyundai corporate grille takes up the most real estate, it's the headlight setup that receives the most attention.

The LED running lights are up top and the fog lamps are at the bottom. The actual headlamps are actually located midway between the two.

The LED running lights are up top and the fog lamps are at the bottom. The actual headlamps are actually located midway between the two.

Here's a close up of the head lights.

Here's a close up of the head lights.

It's a similar in setup to the pre-facelift KL-Series Jeep Cherokee.

It's a similar in setup to the pre-facelift KL-Series Jeep Cherokee.
Click here to read our review of the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

The Kona is 13.7 feet long and 5.1 feet tall.

The Kona is 13.7 feet long and 5.1 feet tall.

The Kona's side profile is highlighted by its pronounced wheel haunches and short rear overhang.

The Kona's side profile is highlighted by its pronounced wheel haunches and short rear overhang.

I'm also a fan of these spiffy alloy wheels.

I'm also a fan of these spiffy alloy wheels.

The rear end is also modern and a bit unconventional.

The rear end is also modern and a bit unconventional.

Inside, the Kona is far more conventional. In fact, apart from the lime green accents, it's almost understated.

Inside, the Kona is far more conventional. In fact, apart from the lime green accents, it's almost understated.

Our test car's interior felt well-put together with quality materials. The 8-way power leather seats were remarkably supportive.

Our test car's interior felt well-put together with quality materials. The 8-way power leather seats were remarkably supportive.

The cabin proved to be well designed and easy to use.

The cabin proved to be well designed and easy to use.

In front of the driver is a pair of clear and concise analog gauges that flank a 4.2-inch color information display. Lower-spec Konas come standard with a 3.5-inch display.

In front of the driver is a pair of clear and concise analog gauges that flank a 4.2-inch color information display. Lower-spec Konas come standard with a 3.5-inch display.

Ultimate trim Konas come standard with this flip-up color head-up display.

Ultimate trim Konas come standard with this flip-up color head-up display.

Our Ultimate trim Kona came equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display. All other Kona trim levels come standard with a seven-inch unit.

Our Ultimate trim Kona came equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display. All other Kona trim levels come standard with a seven-inch unit.

The Hyundai infotainment system proved to be remarkably easy and straightforward to use.

The Hyundai infotainment system proved to be remarkably easy and straightforward to use.

The on-screen prompts mesh well with the physical buttons located around the screen.

The on-screen prompts mesh well with the physical buttons located around the screen.

Our test car came with a built-in navigation system.

Our test car came with a built-in navigation system.

All Kona's come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

All Kona's come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Our only major complaint with the Hyundai System is with the voice activation on the infotainment system that proved to be very finicky and inconsistent.

Our only major complaint with the Hyundai System is with the voice activation on the infotainment system that proved to be very finicky and inconsistent.

The back up camera also lives in the touchscreen.

The back up camera also lives in the touchscreen.

The Kona is also available with wireless charging.

The Kona is also available with wireless charging.

The Kona's second row boasts ample room for two adults.

The Kona's second row boasts ample room for two adults.

There is 34.6 inches of legroom and 37.8 inches of headroom.

There is 34.6 inches of legroom and 37.8 inches of headroom.

Lift up the tailgate and...

Lift up the tailgate and...

... You'll find 19.2 cubic feet of car space. This is where it falls behind rivals such as the Honda HR-V that boasts 23 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats and capacity goes up to 45.8 cubic feet.

... You'll find 19.2 cubic feet of car space. This is where it falls behind rivals such as the Honda HR-V that boasts 23 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats and capacity goes up to 45.8 cubic feet.

Under the cargo floor is a storage tray which...

Under the cargo floor is a storage tray which...

... Covers up the spare tire.

... Covers up the spare tire.

Under the hood, our test car came equipped with a 1.6 liter, 175 horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It's standard on Limited and Ultimate trim levels.

Under the hood, our test car came equipped with a 1.6 liter, 175 horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It's standard on Limited and Ultimate trim levels.

It's paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Lower trim Konas come with a 2.0 liter, 147 horsepower, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that's paired with a traditional six-speed automatic.

It's paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Lower trim Konas come with a 2.0 liter, 147 horsepower, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that's paired with a traditional six-speed automatic.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the AWD Turbo Kona are 26 mph city, 29 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the AWD Turbo Kona are 26 mph city, 29 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined.

Our test car returned an impressive 30.2 mpg of fuel economy in mixed city and highway driving on the road in and around Atlanta, Georgia.

Our test car returned an impressive 30.2 mpg of fuel economy in mixed city and highway driving on the road in and around Atlanta, Georgia.

For those who want to take the Kona off-road, there is 6.7 inches of ground clearance.

For those who want to take the Kona off-road, there is 6.7 inches of ground clearance.

The all-wheel-drive system comes with a locking center differential. An uncommon sight in crossovers of its type.

The all-wheel-drive system comes with a locking center differential. An uncommon sight in crossovers of its type.

What's it like to drive?

What's it like to drive?

The Hyundai Kona is one of the most impressive small crossovers we've driven. The turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission work well together, delivering its bountiful power with aplomb.

The chassis feels tight and well sorted. The torque vectoring system makes the already nimble little crossover even more capable around the twisty bits.

The verdict.

The verdict.

To say we were surprised would be an understatement. The 2018 Hyundai Kona certainly snuck up on us.

And we are thankful to have had the chance to drive it because it's a seriously good little crossover.

What stood out to us was all the features one wouldn't normally find in a subcompact crossover. Features such as torque vectoring, a locking center differential, a head-up display, and dual-clutch transmission.

Hyundai certainly didn't cut corners with the Kona.

So, if you're in the market for a fun little crossover SUV, don't worry about the funky styling, the Hyundai Kona is well worth it.

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