Twin Test: Hyundai Kona Turbo AWD – Brilliant Speed, Grip & Handling

Testing two cars in different trim and powertrains is often pretty dull with the same conclusions applying to both vehicles. Not in this case. For enthusiasts, the AWD is the clear favorite. The bar is extra high for these small Hyundais since experiencing the pure driving joy that is the Veloster N.  The bar is raised high by that giggly pocket rocket — so its extra admirable that Kona is in same ballpark.

The top Hyundai Kona trims both run the 1.6T and double-clutch automatic but differ in their drivetrains and rear suspensions.  The AWD is the clear winner on all counts except the front-driver being cheaper up front and delivering about a +2 MPG bump in efficiency on the highway.

Part one of this twin test includes the enthusiastic drive review of the AWD version on our handling route, along with a few dozen photos of the chic machine inside and out.


Great acceleration when combined with awesome handling and style is a true package. This Kona delivers on all fronts and is amazingly good. Easily the best in its class of subcompact crossovers. Kona 1.6T AWD doing the 0-60 sprint in about 6.5-seconds makes it tied for quickest in segment with the front-drive-only Kia Soul Turbo. At least 1.5-seconds faster than Eclipse Cross, EcoSport, Trax, HR-V, CH-R, Compass and Renegade.

Well done, Hyundai!

Testing Kona AWD right after the Elantra Sport with the same drivetrain was quite illuminating.  Kona might right higher and be more practical than the Elantra Sport sedan but it also delivers much more rewarding drive feel and handling.  The Elantra Sport was admirably fast in straight line blasts — not right off the line, mind you, because brake-torque launches are blocked by the DCT software — but it is a joyless experience with soggy handling and lifeless steering feel.  Just a snooze by comparison to how alive and playful the Kona Turbo AWD is.

Brake-torque launches are still discouraged by the DCT transmission but Kona AWD does a much better job of shooting itself off the line even with a rolling-start sprint technique.  We spent most of our time in Kona’s Sport mode and with the AWD system’s lock engaged.  It has flawless footing and really — truly — feels like it is pushing from the back as you exit corners and squirt rapidly into moving traffic.  Awesome stuff.

This machine is just brilliant and it makes perfect sense that a Kona N is coming next year.  Unclear if that car will be front or rear drive, however.

In the next segment we’ll look at how what Kona FWD brings to the table and how it compares with these other recent Hyundais.

Check out the drive video and gallery below and watch out for part two!

2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD