This summer, our long-term Hyundai Kona has finally had a few opportunities to stretch its legs. Several short trips have kept the odometer steadily climbing, with one trip in particular offering an opportunity to examine how useful the Kona’s cargo space is. In that context, though, it was with a solo driver over a single day. To truly test its mettle in this regard, we and the Kona needed an extended excursion away from home. With that in mind, my wife and I left the Los Angeles miasma behind for a week in one of the most remote parts of Colorado. This 2,000-mile round trip provided us a few opportunities to truly test the Kona in the wild.
Before we even left the driveway, I’d already learned a lot. The Kona is very much not a large vehicle, and I wasn’t sure how well it would carry a week’s worth of camping gear and supplies. I told my wife—many times, most often ignored—that I wanted to take no food with us, no extra blankets, no decorative throw pillows, and none of the other stuff we always seem to bring and never use. My goal was to fit a week’s worth of everything we needed from home without anything obscuring outward visibility.
We succeeded, mostly. In the Kona’s back seats, we fit 10 days of clothes for two people, two camp chairs, a 7-gallon water jug, a camp stove, two trail packs, another backpack, an emergency car battery, two blankets, two pairs of hiking boots, two fly rods, two grocery bags of food, and two boxes of miscellaneous camping supplies. In the rear cargo area, we fit a tent, two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, two pillows, and a 54-quart cooler. This was more than I intended to bring, but I was pleasantly surprised that it all fit rather smoothly. We chose to leave the seats up, as it allowed better access to the rear footwells for some of our smaller or more malleable items, but we probably could’ve fit a bit more had we folded the seats.
To my surprise, the Kona seemed to drive no differently despite being loaded and then some. No, I wasn’t hauling heavy machinery, but I nonetheless expected to notice a difference. There probably was one, but it was slight; the Kona’s 1.6-liter turbo engine handled my stuff just fine, even when we hit the mountains and started to climb.
In fact, the entire trip was relaxing. The Kona makes a competent road-tripper. The seats are comfortable, the climate control has no issues keeping things cool in triple-digit weather, and it’s maneuverable in tight traffic and relaxing when the road opens up.
The open road also allowed for my first extended experience with lane keep assist in the Kona. In my daily driving, I haven’t had many opportunities to make use of the system. I mainly drive on surface streets at low speeds, and it doesn’t kick in until vehicle speed surpasses 40 mph. And even when it does kick in, it’s hard to notice a lot of the time. It wasn’t until we hit some gently curving mountain highways that I noticed the Kona adjusting for me. “Adjusting” is almost putting it mildly. Although I absolutely do not recommend you try this at home, the Kona is capable, in the right circumstances, of practically steering for you.
With cruise control set and my hands firmly on the wheel but not actually doing anything, the Kona successfully navigated long stretches of otherwise empty roads. Often, we complain about systems that ping-pong between lane lines instead of finding and maintaining the center, but the Kona felt smooth the entire time. It can’t handle tight turns, and the system doesn’t work unless the cameras detect lines on both sides of the road (remember, it’s just lane keep assist, not an autonomous car), but when the parameters are met, the system is quite impressive. It’s a long way from Tesla Autopilot—the Kona frustratingly lacks adaptive cruise control on any trim—but it’s also a long way from the old days. My only criticism of the system: It frequently threw warnings to keep both hands on the wheel despite both hands being firmly on the wheel, and not just as I intentionally let it do its thing. But sensitivity here probably isn’t a bad thing.
Upon reaching our destination, the Kona’s job was mostly done. We wanted to try it out on a few mountain passes and see how far off-road it could go. But its 6.7 inches of ground clearance dissuaded me from attempting too much. Not that far from civilization, and not with 1,000 miles standing between us and home. Regardless, we didn’t need empirical evidence to see that most of the trails we drove down (in my in-laws’ Jeep Grand Cherokee) would have been beyond the Kona’s capability. We’d handled many of these same trails just two years earlier in a Jeep Renegade Sport. Needless to say, it was disappointing to come all that way only to have the Hyundai sit at camp all week while we played. Until this point, I had yet to find a criticism, but if off-roading is your thing, the Kona probably won’t fit all your needs. Hyundai might tell you it’s Big on Adventure, but that comes with a big asterisk. Yes, it offers a wonderful carlike ride to any destination, but it also offers carlike capability when you get there.
At the end of the week, we once again headed west, toward home. My mind briefly lingered on the off-road disappointment, but my thoughts quickly turned toward a deeper sadness. My dog. In her younger years, she loved the mountains, but now that she’s reached double digits and struggles to climb our stairs, we didn’t think it would be fair to ask her to climb a mountain. But I still wish she could’ve come. Could she have, though? Or what if we had a child? The Kona was a wonderful trip companion for two. What about three? We didn’t exactly leave a lot of room to spare.
Deal with a little dirt and leave some clothes at home. Don’t bother with the blankets or the water jug or the oversized cooler we didn’t need. I don’t even know how to fish, so why bring two rods? As I ran through a list of items we could’ve done without and tried to imagine what a dog or hypothetical child would need instead, I came to the conclusion that if you have a child or a dog, but not both, you could probably make the Kona work for a 10-day camping trip in the wild.