WAIMEA, HI – In an ever-widening sea of small CUVs, the all-new ’18 Hyundai Kona stands out like a signal fire.

Arriving at U.S. dealers in the coming weeks, the adventure-minded Kona drops into one of the fastest-growing corners of the red-hot CUV segment where sales last year nearly reached 1 million units and no fewer than 20 entries compete, with more on the way.

To say Hyundai is striking while the iron is hot would be an understatement.

And while the Korean automaker trails competitors such as General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Nissan with an entry in the segment, Hyundai smartly took its time to develop a U.S.-specific vehicle with the Kona. It is no warmed-over emerging-markets product, and such diligence pays off handsomely through expressive styling, a superb level of available content, buttoned-up driving dynamics and pricing that does not break the bank.

On an island where ancient Polynesian warriors once battled, the Kona captures their spirit here with a look that is both ready to defend and attack. In fact, Hyundai chief designer Chris Chapman, who joined the automaker a handful of years ago from BMW’s DesignworksUSA, says his team drew inspiration for the Kona’s aggressive front end from the helmets of another grand army – the Spartans of Greece.

The Kona’s cascading mesh grille emulates the nose of a Spartan’s headshield, while lower headlamps wrapped in sheet metal and cladding protect the sides of the face. Signature LED running lights are the screwed-up eyes of an attacker, but also subtly hint of the Kona’s various exterior and interior technologies.

More so-called armor cladding serves as brush guards over the wheel wells and along the exterior sills and lower front and rear fascia. A low, wide stance combines with impossibly short front and rear overhangs to give the Kona the stance of a crouching warrior, while a crease running the length of its profile over the door handles may suggest a drawn spear.

Additional armor connects the Kona’s flanks with its rear, marrying up nicely with a body-colored spoiler containing an integrated center-mounted brake light. Like the front end of the vehicle, the Kona rear light work is separately configured between slim, upper brake lights and reverse lamps.

Critics may assail the exterior as overproduced, which Hyundai has been guilty of in the past. But in the case of the Kona, it makes a bold statement in a segment chock full of milquetoast designs.

Richly red, funky blue and splashy lime exterior color choices juxtapose against statelier silver, black and gray colors. Range-topping Ultimate-trim cars tested here were outfitted with available 18-in., 10-spoke alloy wheels, which get a little smoke for character.

Given the drama outside the vehicle, it would have been thrilling if Hyundai had pushed the prevailing trend inside, too. The cabin is not a disappointment, but a splash of color beyond the lime stitching, ventilation and gear shifter surrounds available on cars with the matching exterior color would have sent the Kona over the top.

Perhaps the stunningly colorful Hawaii fauna, visible at every turn from inside the Kona’s mostly grey and black interior, is to blame. Whatever the case, Hyundai staffers here hint more vibrant treatments for the cabin may lie ahead.