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Front Page - Friday, July 6, 2018

Behind the Wheel: Kona or EcoSport: 2 options in small SUVs

The 2018 Hyundai Kona and 2018 Ford EcoSport are two all-new subcompact crossover SUVs that are getting a lot of attention this year.

Like similar vehicles such as the Honda HR-V, the Kona and EcoSport provide an elevated riding position and everyday utility but are more maneuverable and typically less expensive than more established compact SUVs.

Edmunds takes a look at each to determine which one holds a clear advantage.

Spec sheet differences

Both the Kona and EcoSport start around the $20,000 mark and climb to about $27,000 at their maximum. The EcoSport is about 3 inches taller, but 3 inches shorter in length, too. Kia’s basic warranty covers the Kona for five years or 60,000 miles. Ford’s warranty for the EcoSport is shorter: three years or 36,000 miles.

Neither is a powerhouse in the base trim level. The Kona starts you off with a rather lackluster 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The EcoSport’s 123-hp turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder is even less inspiring.

However, both of these pint-size SUVs offer optional engine upgrades.

The Kona can be had with a pleasantly powerful 175-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged engine on the top Limited and Ultimate trim levels. Ford offers a 166-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder option that is available on all higher EcoSport trims and comes standard on the sporty SES version.

All-wheel drive is included with EcoSport’s upgraded engine and is an option for all Konas. You should also consider getting all-wheel drive on the Hyundai because it comes with an upgraded suspension, which gives the Kona more composed handling.

The Kona maintains a fuel economy advantage of 2 mpg vs. comparable EcoSports, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

When it comes to standard features, the Kona generally outpaces the EcoSport. Most items typically found on rivals are available on both SUVs, but the EcoSport requires that you add them as options or step up to the next trim level.

The Kona widens its features lead by offering more advanced safety features (forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist and a driver attention monitor), a head-up display and a wireless charging pad. These are not available for any EcoSport.

Greater differences in person

The 9-horsepower difference between the premium engines might not seem like much but you’ll feel the difference when you’re behind the wheel.

The turbocharged Kona should accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in the mid-6-second range, which is very quick for the subcompact SUV class. By contrast, the EcoSport, even with its upgraded four-cylinder engine, needed a sluggish 10.5 seconds in Edmunds testing to do the same sprint.

Neither model is what we’d consider sporty, but the Kona feels more confidently anchored to the pavement when the road curves. When the pavement ends, the Kona is more capable of light off-roading thanks to a locking center differential, which helps improve traction.

Normally, more accomplished handling and off-road abilities mean a less comfortable ride, but that’s not the case here. The Kona transmits a fair amount of road imperfection into the cabin, but the EcoSport’s ride is even choppier.

The EcoSport holds a marginal lead vs. the Kona for cargo capacity, specifications show, with 20.9 cubic feet and 19.2 cubic feet, respectively. In the real world, though, the Kona’s space is just as good, if not better.

The EcoSport’s cargo area is very shallow and upright compared to the Kona’s. Furthermore, the Kona’s rear seats fold flat with the cargo floor, while the EcoSport’s seats protrude a few inches above the floor.

Then there’s the difference in the cargo hatches themselves. The Kona has a conventional liftgate that is hinged at the top, while the EcoSport’s swing-out hatch is hinged on the driver’s side. Each has its fans, but we think most owners will find the Kona’s top-hinged hatch easier to live with.

Other aspects to consider

The Hyundai gains yet another advantage when it comes to outward visibility. It’s only average for the class, but the EcoSport is below-average because its thick roof pillars and narrow rear window limit what you can see from the driver’s seat.

On more subjective ground, finding true beauty in either the Hyundai or the Ford might be difficult. The Kona’s exterior styling is disjointed, with odd elements that seem as though they were pulled from other vehicles.

By contrast, the EcoSport’s angular styling cues are in line with the rest of Ford’s lineup, but its tall roof and the stubby proportions of its nose and tail make it look more like an elevated hatchback rather than a crossover SUV.

Edmunds says

The 2018 Hyundai Kona holds a definite advantage over the 2018 Ford EcoSport. The Kona offers superior performance, greater everyday usability, and more features for the money.

Mark Takahashi is a senior writer at Edmunds. Twitter: @mark_takahashi