This week we send into the ring two models vying for market share in a segment that’s currently very popular in Canada, that of the small SUV. The two models are recent to the market – in fact the shiny new Seltos is just hitting the market as we speak – and so modern in both form and function. Which of these close cousins is the better choice, however? We take a look…

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2020 Hyundai Kona

The little Kona, named after a Hawaiian city, has been with us since 2018, and last year Hyundai added an electric version to the offering. It is back on our roads without major changes for 2020. It’s one of the small SUVs with the fastest-growing sales performance in the last year. Sales in Canada rose from 14,900 to 25,800 between 2018 and 2019, a 78% increase. Its size is well-proportioned and it comes in attractive colours that offer a refreshing change from the usual grey, black and beige.

Five versions
The Kona is available in the following models: Essential, Preferred, Luxury, Trend and Ultimate.

In the Essential version, you get 16-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, heated sideview mirrors, intermittent front wipers, heated front seats, cloth upholstery, manually adjusted driver’s seat, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 6-speaker audio system, climate control, cruise control, power windows and door locks and keyless entry.

That all of this standard equipment still leaves the price of access at about $21,500 goes a long way to explaining the success of the Kona.

Review of the 2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6L T

Review of the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Preferred version gets 17-inch wheels with fog lights, blind spot collision warning, lane assist with rear cross-traffic alert, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, heated steering wheel and passive keyless entry.

The Luxury version features an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, rear parking distance warning, automatic climate control and sunroof. This package also includes the Hyundai Smartsense Basic Safety Suite, which includes lane keeping assist, driver attention warning and front collision avoidance assistance with pedestrian detection.

In the Trend version, you get 18-inch LED taillight wheels, a chrome ring grille, dark grey body colour, silver rear skid plate, rain-sensitive wipers and a head-up display. This package also includes fabric upholstery and removes Smartsense features.

The leather, power seat and Smartsense return in the Ultimate Trim Package, which features LED headlamps with active cornering lights, an 8.0-inch touch screen, wireless charger, digital color gauge display and auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Same engines for both models
Both the Kona and the Seltos are available with two engines. The basic powertrain is a 147-hp 2.0L 4-cylinder engine delivering 132 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. An optional 1.6L turbocharged engine (175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque) is available with a 7-speed transmission. There’s also a choice of FWD or AWD with Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes to personalize your ride a little.

The chassis comes from the Tucson model and is adapted for the Kona. Behind the wheel of the 2.0L version, power is a bit tight if there are several humans and much gear on board and passing maneuvers become more difficult; the engine is clearly forced to work hard hard when pushed and the soundproofing isn’t enough to camouflage the mechanical complaints. Fortunately, the chassis is solid and the handling is good.

Things get far more interesting in the 1.6L version of the Kona. The 175 hp and generous torque transform of that unit the Kona’s ride. Handling, overall balance and handling are all enhanced by a notch or two. The Sport mode really gives the Kona a sporty edge and you can feel a much tighter connection between road and driver.

2021 Kia Seltos

The Kia brand has been riding a wave of popularity of the brand that has translated into sales success in recent years. The new Seltos aims for practicality at a realistic price but in a desirable package. That strategy proved enormously successful with the Telluride, so it’s not surprising to see Kia follow it again for the Seltos, which slips in between the Soul and the Sportage in the Korean automaker’s lineup, but with a more upscale approach than the Niro.

Four versions
The Seltos is available in LX, EX, EX Premium and SX versions. Both Kia and Hyundai offer excellent value with their vehicles. The Seltos comes standard with Android Auto and Apple Carplay in all versions. The 8-inch multimedia screen increases to 10.25-inch with UVO Intelligence in premium models, and the Bose premium audio system with 8 speakers is also available in SX models, as is the head-up display. Heated front seats are standard, with optional heated rear seats and ventilated front seats. There’s also a standard USB port in the rear. The navigation system only comes standard on SX models.

Different platform
Contrary to what many people assume, the Seltos and the Kona do not ride on the same platform, and the Seltos is slightly larger. But it’s mainly thanks to its more-regular shape and higher roof that passengers will feel more comfortable in it. The positives include the front seats, which are wide and comfortable. The rear seats recline a few centimetres for extra comfort on longer trips, which is relatively new among small SUVs.

Although only available in the high-end SX model, the 8-speaker Bose audio system is a plus for squeezing more pleasure out of listening to your favourite music. By the way, this is the first time Kia has equipped one of its models with a Bose system (the automaker used Harman/kardon previously), and the sound is excellent for a vehicle offered at this price point.

Among my pet peeves, the interior is covered in black plastic, the quality of which is questionable in some places even in the high-end SX versions; this is where the Seltos loses a few points.

Same engines
The Kona and the Seltos offer the same engines. However, there is a nuance and it is worth mentioning. While the base 2.0L engine offers a CVT with the Seltos, Hyundai opted for a 6-speed automatic transmission that’s much more effective and positive than the CVT, without increasing fuel consumption. The 1.6-litre turbo engine comes in both cases with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Although the dual-clutch transmission is a bit jerky, it’s the better performer on the road. If you have to choose the 2.0L engine, the Kona and its automatic transmission will spare your ears some ungainly CVT-caused shrieks.

Advantage Hyundai Kona

As we’ve just pointed out, the automatic transmission offers the best marriage with the 2.0L engine. As well, the Kona’s base price is slightly lower.

Advantage Kia Seltos

The Seltos is a bit more spacious, and offers a lower noise level, more room for rear passengers and superior cargo space.

Similarities

You have the same warranty, similar fuel consumption figures, and the vehicles are tied in terms of on-road performance and the long list of standard equipment includes for a reasonable price. In both cases, you also have a basic two-wheel drive model and 4WD models in the more-advanced versions.

Verdict

A difficult decision, because both of these small SUVs are quality vehicles. Despite the presence of a somewhat annoying CVT, we’re still going to lean towards the Seltos for practical reasons. The Seltos offers a more-spacious layout with better head room – very important considerations for families who appreciate any little extra space in an SUV. In our view, it’s a model that promises to be a great success.

2020 Hyundai Kona

We like

6-speed automatic transmission
Good road handling
Lots of standard equipment

We like less

Noise level in the base model
Base engine is a bit underpowered
Smaller interior volume

2021 Kia Seltos

We like

Great styling
Generous and well-appointed space
Complete equipment

We like less

A little too much cheap plastic
CVT hates to work hard
Double-clutch gearbox hesitates at low RPM

Specifications

  2020 Hyundai Kona 2020 Kia Seltos
  Transmission 6-sp auto or 7-sp dual-clutch CVT or 7-sp dual-clutch
  Drivetrain FWD or AWD FWD or AWD
    2.0L (FWD) 2.0L (FWD)
  Fuel consumption (city) 8.6L/100 km 8.2L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway) 7.0L/100 km 7.1L/100 km
    1.6L T 1.6L T
  Fuel consumption (city) 9.2L/100 km 9.4L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway) 7.8L/100 km 8.7L/100 km
       
  Engines 2.0L 2.0L
  Type Gas Gas
  Output 147 hp 146 hp
  Torque 132 lb-ft 132 lb-ft
  Cylinders 4 4
       
  Engines 1.6L T 1.6L T
  Type Gas Gas
  Output 175 hp 175 hp
  Torque 195 lb-ft 195 lb-ft
  Cylinders 4 4
       
  Capacities    
  Cargo Space 544 L, 1296 L 753 L, 1778 L
  Fuel tank 50 L 50 L
       
  Dimensions    
  Length 4165 mm 4369 mm
  Width 1800 mm 1801 mm
  Height 1565 mm 1631 mm
  Wheelbase 2600 mm 2629 mm
       
  Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km 5 yrs/100,000 km
  Pricing $21,249 to $32,449 $22,995 to $32,595