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Hyundai Kona vs. Subaru Crosstrek: Which One Is Better?

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Hyundai Kona in a parking lot

2018 Hyundai Kona by EurovisionNim CC BY-SA 4.0

To call the subcompact crossover market “hot” is an understatement. Today, consumers want the perceived ruggedness, cargo capacity, and overall flexibility that only an SUV can provide. And, car manufacturers are more than happy to oblige.

It seems like a new small crossover gets released every month, so there are plenty of choices. We’ll look at two of these options for the 2021 model year: Hyundai Kona vs. Subaru Crosstrek.

While Hyundai has been selling cars in the U.S. for 35 years, it has come into its own over the last decade thanks to an expanding product line, a focus on vehicle quality backed by an impressive warranty, and fresh, innovative vehicle design.

In fact, the Kona was penned by Lamborghini’s former designer. It shows. With narrow horizontal headlights and curvaceous body panels, the Kona looks like nothing else in its class.

For more than five decades, Subaru has taken a quiet but diligent approach to its U.S. sales. Subaru stands out for reliability and durability over innovative design by making a name for itself through all-wheel-drive and safety technology.

According to J.D. Power, Subaru enjoys the highest brand loyalty among its customers than any other non-luxury carmaker. Arguably, some Subarus have been called station wagons gussied up to look like SUVs. And clearly, the Crosstrek has that wagon-like profile. 

Pricing

Plunking down $21,685 gets you a base-model Kona in SE trim with a 6-speed automatic transmission and front wheel. Adding all-wheel-drive (AWD) to the SE brings the total to $23,065 and closer to matching the base Crosstrek as all Subarus have AWD.

The top-line Ultimate edition with all major options includes leather seats, LED exterior lighting, navigation, and a host of other features that will cost you $30,735. We’ll skip any discussion of the electric (Kona) and hybrid (Crosstrek) models as these aren’t comparable against each other.

For the Crosstrek, the base model with a 6-speed manual and all-wheel-drive runs $23,295. Adding a self-shifting transmission (a continuously variable transmission or CVT to be exact) prices the base at $24,645. Step up to a maxed-out Limited edition Crosstrek for $31,440, and you’ll get premium features, including leather seats, LED exterior lighting, and navigation (yup, just like the deluxe Kona).

Verdict:  Hyundai is the clear winner in this Hyundai Kona vs. Subaru Crosstrek contest. No matter how you equip a Kona or Crosstrek, the Hyundai always comes in at a lower price. The price gap for comparably equipped cars runs about $700-$1,500 in favor of the Kona.

Consider the differences in the standard warranties, and Hyundai wins again. Kona has a 5-year/60,000-mile base warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Crosstrek gets 3-year/36,000 coverage and powertrain coverage for 5 years/60,000 miles. Be sure to check for available manufacturer incentives for both the Kona and Crosstrek.


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Features

Small vehicles no longer mean a small list of equipment. Despite a potentially confusing array of six trim levels, each Kona offers increased standard equipment as you move up the price scale. Features like a heads-up display and adaptive cruise control, once reserved for luxury cars, can be found on the Kona.

Hyundai gets kudos for including advanced driver aids like automatic emergency braking and lane control as standard equipment on all models. Also, making AWD optional allows buyers to make a choice that can save money and gas.

In the traditional Subaru style, the company keeps things simple by only offering four trim levels - all with standard AWD. Sure, you can get leather seats and other premium features on the top-line Limited Crosstrek.

But, not everyone needs or wants the AWD. Not making even some advanced safety systems standard on a base-model Crosstrek puts this small SUV at a competitive disadvantage. Some buyers want a modest, basic vehicle that’s as safe as possible.

Verdict:  Kona wins here thanks to standard advanced driver aids and not forcing AWD onto every buyer.

Space

Don’t expect endless yards of space for passengers and cargo in any subcompact SUV. Given that the Kona is a foot shorter than its Subaru rival, you can expect less legroom in the Hyundai’s front and back rows.

This difference is especially noticeable in the rear seat. Rear cargo storage is noticeably less in the Kona as well. At the same time. If tight urban parking is a normal situation, and you don’t often have multiple passengers, then the Kona’s smaller size may be advantageous.

Verdict: A relatively bigger back seat is always helpful, especially if a rear-facing car seat is part of your lifestyle - we’ll chalk this one up to the Crosstrek.


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Powertrain

The lower-end SE, SEL, and SEL Plus trims get power from a sluggish 2.0L four-cylinder making 147 horsepower connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Step up to the Night, Limited, and Ultimate models to enjoy a very zippy turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 175 horsepower that’s paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission.

AWD is a $1,400 option on all Kona trims that are otherwise equipped with front-wheel-drive. The forthcoming performance-oriented Konas are not part of this review, including the N edition that will offer 275 horsepower and a mid-tier N Line with 195 horsepower.

The base and Premium trim Crosstreks are equipped with the anemic 2.0L four-cylinder engine that puts out 152 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but you can upgrade to a CVT automatic (that also includes the EyeSight safety system).

If you like your car to be zippy, then step up to the Sport or Limited trim, which includes the CVT and a 2.5L four-cylinder engine making 182 horsepower. All Crosstreks get a more advanced AWD system that performs better in poor road conditions than AWD-equipped Konas.

Verdict:  If your driving includes mud and snow or some modest off-road terrain, then the Subaru’s more sophisticated AWD system takes the prize in this Hyundai Kona vs. Subaru Crosstrek match-up.

Safety

The Kona receives a five-star safety rating in the government’s overall front and side-impact crash tests from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). While the Crosstrek also receives five stars in the same side-impact test, this Subaru only receives four stars for the overall front crash test.

Under testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Kona and Crosstrek receive mostly “good” scores and “Top Safety Pick” designations - one notch below the Top Safety Pick+ category. The Top Safety Pick nod was given to both the vehicle’s mid-tier and top-tier models with advanced safety systems and upgraded headlights as either standard or optional equipment.

Even the cheapest Kona gets you front crash and lane departure mitigation. For the Crosstrek, you have to add the $1,400 CVT transmission to get extra safety features on the two least expensive models. 

Verdict: We’ll give the edge to the Kona for better front crash testing in NHTSA’s evaluation and its standard safety features.


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Fuel Economy

A conversation about fuel economy for both the Hyundai Kona and Subaru Crosstrek can be a little overwhelming as each crossover offers two engine choices and multiple transmission configurations.

Hyundai Kona (City/Highway/Combined)

2.0L (w/6 speed auto)                     FWD 27/33/30 | AWD 26/30/28

1.6L Turbo (w/7 speed auto)          FWD 28/32/30 | AWD 26/29/27

Subaru Crosstrek (City/Highway/Combined)

2.0L (w/6 speed manual)                AWD 22/29/25

2.0L (w/CVT)                                  AWD 28/33/30

2.5L (w/CVT)                                  AWD 27/34/29

Verdict:  No clear winner here. If you are looking at a model with the base engine for mostly city driving, then the Kona has the advantage. The edge flips to the Crosstrek if you choose the more powerful engine for mostly highway driving.

Wrap Up

Looking beyond base models, choosing a winner in this Hyundai Kona vs. Subaru Crosstrek pairing is difficult. On price and value, the Kona clearly comes out ahead. But the Crosstrek is no slouch, thanks to a more spacious interior and robust AWD system.

For the “sweet spot” Kona, consider the Night trim, which includes the turbo engine and higher safety tech level (like the blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert). Similarly, the ideal Crosstrek lies with the Sport model equipped with the option package. You’ll get the upgraded engine and extra safety gear.

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