Kona and Crosstrek com­pete for cross­over cus­tomers

Com­par­i­son: Hyundai Kona vs Subaru Crosstrek

The Observer (Sarnia) - - DRIVING - BRIAN HARPER and NICK TRA­GIA­NIS

When it comes to the Hyundai Kona and Subaru Crosstrek, the ques­tion is sim­ple: Fun or util­ity?

Wel­come to Dude Said, Punk Said — a special se­ries de­voted to skew­er­ing the au­to­mo­tive ram­blings of young punk Nick Tra­gia­nis with the in­fi­nite wis­dom of old dude Brian Harper. This week, the duo eval­u­ate two strong con­tenders in the sub­com­pact cross­over seg­ment — the Hyundai Kona and Subaru Crosstrek — and de­ter­mine which sport ute is the bet­ter pick.

Brian Harper:

It’s not like it’s one of the “se­nior cit­i­zens” of the com­pact cross­over seg­ment; that would be the Toy­ota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. It’s quite amaz­ing how many new mod­els have been added to the ros­ter in North Amer­ica in just the past five years or so, about when Subaru de­cided to jack up its Im­preza hatch­back and call it the Crosstrek. Just a sam­pling: Nis­san’s Qashqai and Kicks, the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toy­ota C-HR, Mit­subishi Eclipse Cross and the other sub­ject of our com­par­i­son test, Hyundai’s Kona.

It’s also in­ter­est­ing that the seg­ment seems to be di­verg­ing be­tween main­stream fam­ily-type mod­els (Crosstrek, CR-V, Nis­san Rogue, Ford Es­cape, etc.) and more highly styl­ized, youth-ori­ented ver­sions (the afore­men­tioned Kona, Kicks and C-HR, etc.)

My ques­tion to you, kid: While the re­designed for 2018 Crosstrek and the brand-new Kona are both com­pacts and ap­prox­i­mately the same price, they seem to be serv­ing dif­fer­ent buy­ers. What’s our pri­or­ity, then: Fun or util­ity?

Nick Tra­gia­nis:

Well, what do you care about the most — style and fea­tures, or util­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity? It’s hard to be­lieve both the Crosstrek and Kona are in the same class, be­cause they in­ter­pret the bite-sized cross­over for­mula very dif­fer­ently. The Crosstrek is rather roomy and plenty ca­pa­ble, pack­ing Subaru’s revered all­wheel-drive sys­tem and 22 cm of ground clear­ance. Un­like the pre­vi­ous Crosstrek, the new one also rides in­cred­i­bly well. It soaks up bumps, pot­holes and ex­pan­sion joints like no­body’s busi­ness, and does a formidable job in fil­ter­ing out wind and road noise on the high­way. Se­ri­ously, the 2019 Crosstrek’s ride qual­ity be­lies its slightly-more-than-$30,000 price tag.

All that comes at the ex­pense of speed, though. You’d think Subaru would’ve learned a thing or two from the old Crosstrek, but power still comes from a 2.0-litre, nor­mally as­pi­rated boxer four-cylin­der en­gine, with 152 horse­power and 145 pound-feet of torque. Paired to Subaru’s (ad­mit­tedly smooth) CVT — a six-speed man­ual is of­fered — the Crosstrek won’t set any­one’s pants on fire. It’s more than enough for daily driv­ing, but in this de­part­ment, the Kona has it beat.

BH: Too many au­tomak­ers be­lieve that “ad­e­quate” power is good enough when it comes to crossovers. For­tu­nately, Hyundai is a bit more en­light­ened. While the base en­gine is a lowly 147-hp, 2.0-L Atkin­son-cy­cle four-cylin­der en­gine, Hyundai ups the Kona’s game with a 175-hp, 1.6-L tur­bo­four and mates it with a sev­en­speed dual-clutch au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. No, that combo isn’t go­ing to scorch the earth with warp speed-like ac­cel­er­a­tion ei­ther, but it does give the Kona far more snap when it comes to dealing with city traf­fic and high­way on-ramps. Plus, it suits the Kona’s perky per­son­al­ity. Not that the Crosstrek is a bow­wow, but there’s no sexy here. The Kona’s sharp styling might not be to ev­ery­one’s taste, but it’s fresh and I can see it at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of you mil­len­ni­als. Ac­tu­ally, de­spite my seem­ingly ad­vanced years, I wouldn’t be ashamed to have it parked in my drive­way — in a slightly more sub­tle shade, though.

The same ap­plies with the cabin. Yet, de­spite a brave at­tempt to dis­guise the hard plas­tic, and de­spite some no­tice­able fea­tures ab­sent from the Crosstrek — heated steer­ing wheel, head-up dis­play, vari­able drive modes — I’m not quite as sold. You?

NT: Yeah, for its as-tested price of slightly less than $32,000, the Kona’s fit-and-fin­ish is a tad dis­ap­point­ing; there’s a lot of hard plas­tic sur­faces in there. It does de­serve brownie points for mak­ing the all-black cabin a bit more cheer­ful with lime-green ac­cents. The in­fo­tain­ment, as you’d ex­pect from Hyundai, is ex­tremely sim­ple to use, and you get Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. It’s spacious up front, too, but the back seat gets a lit­tle tight with an in­di­vid­ual of your, um, stature be­hind the wheel.

That’s not the case with the Crosstrek. Al­though it tech­ni­cally com­petes in the sub­com­pact cross­over seg­ment, it strad­dles the line be­tween com­pact and sub­com­pact. This, ob­vi­ously, leads to a vastly larger and more com­fort­able in­te­rior — ma­te­ri­als aren’t per­fect, but it’s bet­ter than the Kona and the in­fo­tain­ment is just as in­tu­itive as Hyundai’s. The Crosstrek also of­fers a roomier back seat and cargo hold. Of course, be­cause it’s a Subaru, vis­i­bil­ity all around is pretty great, too. The Crosstrek’s just a lot eas­ier to live with.

BH: The Crosstrek is much more a fam­ily ve­hi­cle than the sportier Kona, and, as you pointed out, it’s longer, with a roomier cabin and more cargo ca­pac­ity. It also has a bet­ter all-wheel driv­e­train, it’s more fuel ef­fi­cient and it’s tow rated at 680 kilo­grams, which the Kona is not. Mid­dling power is the Crosstrek’s only se­ri­ous de­fi­ciency. In fact, I was sur­prised at how much more so­phis­ti­cated and sub­stan­tial the new se­cond-gen­er­a­tion model felt. It’s smoother and tighter, most of which can be at­trib­uted to its new plat­form, which has re­sulted in a struc­tural rigid­ity im­prove­ment of some 70 per cent more than last year’s model.

I like the Kona; it will prove to be an­other win­ner for Hyundai. That said, I have to cast my vote with the Subaru. You?

NT: You and I are on the same page, old dude. Hyundai will cer­tainly sell a lot of Konas, but the Crosstrek is the win­ner here. De­spite its low-ish horse­power fig­ure, it’s a lot less po­lar­iz­ing on the out­side, it’s roomier and more flex­i­ble in­side than the Kona, and it rides in­cred­i­bly well. Subaru’s of­fer­ing some of the best all-wheeldrive sys­tems in the busi­ness is the ic­ing on the cake.

2019 Subaru Crosstrek (left) vs. 2019 Hyundai Kona (right).

NICK TRA­GIA­NIS/DRIV­ING.CA

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