2018 Hyundai Kona SEL Review: Non-turbo 2.0 is slow but saves money

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The 2018 Hyundai Kona has certainly impressed us, at least in its turbocharged, all-wheel-drive form. It makes healthy power — 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque — to hustle around town and up on-ramps. It also has a playful chassis and suspension that provide responsive handling with minimal body roll. But Hyundai also offers the Kona with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder making just 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. And no matter what engine you choose, if you pick a front-wheel-drive it’ll be saddled with a primitive torsion-beam rear axle instead of the AWD’s independent multi-link setup. All of this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but as it turns out, the 2.0-liter is mostly as good as its force-fed iteration, just slower and cheaper.

Just like the turbo Kona, the naturally aspirated models feature the same distinct styling. It’s not for everyone (though this editor quite likes it), but you’ll never mistake it for anything else. No other compact crossover fits so many creases, angles, gills and materials onto one vehicle. The naturally aspirated models, SE and , do have smaller alloy wheels than the turbo versions, but the alloy wheels are a standard feature regardless. Inside, the interior is nearly identical as well, using the same plastics and most of the same colors. You will have to make do with cloth seats, but that’s OK in our book because the houndstooth upholstery is way cooler than the plain black leather seats of the Limited and Ultimate turbo models.

Ride and handling are also nearly identical to the turbo all-wheel-drive Kona. The ride is on the stiff end of compliant, the steering is quick, and turn-in is eager, even though feel is lacking. There isn’t much body roll, and you can carry a decent amount of speed in corners. Admittedly, the Turbo feels more planted and confident in corners thanks to its rear multi-link suspension, but the non-turbo doesn’t feel unsettled on a bumpy, curvy road.

Kona SEL interior

There’s just no getting around the fact that it’s noticeably slower than the turbo Kona. Whereas the turbo engine will whisk you away fairly effortlessly on a wave of low-down torque, the naturally aspirated engine will be buzzing away at high RPM to get you moving. While we’re thankful that the engine itself has a reasonably deep note and is fairly smooth, when you ask for some oomph it gets pretty loud. Passing vehicles and running up on-ramps can be a bit grating. Additionally, there isn’t any benefit to choosing the 2.0-liter engine over the turbo 1.6-liter unit for reasons of fuel economy. Both engines produce the same 30 mpg combined EPA rating for front-wheel-drive, and 27 mpg combined for all-wheel-drive. Since turbocharged engines tend to be less fuel efficient in real-world driving, we expect the non-turbo to have more of an edge than the numbers indicate. Even so, we wish the 2.0 offered more of a benefit.

If you compare the non-turbo Kona to more than just its Turbo sibling, the picture doesn’t look so bleak. The subcompact crossover SUV segment is awash with fairly options, so it’s not like the non-turbo is slower than most — it’s just that the Turbo is fairly quick. Same with fuel economy. For example, the Honda HR-V’s and Mazda CX-3‘s most fuel-efficient models return 31 mpg combined, just one above the front-drive Kona. The Toyota C-HR only manages 29 mpg combined, as does the Crosstrek, though the Crosstrek does it with all-wheel-drive. Among American small crossovers, the Trax manages 28 with front-drive, the Renegade can hit 26, and the EcoSport’s best is a disappointing 24. And of these vehicles, the 2.0-liter Kona has more power than HR-V, CX-3, Trax and C-HR, but slightly less than the Renegade, Crosstrek and the 2.0-liter EcoSport. The bottom line is the Kona is mid-pack in both punch and frugality.

There is one area in which the naturally aspirated Kona has an advantage over the Turbo iteration, and that’s in price. Provided that you can do without many of the premium features found on the turbo models, you can get a Kona SE for as little as $,480, which is $5,0 less than the base-model Turbo, the front-drive Kona Limited at $25,680. And if you do decide you want many of those features, you can get the Kona SEL for $22,130, which adds niceties such as heated front seats, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, keyless entry and start, heated side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Moving up to the SEL with the Tech Package adds the Limited’s fog lights, eight-way power seats, sunroof, lane-keep assist and forward collision assist. It ups the price to $23,630, but that’s still about $2,000 less than the Limited, which just adds leather, chrome and the turbo powertrain. So if you’re fine without the extra power, you can save thousands of dollars on the Kona and still get nearly all the features that make it great.

Overall, even with less power than its turbo twin, the 2.0-liter, front-drive Hyundai Kona is right on par with the competition in fuel economy and power. But it provides a good value proposition compared to the Kona Turbo thanks to a comfortable ride, perky handling, loads of style, and most of its feature content, all at a lower price point. That’s a winner in our book.

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