2020 Hyundai Kona vs Kia Niro
Are you in the market for a new small SUV that combines power with fuel efficiency? If so, then perhaps the 2020 Hyundai Kona or the 2020 Kia Niro have caught your eye. They are both capable vehicles that have been building their reputations over the past few years. The Kona has only been on the market since 2018, but each succeeding model year has witnessed some important changes. For example, this year, advanced cruise control has been standardized on the line-topping Ultimate trim level. Meanwhile, the Niro now has a 10.25-inch touchscreen display as an option, and there is also a new advanced-traffic adaptive cruise control system.
These vehicles hit some high points, but they land a few sour notes as well. The Kona's base engine is vastly under-powered, and the transmission's gear shifts are sluggish. The Niro does not come with all-wheel drive (which most vehicles in this segment at least leave as an option), Eco mode is painfully slow, and there isn't much cargo space. Both vehicles have a bit too much plastic for the liking, making them look cheaper than they really are.
So, could either of these vehicles be the right one for you? Should you pass on them both? Let's go over their powertrains, safety features and ratings, and overall drivability factors. In the end of this comparison review, we will let you know which vehicle has the better value and is the smarter purchase.
Alright, let's kick off this comparison review by discussing the different powertrain options that you will find on the 2020 Hyundai Kona and the 2020 Kia Niro. Expect to see some differences, as the Kona can be bought as gas-only or an EV while the Niro can come as a hybrid or EV.
The 2020 Hyundai Kona has a 2.0-L 4-cylinder engine that powers its three lower trim levels (the SE, SEL, and SEL Plus). Together with a 6-speed automatic transmission, it manages to generate 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. The Limited and Ultimate trims come with a 1.6-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that is paired up with a 7-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission (DCT). That gets those trim levels 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional on all trim levels. The two higher trims have a better rear suspension design and locking center differential, which improves traction at slower speeds while driving in snowy conditions or off-roading.
The Kona's EV variant comes with a 150-kW electric motor, which generates 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. You get 258 miles of electric range, and there is a Level III Quick Charge - 100kW (0-80% Charge) time of 54 minutes. The standard Level II charging time is 9 hours and 35 minutes.
The 2020 Kia Niro has a 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain that gets 139 hp and comes with a 6-speed DCT. Front-wheel drive is standard. This vehicle gets 50 mpg combined and can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds when driving in Sport mode. The EV variant has a 170-kW electric motor that puts forth 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, making it quite comparable to the Kona EV. However, its electric range is slightly shorter, at 239 miles of all-electric range (AER).
These two vehicles have some similarities when it comes to their powertrains, but they do have some factors that make their drivability different. The 2020 Hyundai Kona has a sporty vibe to it with its superb handling and acceleration. The Ultimate trim level can get from 0 to 60 mph in a speedy 7.2 seconds. The Kona keeps its composure while rounding through turns, always coming off as controlled and showing no signs of body roll. The DCT, however, tends to be slow to engage when you're trying to get going from a stop. The downshifts are rough despite the upshifts being quite smooth. The maximum braking is kind of bland too. You will never feel totally confident in the brakes.
With regard to the Niro, Eco mode makes for some sluggish acceleration. This is a double-whammy since the transmission is slow to shift. However, the brakes feel smooth under normal conditions. They do require quite a bit of stopping distance though, so try to avoid making panic stops as much as possible. You will never have that good of an idea where the Niro's true center is while steering, which means you will be having to make adjustments all the time.
Interior design, comfort, technology, and utility are all aspects of drivability that matter too. Sure, we all want a vehicle that is fun to drive, but it also needs to meet a variety of our everyday needs. How do these two vehicles do that? Where do either of them miss any marks?
The Kona has a suspension that can smooth over basically any small bump, but the larger ones will cause the vehicle's ride quality to feel busy. There is also a good amount of road noise that makes its way into the cabin, but that is nothing unusual for this segment. It is something you have to adapt to, that's all. It is pretty tranquil in the city though. The front seats are highly adjustable, but the leather you get as an option feels too firm, and the cushions are too stiff as well. The back seats are flat and broad, but they give just enough recline and support for your back. Unfortunately, the climate control does not work well at quickly cooling down the cabin on a hot summer day.
Overall, the interior of the Kona has too much plastic. You see it everywhere you look. More soft-touch surfaces would make the Kona look more like its price tag. The buttons are all sensibly displayed up front, and the infotainment system is easy to figure out. The narrow roof pillars allow for clear outward visibility, and the back-up camera will help get you in and out of tight parking spots. The front of the cabin is quite spacious, but the rear lacks leg room. The short doors open out wide for easy access.
While the standard sound system is okay, the optional Infinity sound system is much better with its improved bass and sound quality. Navigation is easy to use with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which come standard. The trunk is a bit small but makes getting things in and out easy with its low loading height. However, there is a noticeable lack in the variety of small item storage areas throughout the vehicle.
How does the 2020 Kia Niro compare in terms of its interior? Well, you get an excellent ride quality from the Niro. It always displays controlled body motions, so you will never feel any sort of body roll. Bumps are smoothed over with grace, and the climate control and rear heater are easy to use and work well. The seats offer plenty of lateral and lumbar support, but you do get that good ol' pesky road noise that is typical for this segment. As with the Kona, it is something you just get used to over time.
Getting in and out of the Niro is easy due to its 90-degree angle door openings. There is a lot of space fore and aft, but, as is common for the class, fitting three adults in the rear makes for a tight squeeze. You can easily slip into a good driving position up front, and the outward view is expansive. Also, the controls up front make for one user-friendly cockpit. They're all logically laid out and do not feel overwhelming at all.
Smartphone app integration is standard via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 6-speaker sound system that comes equipped is decent enough, but the available Harman Kardon sound system is absolutely phenomenal. Music lovers will definitely want to make that upgrade.
You don't get a whole lot of cargo space on the Niro. It offers 19.4 cubic feet with all seats in place. The rear seats do fold down flat, though, which allows you to maximize the space you need much more easily than you can in other competitors. You just don't get a whole lot of well-sized small item storage areas. Other competitors tend to offer better set-ups in that regard.
Before we wrap up, we need to talk about both safety features and ratings. Safety features are always in high demand these days; the more, the merrier. And safety ratings let us know what to expect should we ever get into an accident.
The 2020 Hyundai Kona has blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert on all but the base trim level. You can opt for a more robust bundle of driver aids if you prefer, but even the standard ones all behave with great accuracy - not something you find in all vehicles. Also, new for 2020 is adaptive cruise control, so some drivers might want to upgrade to take advantage of that.
The 2020 Kia Niro offers a decent driver aid bundle on the LXS and higher trims. With this bundle, you get blind spot monitoring, keyless entry and ignition, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision monitoring, and lane keep assist. For the most part, they are all non-intrusive and work as they are supposed to.
As far as safety ratings go, the two companies that do ratings in America are the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Every model year, they conduct thorough crash tests and release their scores and assessments.
The 2020 Hyundai Kona was assigned Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. It only got marked down for its halogen headlights on the SE to SEL PLus (receiving a "Poor" score") and the LATCH system for its lower anchors being too deep and the difficulty of maneuvering around the anchors. NHTSA assigned it 5 of 5 stars overall and noted that there was a 13.60% risk of a rollover. Complaints surrounding the vehicle involve the vehicle control speed and how it inexplicably accelerates in traffic as well as how aggressive the dynamic brake support system can be.
The IIHS has not yet rated the 2020 Kia Niro, but it was a 2019 Top Safety Pick Plus. It was rated down for its halogen headlights (which come on the three lower trim levels) and the LATCH system. NHTSA has also not yet rated the Niro. Last year, the Niro earned 4 out of 5 stars overall. They noted serious concern over a high passenger dummy sustaining chest injuries in a frontal crash test, which they felt would happen in real life too. The vehicle also lost a star for the rear seat combined side barrier and pole ratings and the side barrier. There was a 12.10% rollover risk noted by NHTSA. It is pretty likely that some of these findings will carry over to the 2020 line-up.
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Which Has the Best Value?
Now that you know what to expect, you should be aware of each vehicle's value. With the 2020 Hyundai Kona, the price skyrockets as you go up to the 1.6-L turbo engine-clad trim levels. You don't get too many soft touch surfaces. The 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is one of the best you will find anywhere though.
The 2020 Kia Niro has a ton of features for the money and offers excellent fuel efficiency. However, its EV doesn't get the best electric range in the segment. The warranty is excellent, but the interior materials look cheap and bland.
Although they are extremely similar, the 2020 Hyundai Kona is the better bet here, especially if you want an EV. It might be the more expensive option, but you get a little bit more in terms of performance and that generous warranty coverage.
Which is Better?
This is kind of a toss-up. The 2020 Hyundai Kona and 2020 Kia Niro are similar in many ways. Their strengths and weaknesses are almost the same. However, the Kona does slightly better with its EV variant. In fact, we would recommend skipping the hybrids and going straight-up EV if you are really that focused on fuel efficiency. The upfront cost is greater, but the payout in AER is immense over time. And, if you get the Level III charging, the wait time to recharge really is not that bad. Even if you go for a hybrid, the Kona is still your best bet. The 1.6-L turbo engine is worth the upgrade if you can fit it into your budget.