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Comparison: 2020 Hyundai Kona vs 2021 Kia Seltos

Hyundai Kona / Kia Seltos
Photo: Hyundai / D.Rufiange
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Benoit Charette
Close cousins

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

Photo: Hyundai

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

Photo: Hyundai

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.

Photo: V.Aubé

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

Photo: Kia

The Kia brand has been riding a wave of popularity 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.

Photo: D.Rufiange

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.

Photo: Kia / Hyundai

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.


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.


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.

Photo: Kia / Hyundai

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

Photo: Kia / Hyundai


... 2020 Hyundai Kona2020 Kia Seltos
 Transmission6-sp auto or 7-sp dual-clutchCVT or 7-sp dual-clutch
 DrivetrainFWD or AWDFWD or AWD
  2.0L (FWD)2.0L (FWD)
 Fuel consumption (city)8.6L/100 km8.2L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (highway)7.0L/100 km7.1L/100 km
  1.6L T1.6L T
 Fuel consumption (city)9.2L/100 km9.4L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (highway)7.8L/100 km8.7L/100 km
 Output147 hp146 hp
 Torque132 lb-ft132 lb-ft
 Engines1.6L T1.6L T
 Output175 hp175 hp
 Torque195 lb-ft195 lb-ft
 Cargo Space544 L, 1296 L753 L, 1778 L
 Fuel tank50 L50 L
 Length4165 mm4369 mm
 Width1800 mm1801 mm
 Height1565 mm1631 mm
 Wheelbase2600 mm2629 mm
 Warranty5 yrs/100,000 km5 yrs/100,000 km
 Pricing$21,249 to $32,449$22,995 to $32,595


Photo: Hyundai / D.Rufiange
Benoit Charette
Benoit Charette
Automotive expert
  • More than 30 years of experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 65 test drives last year
  • Attended more than 200 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists