New vs. Used: 2020 Ford EcoSport vs. Hyundai Kona

by   Anthony Fongaro

Does size matter when it comes to SUVs? Absolutely. While a Chevy Tahoe is great to haul people and boats, something like a Mazda CX-5 can haul a small family in comfort. You may not want to drive the Tahoe in town, but that doesn’t stop many people. Thing is, what if you do primarily live in a city or town with lower speeds? Many people drive into major cities from the suburbs so you would want decent performance on the highway. This is where the sub-compact SUV class comes into play.

The benefits and negatives of a sub-compact are quite obvious. While you get better fuel economy than larger, non-hybrid vehicles, the tradeoff is acceleration. A smaller footprint means parking and maneuvering in town make things easy. Since they are so small, passengers won’t be the happiest to be in the back seats. For many people, a sub-compact makes perfect sense. Thankfully, there are a plethora of vehicles to buy. Unfortunately, there is one sub-compact that is at the bottom-of-the-barrel. This would be the Ford EcoSport.

Now, I want to say that Ford does make some good SUVs, including the Expedition and Explorer. Those were made for the American market. The EcoSport was made for a market eight thousand miles away. That isn’t supposed to be an insult, but a vehicle made and was primarily sold in India wouldn’t usually cut the mustard here. The model I looked at was the top-spec Titanium model with AWD. Although this may not be a full American SUV, it looks like it fits in the Ford SUV lineup. I do like the front end and the 17” wheels that come standard with the Titanium. Moving to the rear, the EcoSport starts to show its flaws.

For some reason, the EcoSport doesn’t have a traditional tailgate. The EcoSport comes with a hinged tailgate which has more negatives than positives. The positive is that it makes opening up the tailgate in a large space easier. Sadly, it makes it quite difficult to open in almost every other situation, especially if you parallel park a lot. One of the negatives of the EcoSport being so small is that the trunk is very small. Speaking of small, the cabin is absolutely tiny. Even at this highest trim level, the scratchy materials just aren’t acceptable. Ford did include their Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8” display that’s quite simple to use. That’s a good thing because they skimped on almost all safety features. Including a rear-view camera, the EcoSport Titanium only gets blind-spot monitoring and parking sensors. No adaptive cruise control or anything else. 

So far, the EcoSport doesn’t sound terrible, right? Maybe bland, but not terrible. There’s one place we haven’t look at...the engine bay. This is where the EcoSport starts to look embarrassed. You can either have a 1-liter turbocharged inline-three with front-wheel-drive or, an optional on most models 2-liter naturally aspirated inline-four. The 1-liter produces 123-horsepower and 125 lb-ft while the 2-liter makes 166-horsepower and 149 lb-ft. These pair to a six-speed automatic and they’re slow. When I say slow, I mean around 10 seconds to 60 MPH. A few things confuse me. First, why can’t you have the turbocharged engine with AWD or vice-versa? Second, why is the inline-four not turbocharged? Last, why only a six-speed? Since the EcoSport is tall, handling really isn’t its strong suit. In fact, an EcoSport should only be driven in a city. If that was your only choice. Thankfully, Hyundai stepped up its game where Ford dropped the ball. 

Hyundai’s answer is the Kona and the one I tested was the Ultimate with all-wheel-drive. 

Before we get into the exterior of the Kona, I need to talk about pricing. Both are around $30,000. When I looked at a few dealerships, EcoSport TItaniums were marked down to around $25,000 while Kona Ultimates didn’t really move under $28,000. Since there is this price-gap, I’m looking at slightly-used 2019 Hyundai Ultimates and brand-new 2020 Ford EcoSport TItaniums. With the theme being new vs. used, I like having the pricing as close as possible so that’s where we got these two. 

Right, back to the article. When you look at the two vehicles side-by-side, the Kona is lower and has a more controversial look. I like how Hyundai’s been so bold with the headlights, grille, and taillights. Ultimate models get 18” wheels and combined with lime green, it looks great. Inside the Kona is a lot nicer than the EcoSport. Yes, there are hard plastics in obvious places, but this class of vehicles usually have some cheap parts. The infotainment system is the same size as the Ford and works well enough, but I used Apple CarPlay in my drives of both. While there might not be digital dials, the Kona gets a heads-up display for speed, navigation, and speed limits. This really shouldn’t have to be said, but the Kona has a regular tailgate which is easier to use in most situations.

Now we come to the Kona’s party piece. Under the hood is a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four producing 175-horsepower and 195 lb-ft. Combine this with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and the Koina gets to 60 MPH in a surprising 6.6 seconds. That’s over 3 seconds faster to 60 MPH! The shifts feel smoother than the EcoSport and the Kona feels more enjoyable to drive. Kona Ultimate also includes all the safety-tech you’d want in a modern vehicle like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and everything else. With everything said, the Kona just has more at this price-point.

After driving and testing the Ford EcoSport Titanium and Hyundai Kona Ultimate, there was one clear winner. If for some reason you have to buy American or are a Ford family, there’s only one thing you can do. Go to a Ford dealership, ask to buy a t-shirt or a hat with Ford on it, don’t wear it, and go get yourself a Hyundai Kona. If you aren’t a Ford family or have to buy American, just get the Hyundai Kona. Utilizing a much more powerful engine, a nicer interior, and better safety features, the Hyundai Kona Ultimate is the better buy. While Ford has to make a truly worthy competitor in the subcompact SUV, the Kona is already one of the best. 

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