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People are drawn to small crossovers for various reasons. Some want extra height and practicality compared to a regular hatchback, while others are drawn to the distinctive design and point of difference.

The ‘funky’ Hyundai Kona from Korea, and the practical UK-made Nissan Qashqai, may nominally be rivals, but they go about the business of being small SUVs quite differently. So what’s actually a better bet?

Given the Nissan has just received a mid-life refresh and the Kona is Hyundai’s newest model line, both are well placed for a contest. Here we have the entry-grade models.

It’s the Hyundai Kona Active (with Safety Pack) versus the Nissan Qashqai ST.

Design

Looks are subjective, but it’s worth quickly looking at the tactics used here.

The updated Qashqai gets a new-look frontal design that takes after the bigger X-Trail. It’s conservative and traditional, but also contemporary. It’ll age well. Clearly aimed at more ‘responsible’ buyers.

The Kona follows the same trail as the Toyota C-HR and Nissan’s own (ageing) Juke, in that it looks edgy and youth-focused, with its snub proportions, body cladding and bright colour palette. Love or hate personified.

Pictured above: Hyundai 

Price and features

The Hyundai kicks off at $24,500 before on-road costs, though our version was fitted with an optional Safety Pack that costs $1500. The bill is therefore $26,500 RRP, or about $30K drive-away before you get to haggling.

The Qashqai ST has just been slugged with a $500 price hike to $28,990 before on-roads, or about $32.5K drive-away.

Pictured above: Nissan 

Common equipment to both cars includes six airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, lane assist, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a forward-collision warning system that’ll beep if you’re approaching a car ahead too quickly.

Each also has daytime running lights, cruise control, cloth seats and Bluetooth/USB inputs. If you want the fancy stuff, you’ll need to spend up on higher grades such as the Kona Highlander and Qashqai N-Tec.

Features only found on the Qashqai ST are front sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels (Kona has 16-inch), and button start rather than a key in the ignition barrel.

Pictured above: Hyundai 

The cheaper Hyundai alone has dusk-sensing headlights, roof rails, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (the Nissan has a 5.0-inch non-touch unit that’s a little outdated), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA).

Be aware that the Kona only gets blind-spot warning, RCTA, AEB and lane assist as part of the $1500 Safety Pack. This pack also includes power-folding mirrors.

Pictured above: Hyundai 

Interior

The Hyundai certainly makes a better first impression thanks to that bigger screen with phone mirroring – even though the cheaper i30 hatch has an even more modern set-up with a bigger display and proper sat-nav, a feature not available on the Kona.

The Kona also has a lovely little leather steering wheel and gear shifter ensemble that’s nicer than an i30 Active’s, clear and logical dials and ventilation controls, cool fabric patterns and a thoroughly contemporary look.

There’s also ample storage in a two-tiered cubby below the fascia, a sunglasses-holder, and good door pockets that handle bottles.

Pictured above: Hyundai 

On the downside, there are a lot of hard plastics on the dash and doors that degrade the feel, and the fact you have to put the key in the ignition and twist. How old school.

Despite the recent MY18 upgrade, the Qashqai ST’s cabin still looks aged because that tiny screen operated by buttons rather than touch looks very outdated. On the other hand, the Bluetooth re-paired rapidly every time and the audio quality was very crisp.

The Nissan’s fascia is certainly a duller affair, with the exception of that redesigned steering wheel shared with the bigger X-Trail that’s great in the hand.

Pictured above: Nissan

While there’s all the design nous of a doctor’s waiting room, the plastics everywhere are soft, the doors ‘thud’ nicely and the build quality is hard to flaw. It feels more grown up, and less ‘shouty’, than the Hyundai.

The digital instruments with speedo are a nice touch, as is the high seating position, and the fitment of four one-touch up/down windows and height adjust for the passenger seat as well as the driver – features not found on the Kona.

The Qashqai is also significantly more practical than the Kona. It’s about 20cm longer, and its rear seats have notably more head room and leg room, and the side windows are easier to see out of.

Pictured above: Hyundai (top), then Nissan 

Both cars have child seat attachments and rear airbags, but we’d say that buyers after a family vehicle are much better off looking at the Qashqai (or a Honda HR-V). There’s nothing cynical about the Nissan, it’s actually practical.

The Kona’s rear seats are fine for kids but pretty pokey for adults, and inferior to the i30 – which makes a good case for itself yet again.

The Nissan also has 70L more cargo space, and its boot proved to be deep and useful indeed. You can flip the back seats down in both cars, and each has a space-saver spare wheel only.

Pictured above: Hyundai (top), then Nissan 

Drivetrains

Both cars here have 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines, and both weigh a smidgen under 1400kg. Neither of these cars is a speed demon, notching up the 0–100km/h sprint in around 10 seconds.

The Hyundai’s unit makes 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque, while the Nissan’s unit produces 106kW/200Nm. Not much in it. Both are also front-wheel drive as tested.

The biggest point of difference is the Nissan’s CVT versus the Hyundai’s six-speed automatic with a torque converter. The former unit has infinite ratios and is designed to conserve fuel, while the latter is crisper and elicits a more ‘natural’ feel.

Pictured above: Hyundai (top), then Nissan 

As a result, the Hyundai feels a touch more sprightly off the mark, and something you can amplify by putting the car into Sport mode – a feature that makes the gearbox hold lower gears longer, adds steering resistance and sharpens throttle response.

The Nissan’s CVT is less intrusive than many, and actually suits an engine with peak torque only on tap from 4400rpm. Just puttering around town or sitting at 1800rpm at 100km/h is in this car’s wheelhouse.

Pictured above: Hyundai (top), then Nissan 

The Hyundai’s factory fuel use claim is 7.2L/100km compared to 6.9L/100km for the Nissan. Both happily run on 91 RON fuel.

This Nissan can also be had with a six-speed manual gearbox, whereas the Hyundai is auto-only. On the flipside, you can order the Kona with a more potent 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which also uses less fuel, and all-wheel drive.

Ride and handling

Nissan made some revisions to the way the Qashqai drives as part of the 2018 update. The company’s engineers re-tuned the dampers and spring rates, and stiffened the anti-roll bar to improve body control/impact absorption.

It also tuned in a little more steering resistance around centre, added damping to stop kickbacks and vibration through the wheel, and fitted systems that brake individual wheels during cornering and direct torque flow to improve cornering.

The fundamentals comprise multi-link rear suspension and struts up the front.

The Kona counters with extensive ride and handling calibrations done in Australia by Hyundai’s local team of engineers and testers. Springs, dampers, bars, arms and bushes were all modified to suit our roads.

HMCA says it wanted to roll out suspension geometry that promoted a sporty feeling, amplified by the motor-driven steering system’s high resistance levels and sharpness from centre.

However, the 2.0-litre engine is paired with a rear torsion beam, with independent rear suspension the province of the 1.6-litre turbo. Thus, the Qashqai’s rear end set-up is theoretically more sophisticated in its efforts to keep the contact patch maximised.

The Qashqai ST remains an amenable urban companion on its 17-inch wheels shod in good quality, grippy and quiet Continental tyres (the Hyundai has Nexens that ‘push on’ in the wet). Higher-grade Qashqais’ 18s/19s take the edge off.

The steering is light but easier to twirl around than the Hyundai’s, the ride quality is pretty good aside from the odd hints of ‘business’ over low-amplitude rutted surfaces, and the body control is fine – the springs are soft, yet any lateral movement is minimal.

Nissan has also gone to a lot of effort to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels by adding thicker glass and more sealing. It’s pretty refined indeed.

The Kona feels more sprightly, though, with an agile demeanour on turn-in coupled with excellent body control, and what may seem a mutually exclusive smooth ride, which rounds off abrupt inputs beautifully.

However, if we wanted a no-nonsense daily driver for the city, the Qashqai with its lifeless but light steering, good NVH suppression, and neutral (see: characterless) nature might just appeal.

Do these really need to be ‘driver’s cars’? No.

Ownership costs

Hyundai has a habit of performing exceptionally well in big customer satisfaction surveys, such as those by market researcher J.D. Power. Its dealer network outperforms Nissan’s in these studies, though that’s not a blanket finding of course.

HMCA also offers a five-year/unlimited-distance transferable warranty compared to Nissan’s three-year/100,000km of cover. Hyundai’s roadside assist plan is also free for up to 10 years if you service your Kona at a Hyundai dealer instead of an independent repairer.

The Kona has 12-month/15,000km servicing intervals, with the first three visits currently pegged at $259, $259 and $259. The Qashqai’s intervals are a more regular 10,000km, and the first three visits are capped at $224, $298 and $224.

VERDICT

The Hyundai Kona is certainly more affordable (unless Nissan starts doing discounts early in the MY18 Qashqai’s life cycle), has more equipment with the Safety Pack, and a perkier driving character.

It’s easy to see why someone may be drawn to it, though we can categorically tell you a Hyundai i30 SR is the better car – no less practical, better equipped, much nicer to drive…

The Qashqai ST’s infotainment is dated, and it’s not as fun to steer as the Hyundai, or as well covered by warranty. However, it’s clearly more practical and tactile inside, quieter, and more understated.

To each their own, but the Nissan just feels more resolved, less of a well-package styling exercise and more of a genuinely useful tool.

It won’t set your pulse racing, but if this reviewer wanted a small SUV to actually do SUV things, it’d be the pick.


CAR HYUNDAI KONA NISSAN QASHQAI
Grade Active w/ safety pack ST
Price $26,000 $28,990
Engine 2.0 N/A petrol 2.0 N/A petrol
Power/torque 110kW/180Nm 106kW/200Nm
Transmission 6AT CVT
Fuel use 7.2L/100km 91 RON 6.9L/100km 91 RON
Drive Front Front
Length 4165mm 4394mm
Width 1800mm 1806mm
Height 1565mm 1595mm
Wheelbase 2600mm 2646mm
Cargo space 361L 430L
Ground clearance 170mm 186mm
Weight 1383kg 1375kg
CAR HYUNDAI KONA NISSAN QASHQAI
Airbags 6 6
Reversing camera Yes Yes
Parking sensors Rear Front/rear
Daytime running lights Yes Yes
Dusk-sensing headlights Yes No
Alloy wheel size 16-inch 17-inch
Roof rails Yes No
Cruise control Yes Yes
Push-button start No Yes
Screen 7.0-inch 5.0-inch
Apple/Android Yes No
Cloth seats Yes Yes
Blind-spot monitoring Yes No
Rear cross-traffic alert Yes No
Lane assist Yes Yes
Forward collision warning Yes Yes
Autonomous braking Yes Yes

MORE: Nissan Qashqai ST news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Nissan
MORE: Hyundai Kona Active news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Hyundai


Podcast

Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the comparison below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.



NISSAN QASHQAI BREAKDOWN

2018 Hyundai Kona Active v Nissan Qashqai ST
  • 8
  • 7
  • 8.5
  • 7.5
  • 7
  • 7.5
  Submit an Owner Car Review

HYUNDAI KONA BREAKDOWN

2018 Hyundai Kona Active v Nissan Qashqai ST
  • 7.5
  • 7
  • 6.5
  • 8.5
  • 7.5
  • 8
  Submit an Owner Car Review




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