Twin Test: 2020 Hyundai Kona Turbo FWD – Cheaper, But Much Less Grip

In the first part of this twin test we crowned the Kona Turbo AWD a best-of-2020 winner and clearly the superior Kona Turbo for performance enthusiasts.  This segment takes a look at what the differences are via a drive review and a new photoset of the 2020 Kona 1.6T front-wheel-drive.

The upcoming Kona N performance model makes perfect sense to anyone who has driven the turbo version of these cars.  (The base Kona trims have significantly worse more affordable mechanicals beyond the engine so the boosted upgrade is very worthwhile.)

But once you have sprung for the turbo, should you go all the way to the AWD model or stick with front-drive?  Most of the time the answer to this is just a matter of whether you live in a snow state. If not, go for the FWD, right?  Not quite that simple this time.

Kona Turbo FWD – Drive Review Video


The AWD costs around $1000 more and will have an impact on highway fuel economy — to the tune of 1 or 2 MPG worse than the FWD.

The Kona FWD also comes with a much more basic rear suspension using a torsion-bar versus independent for the AWD cars.  This is really not a big issue for most handling scenarios but these beam axles do transmit for impact harshness to the cabins and they are prone to side-step a tiny bit of you hit an expansion joint on a highway ramp, for example.

The Kona AWD hangs on tighter in that example scenario. The AWD with the independent rear suspension simply grips better at all times. Even without bumps on that ramp, the FWD Kona’s tail gets a bit active in performance driving.

This is not necessarily a bad thing for experienced drivers. It is a giggle to shake it loose and catch it again, actually. But the AWD is objectively a much superior setup.

The other problem with a fairly potent 200-plus-HP turbo engine to the front wheels is traction.  The Kona FWD has very little grip even in bone dry weather in sunny South Carolina. It spins its inside front wheel at almost every opportunity in dry weather. This is a problem because it means wet or icy conditions will be much worse.  Either by a larger front tire footprint or by using some kind of limited-slip differential — electronic or mechanical — the Kona FWD can’t really be considered a great hot hatch like its AWD brother until this is fixed.

(Yes these are crossovers, but they’re also fun compact hatchbacks.)

Long thing to read just to learn the FWD can’t put down power. But that’s the gist of it.  Go for the AWD.  It is well worth the extra cash.

Hyundai‘s genius handling and pretty-sticky front grip for the Veloster N shows that their engineers can achieve great grip in powerful front-drive machines.

What about if you’ve never floored a throttle in your life?  In that case, the front-wheel-drive Kona Turbo will definitely rock your world. They’re both terrific in comfort, tech, style, capability and value.  But for boy racers at heart, the AWD wins.

At least until the Kona N with its (likely) front-drive layout shared with the 2021 Veloster N.   The Kona N might also have body-colored painted fenders and bumpers.  Color us tempted!

2020 Hyundai Kona Turbo FWD