Hyundai Kona N review: fire in its belly (and on the instrument panel)
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Hyundai Kona N
- Fun first, all the time
- Exquisite engineering everywhere
- Still a practical compact SUV
- Road noise on coarse chip
- Stiff suspension
- No AWD option
“N” is the magic letter for Hyundai performance models. While the company also now conspires to confuse us all with all manner of “N Line” branded cars, they are merely marketing at work. A solo N badge means business. And Nurburgring of course.
So meet the Kona N. It’s the latest model from Hyundai’s delightful bonkers go-fast division, joining the i30 N (which you can have as a hatchback or fastback).
As you might have surmised, they are all quite similar under the skin. But while the i30 N is familiar to Kiwi buyers, the 2022 N brigade is generally new because the Kona is a sister model to the latest i30 N Series II, bringing detail changes, a snip more power and a wet-type eight-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT).
In fact, while the i30 N can now be ordered with two or three pedals, the Kona N is available only with the DCT. Bit of a shame, but if you like bangs, pops and crackles you’re still in the right place.
The Kona N is an absolute hoot to drive. No question. The 2.0-litre turbo engine is strong low down and deals with the urban grind really well, but any sign of aggression with the throttle and the powertrain instantly launches into a high-octane comedy routine.
A manual would be nice (well, it is nice in the i30 N), but the DCT is exquisite and capable of antics you simply couldn’t match with three pedals. It bangs from cog to cog with dizzying speed, snarls with every shift in the sportier modes and downshifts delightfully into corners.
There are far too many settings to play with for engine, transmission, steering and chassis; you might simply prefer to flick between normal and N mode. Nothing or everything. It seems to be that kind of car.
Canterbury | Timaru
$306.46 p/w $1,225.83 p/m
Manawatu / Wanganui | Palmerston North
$725.97 p/w $2,903.89 p/m
Manawatu / Wanganui | Palmerston North
$298.43 p/w $1,193.72 p/m
Speaking of which, among the array of drive modes lies N Grin Shift, a Porsche-style pushbutton affair that gives you maximum everything and 213kW for 20 seconds (complete with visual countdown) for overtaking or general silliness.
So it’s a car created with a massive sense of fun... but it's also a very serious machine. Hyundai hasn’t simply shoved the grunty N engine under the bonnet and dropped the chassis to the ground. In fact, it hasn’t dropped the chassis much at all, preferring to retain longer suspension travel for real-world roads but giving the N adaptive dampers and substantially strengthening the body at key points.
Given it’s a compact SUV, you might come to the Kona N expecting AWD (like the Kona N Line). Well, it doesn’t. Partly because that’s a whole lot of extra engineering and cost, we suspect. But also because that’s not wholly in keeping with the cheeky character of this car, which is really in the wild FWD hot hatch mould.
You could argue it’s even more fun than the i30 N, because while the centre of gravity is higher the wheelbase is also 50mm shorter. There’s a bit more to do for the Kona N driver, and perhaps a bit more to prove.
The chassis is brilliant at any rate, with an adjustable front differential (sorry, “N Corner Carving Differential”) to quell wheelspin and torque steer when required, and a lively rear end backed up by sympathetic stability control. Delight with little danger. It’s a laugh-out-loud experience on any decent road. And some roads that are otherwise quite boring.
There is some opportunity cost of course, and it comes in the form of deafening road noise from the sticky tyres and a ride that’s pretty firm in anything beyond the softest setting at urban speeds.
Hyundai hasn’t gone wild in the cabin. There are plenty of N logos to be seen and lots of red trim, but the Kona will also pass for a perfectly mild compact SUV about town to your passengers.
As with other second-generation Kona models, the instrumentation is digital everything, which might be a tiny bit disappointing for a driver-focused car. But then if it had analogue dials, the revcounter wouldn’t catch fire when you hit the N-mode button. Yes, really. It’s fun first, all the way.
The N division is on a roll, with this, the i30 and the imminent arrival of the pint-sized i20 N in New Zealand – a model already getting rave reviews overseas. With rumours that these might the last N models powered only by internal combustion engines, we might also be in something of a golden era for Hyundai performance cars. Enjoy.
HYUNDAI KONA N
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 8-speed automated dual clutch (DCT), FWD
0-100KM/H: 5.5 seconds