Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - N
Tenacious grip, decisive transmission, effortless power delivery, strong brakes.
Room for improvement
Expectedly firm ride, fuel economy, road noise, no manual ‘box.
Hyundai’s oddball Kona SUV might be the N division’s best offering yet
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2 Dec 2021
By MATT BROGAN
ODDBALL, quirky, frog-like, peculiar… Hyundai’s Kona small SUV has been called more names than the proverbial red-headed stepchild. However, until now, it hasn’t been called fast, or fun… and it certainly hasn’t been labelled the pick of the brand’s lauded N-product line-up.
Take a look at the spec sheet – or hussle the Kona N around the racetrack for half a day, like we did – and you’ll soon see why Hyundai’s newcomer is not only a bona fide high-riding hot hatch worthy of its N moniker, but arguably the best-suited N car yet for Australian roads (and tastes).
The Kona N is the first SUV model to emanate from Hyundai’s famed N-division. It shares much of its mechanical package with the sizzling i30 N, which should give you an indication that this isn’t just some tarted up shopping trolley with a sport badge and a set of chunkier wheels.
Indeed, the Kona N (available in two variants) combines an energetic 206kW turbocharged 2.0-litre four with an in-house-developed eight-speed dual wet-clutch transmission (DCT), which drives the front wheels via an e-LSD, to deliver “the ultimate in capability on road and circuit”.
Priced from $47,500 plus on-road costs, the Kona N maintains the flexible and practical SUV traits of the donor model. It’s equipped with numerous convenience, comfort and safety technologies, as well as a number of performance-orientated electronic chassis aids and in-cabin interfaces to assist drivers in maximising all that this sporty super-hatch has to offer.
Equipment includes a digital instrument panel and large central infotainment array with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, built-in satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio reception.
The Kona N has cloth-trimmed sports seats, but the Premium derivative additionally features leather and suede combination pews. They’re teamed with a leather-appointed steering wheel, gearshift knob and handbrake cover with Performance Blue contrasting stitching throughout.
The Premium version also receives a head-up display, power adjustable seats, front-seat heating and ventilation, front parking sensors, LED interior ambient lighting, as well as a glass sunroof.
The Kona N is further equipped with a Qi wireless phone charging pad and eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, alongside an extensive list of Hyundai’s SmartSense driver assistance and safety technologies – plus full LED exterior lighting.
Forward collision-avoidance assist, driver attention monitoring, lane keeping and -following assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, traffic-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, smart exit warning and a reversing camera are all standard.
The Kona N is equipped with Hyundai’s new Track Maps feature that automatically alerts drivers when they are near a mapped racetrack and starts a lap time as the start/finish line is crossed.
Wearing a unique body kit, an N-specific grille, blacked-out Hyundai logo and wing-mirror caps, plus a rear diffuser sporting an LED fog light and dual exhaust outlets, the Kona N is unlikely to be mistaken for a regular grocery-getting model… and with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds (making it the fastest accelerating N model to date) and a top-speed of 240km/h, the Kona N will make certain that the shopping is home well before the ice cream has melted.
There is a long list of “pros” and only a few “cons” to the Kona N and, to be completely fair, most of the negatives are to be expected from a performance-focused model with its driveline and chassis parameters dialled up to 11.
For starters, there’s no manual gearbox. So, if you like shifting gears by yourself buy an i20 N, an i30 N or use the Kona N’s ‘shift paddles. The ride is firm (but not rough), which is also to be expected and, of course, the fuel economy gets a little lousy when you start opening the taps.
It’s also no great surprise that the road noise borders on grating when traversing long stretches of coarse-chip asphalt. If that’s your primary use for a vehicle, then perhaps you need to look elsewhere – or do what we did and take the backroads. Believe us – that’s a lot more fun.
The Kona N is powered by the same 2,0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol motor as found under the bonnet of the recently updated i30 N and the i30 Sedan N.
The direct-injection engine develops 206kW between 5500 and 6000rpm with 213kW available for 20 seconds in overboost mode. Hyundai’s Flat Power tuning philosophy ensures a broad torque curve and, as such, the Kona N produces 392Nm between 2100 and 4700rpm.
The engine is energetic and revs happily beyond its 6000-rpm peak delivery point. It delivers urgent acceleration from the get-go and the motor presents little-to-no turbo lag, even when summoned to claw away in too low a gear. In fact, one could say the power delivery is effortless.
But what really helps this engine shine is the “motorsport-inspired” shift logic of Hyundai’s eight-speed DCT. It’s so good, you can leave the paddles alone and just “drive the wheels off the thing”.
Hyundai says the transmission’s “brain” can quickly adapt shift points to match a driver’s style and communicate with the e-LSD to help mitigate understeer. With two modes available – Normal and Sport – the e-diff also does a good job of quelling torque steer; it enables the front wheels to maintain the course set by the driver and wrench the Kona N from apex to apex.
It's also terrific to see that the Kona N doesn’t need to hide behind its traction and stability control systems. If you turn everything off, everything remains off. Properly off. There’s no “off, but still hiding-in-the-background” business. And we think that really allows you to get to the bottom of how well-sorted the chassis and steering of this kooky little SUV really are.
Hyundai Australia had a lot of involvement in tuning the Kona N’s suspension and electronic stability control settings to suit local conditions – the firmer tune complements the additional structural reinforcement and bolt-on bracing built into this and every N-enhanced model.
The three-mode electronic dampers continuously adapt to road conditions at a rate of 200 times per second, while the additional damper stroke and chubby tyre profile allow just enough bounce and squirm to playfully hop the Kona N over racetrack ripple strips.
Chuckable, agile and deceptively quick, the Kona N is also supremely grippy in challenging off-camber corners; it tenaciously holds its line at close-to-unnerving speeds. In fact, Hyundai says the Kona N is quicker than the i30 N “in some situations” – we think they might be right.
We reckon Hyundai might just be disguising the fact that the Kona N is quicker than its hot hatch sibling in most situations. We’d love to pit the duo back-to-back on the track to know for sure.
Equally impressive are the Kona N’s beefed-up brakes. Measuring 360mm up front, the dinner plate-sized discs are clamped by high-friction sintered pads that provide fade-free stopping lap, after lap, after lap…
Between the bespoke compound of the 235/40 series Pirelli P Zero HN tyres and those mega-stoppers up front, the Kona N creates the impression that it could be tracked and driven home repeatedly with little more for you to do than check the tyre pressures and strap on a helmet.
Hyundai even warrants the car for use on the racetrack – such is the Korean manufacturer’s faith in the engineering expertise that has been applied to this cracking little machine.
Hyundai backs the Kona N with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assistance package and lifetime capped-price servicing. Service intervals are set at 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first) and are priced at $335 each for the first five years. That’s impressive.
The Kona may still fall victim to name-calling, but there’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing this wacky, offbeat misfit N version will make even the prettiest hot hatch sit up and take notice.
On the road – and track – the Kona N carries itself with the kind of deportment some so-called performance models have taken decades to hone, yet Hyundai has nailed it at the first attempt.
If the Kona isn’t the N division’s best offering yet, we reckon it comes pretty darn close.
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