If you need the family flexibility of a small SUV, but want a performance personality lurking just below the surface, the new Kona N may be the car for you. Light and fast with an aggressive look and dynamics to match, it's the latest addition to Hyundai's rapidly expanding N performance line-up.
Hyundai’s Kona is rapidly developing multiple personalities. But rather than a psychological disorder, it’s the result of a steady broadening of the compact SUV’s range, following the original petrol and diesel powered model’s launch here in 2017.
The zero tailpipe emissions Kona Electric arrived in 2019, and now this versatile model has pulled on the stringback gloves for a crack at the performance market with this version, the new Kona N.
It’s the third N model to be launched in the Aussie market, offered in two grades, both powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four, and riding on a tricky sports suspension tuned with hands-on input from Hyundai’s local product boffins. And we’ve driven it over a lengthy launch drive program.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
The Kona already looks like a suspicious secret agent scoping you out from the shadows, but this N dials up the sporty attitude with three nostrils in the nose. But don’t be fooled, they’re cosmetic-only plastic blanks.
But their inclusion moves the ‘Lazy H’ Hyundai logo from just in front of the bonnet, down to the middle of a black N-specific grille.
The lower part of the front clip is completely rearranged, to accommodate LED headlights and DRLs, as well as larger vents for extra brake and engine cooling.
TN dials up the sporty attitude with three nostrils in the nose.
The five-spoke 19-inch alloys are unique to Kona N, the exterior mirror shells are black, side skirts with red highlights run along the rocker panels, the normally grey plastic wheel arch extensions are body-coloured, there’s a pronounced spoiler on the top of the tailgate, and a diffuser is flanked by fat twin exhaust outlets.
Seven colours are available - ‘Atlas White’, ‘Cyber Grey’, ‘Ignite Flame’ (red), ‘Phantom Black’, Dark Knight’, ‘Gravity Gold’ (matte), and N’s signature ‘Performance Blue.’
Out the back is a diffuser flanked by fat twin exhaust outlets.
Inside, there are sports front bucket seats, trimmed in black cloth on the N and a combination of suede and leather on the N Premium.
The sports wheel is part leather-trimmed as are the gearshift and handbrake lever, with blue contrast stitching throughout, and the pedals feature alloy finishers.
The overall look is relatively conventional, although there’s a configurable 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, and a same-size multimedia touchscreen above the centre stack.
Behind the steering wheel is a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster.
And I love the way Hyundai notes the inclusion of a manual handbrake so, “the driver can induce slides through tighter corners.”
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
There’s nothing quite like this little SUV, focused as it is on performance and dynamic response, close to its $47,500, before on-road costs price-point.
There are a handful of what you could broadly describe as competitors, with VW’s top-shelf Tiguan 162 TSI R-Line ($54,790) coming close, and the AWD VW T-Roc R will be closer still, but likely 10 grand dearer than the Hyundai when it arrives next year.
The N is available in ‘Atlas White’, ‘Cyber Grey’, ‘Ignite Flame’, ‘Phantom Black’, Dark Knight’, ‘Gravity Gold’, and ‘Performance Blue.’
That said, $47.5K is a solid wad of cash for a small SUV. For that amount of money you’re going to want a decent basket of fruit included, and the Kona N does pretty well.
The N is fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels.
Aside from the standard performance and safety tech, the highlights are: climate control air, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, DRLs, and tail-lights, plus 19-inch alloys wrapped with hi-po Pirelli P Zero rubber.
Then for an extra $3K the Kona N Premium ($50,500) adds power driver and passenger seats with heating and ventilation, a heated steering wheel, suede and leather upholstery, a head-up display, ambient interior lighting, and a glass sunroof.
Inside is a 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Hyundai covers the Kona N with a five year/unlimited km warranty, and the ‘iCare’ program includes a ‘Lifetime Service Plan’, as well as 12 months 24/7 roadside assist and an annual sat nav map update (the latter two renewed free-of-charge each year, up to 10 years, if the car is serviced at an authorised Hyundai dealer).
Maintenance is scheduled every 12-months/10,000km (whichever comes first) and there’s a pre-paid option which means you can lock in prices and/or fold service costs into your finance package.
Owners also have access to the ‘myHyundai’ online portal providing details on the car’s operation and features as well special offers and customer support.
Service for the Kona N will set you back $355 for each of the first five years, which is not bad at all.
At a fraction over 4.2m long the Kona is very much a compact SUV. And up front, the feeling is snug, but that suits the N’s character, and the rear is surprisingly spacious, especially in light of the car’s rearward sloping roofline.
At 183cm I had enough leg, head and toe room room to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my position without distress. Three adults across the back will be uncomfortably intimate for anything other than short stints, although kids will be fine.
Up front, the Kona N feels snug.
In-cabin storage includes two cupholders in the front centre console, the bay for wireless charging doubles as a handy oddments space, there’s a decent glove box, a generous storage box/centre armrest between the seats, a drop-down sunglasses holder, as well as door bins, although the latter’s space is compromised by intrusion from the speakers.
In the back there are two more cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, door bins (with speakers intruding again) plus netted pockets on the front seat backs, and a small storage tray at the back of the centre console. No air vents, though.
Fitting three adults across the back will be uncomfortable.
Connectivity runs to two USB-A sockets (one media, one power-only) and a 12V outlet in the front console, with another USB-A jack in the rear.
Boot space is 361L with the split-folding second row seats up and 1143 litres with them down, which is impressive for a car of this size. Four tie-down anchors and a luggage net are included, while a space-saver spare resides under the floor.
With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 361 litres.
Folding the rear seats flat, increases cargo capacity to 1143 litres.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
It features high-pressure direct-injection and dual variable valve timing to produce 206kW from 5500-6000rpm, and 392Nm from 2100-4700rpm. A peak power boost function, Hyundai calls ‘N Grin Shift’, pushes power up to 213kW for 20 seconds.
The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder produces 206kW/392Nm.
It can be used multiple times, but needs a 40-second breather to cool down between bursts.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
Hyundai’s official fuel economy figure for the Kona N, on the ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban cycle, is 9.0L/100km, the 2.0-litre four emitting 206g/km of C02 in the process.
Stop/start is standard, and we saw a dash-indicated average of, yep, 9.0L/100km over city, B-road and freeway running on the occasionally ‘spirited’ launch drive.
With the 50L tank brimmed that number translates to a range of 555km.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
The Kona has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating (to 2017 criteria) with tech designed to help you avoid a crash including a long list of assists, the main one being ‘Forward Collision Avoidance Assist.’
That’s Hyundai-speak for AEB, operating at city, urban and inter-urban speeds with car, pedestrian and cyclist detection included.
Then, you’re assisted with everything from your blind-spot and high-beams, to lane keeping and rear cross-traffic.
If a sheet metal interface is unavoidable there are six airbags on-board as well three top tethers and two ISOFIX positions for child seats in the second row.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
This Kona immediately becomes the quickest model in the local Hyundai N range, using the standard launch control system to accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds.
Maximum torque of 392Nm is plenty for a small SUV weighing in at a touch over 1.5 tonnes, and rather than a peak it’s more of a plateau, with that number available from 2100-4700rpm.
Max power of 206kW then takes over with its own little table top from 5500-6000rpm, so there’s always plenty of punch available via a squeeze of the right foot. Hyundai claims 80-120km/h in just 3.5 seconds and the car feels every bit that urgent in the mid-range.
The N's track is wider than a regular Kona.
The power boost function, engaged via a suitably bright red button on the steering wheel, automatically selects the lowest possible gear and sets the transmission and exhaust to Sport+ mode. A digital clock in the instrument cluster marks the 20-second countdown.
The eight speed dual-clutch transmission has been paired with engine mapping that minimises torque loss between gears, and the shift is positive and rapid heading up or down the ratios, especially flicking the wheel-mounted shift paddles in manual mode.
It’s also adaptive in that while in Sport or N mode the tranny ‘learns’ your driving style and adapts accordingly. If it picks up the fact you’re starting to press on it will start to shift up later and downshift earlier.
This Kona immediately becomes the quickest model in the local Hyundai N range.
Tiptronic-style autos have had this trick up their sleeves for 30-odd years, and the Kona N’s unit adjusts itself quickly and subtly, while shift lights in the main cluster on the standard N, and in the head-up display in the N Premium, add a touch of F1-style drama.
There are three settings for the active exhaust (linked to drive modes) and it continuously adjusts an internal valve to modulate volume and flow based on throttle position and engine revs. An “electronic sound generator” also makes a contribution, but the overall tone is enjoyably raspy in the upper register.
Developed at Hyundai’s sprawling Namyang proving ground (south of Seoul) and refined courtesy of Hyundai’s engineering hub at the Nürburgring Nordschleife (they underpin the N branding), the Kona N features extra structural reinforcement and more attachment points for key suspension components.
There’s always plenty of punch available via a squeeze of the right foot.
Speaking of which, suspension is strut front, multi-link rear, the springs have been stiffened front (52 per cent) and back (30 per cent), and the adaptive dampers are managed by G-sensors tuned locally for Australian conditions. The track is also wider, 20mm at the front and 7.0mm at the rear.
According to Tim Rodger’s, Hyundai Australia’s product development manager who did much of the hands-on fine-tuning work, the Kona’s relatively long suspension stroke offers lots of room to set up a workable compromise between ride comfort and dynamic response.
We’re still dealing with the counterintuitive task of making a high-riding SUV handle like a low-slung sports car here, but in its sportier modes the Kona N feels well buttoned down in corners, and rides nicely in the more comfort-focused settings.
The electrically-assisted steering delivers good road feel.
There are four pre-set drive modes available (Eco, Normal, Sport, N) each adjusting the calibration of the engine, transmission, stability control, exhaust, LSD, steering and suspension.
Two custom settings can also be set up and mapped to the Performance Blue N buttons on the steering wheel.
In Sport or N mode on corner exit the electronic LSD puts the power down without a hint of scrabbling from the inside front wheel, and the 235/40 Pirelli P-Zero rubber (marked ‘HN’ for Hyundai N) offers extra compliance thanks to its slightly higher sidewall.
The Kona N feels well buttoned down in corners.
The electrically-assisted steering delivers good road feel and points nicely, the sports front seats are grippy yet comfortable, plus the layout of major controls is agreeably straightforward.
The brakes are vented discs all around (360mm fr / 314mm rr) and selecting N mode with ESC off allows simultaneous brake and throttle application without the ECU blowing a fuse. Pedal feel is good and application progressive, even in the thick of an ‘enthusiastic’ B-road session.
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