What is it?
You could be forgiven for not having heard of Hyundai’s N division. The name was first introduced in 2013 on the firm’s World Rally Championship Cars, but it has only been building performance versions of Hyundai road cars since 2017.
With former BMW performance boss Albert Biermann running the show, the i30 N burst onto the scene and immediately became one of the best hot hatches in its class. Since then the i20 N has also won many plaudits, while the Kona N we’re testing here looks to make it three winners in a row.
As is the N way, the Kona has received a pretty extensive makeover that extends well beyond the sporty styling upgrades inside and out. It uses the firm’s turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that has been tuned to produce more torque and improved acceleration performance.
Other upgrades include an electronic limited-slip differential that improves acceleration out of corners – an essential feature in any serious front-wheel-drive car – as well as a noisy exhaust, drive mode selection and electronically controlled suspension.
What’s under the bonnet?
Hyundai N’s previous efforts have resulted in aggressively boosty engines that feel more powerful than their numbers suggest. In the Kona, the petrol unit makes 276bhp and 392Nm of torque, with a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission.
It doesn’t feel quite as punchy as it does in the i30 N, but put the throttle to the floor and there’s only momentary hesitation before the engine spools up and unleashes its power. In sportier modes it has a harsh exhaust note and snaps rapidly between gears.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s not just quick in a straight line, either, proving impressively stable in corners, too. It’s taller and shorter than the i30 N, which contributes to its sharp turn in. The high centre of gravity means you’re bracing against the seat as your body leans in corners, but you quickly learn there’s plenty of ability at your fingertips.
Unfortunately, the Kona is afflicted by similar complaints to other N cars – the suspension. Some of that handling ability comes from the stiff suspension, but even in its softest setting, it’ll jiggle you around, especially at lower speeds. If you plan to use it as a family runaround, your passengers could get sick of this pretty quickly.
How does it look?
The Kona is already one of the smartest looking crossovers at this price point, with its narrow running lights, dinky proportions and chunky grilles, but this has only been amplified with the additions of the N division.
Upgrades include larger, lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured cladding and fenders that make it look closer to the ground, an exclusive front grille design and red accents. At the rear, there’s a high ‘double-wing’ spoiler, diffuser styling in the rear bumper, an N-specific triangular third brake light, and twin-exit exhaust tips.
There’s also a new paint colour launched for the Kona N. Called Sonic Blue, it’s similar to N’s usual Performance Blue with a much lighter grey-white shade.
What’s it like inside?
The Kona N benefits from the usual positivities found in Hyundai cabins, with a mix of practical materials and more premium-looking sections. You get that elevated driving position that makes visibility decent, though it does feel a touch cramped for taller drivers.
Naturally there are some N upgrades, with the most obvious being the two drive mode buttons on the steering wheel that quickly let you change between comfier and more sporting modes.
The leather-wrapped wheel itself is new, as are the paddle shifters, manual handbrake – included to let ‘adventurous drivers enjoy slides’ – and heavily bolstered seats.
What’s the spec like?
There’s just the one specification on offer, with prices starting at £35,395. For the money, you get all of the mechanical upgrades mentioned earlier, such as the limited slip differential, suspension upgrade and exterior and interior improvements.
The free colour is a red called Ignite Flame, with most other colours, including the new Sonic Blue, being £565 extra. Further technology included with the Kona N includes wireless smartphone charging, parking sensors, reversing camera, eight-speaker Krell sound system and a wide range of driver assists.
We’ve come to expect great things from Hyundai N, and in the Kona it has worked its magic once more. When you’ve got the car setup for performance driving, it’s fast, sharp to respond and far more capable in corners than a crossover should be. It really is a great performance car.
However, the compromises away from comfort feel a bit too much. This is not a car you could comfortably drive the family around in every day, so it’ll mostly appeal to those looking for a more focused performance road car – which sticks to N’s more hardcore ethos. If that’s the case, though, the i30 N hatchback is a bit more fun and capable…
Model as tested: Hyundai Kona N
Price (as tested): £35,395
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol
Max speed: 149mph
0-60mph: 6.2 seconds
Emissions: 194g/km CO2