The Kona has managed to find favour with many motorists, and now its received a healthy injection of performance by the brand’s N performance division. Damian Adams was our man behind the wheel at the local media launch.
For most hardcore driving enthusiasts, SUVs and crossovers are lacking when it comes to engaging through-the-seat-of-your-pants driving characteristics. Hyundai’s N high performance arm, however, has gone out and developed this, the Kona N. It’s a niche offering that takes the form of a hot SUV offering performance-orientated drivers the expected agility, power and feedback with a reasonable dose of everyday practicality and usability. This concept isn’t unique though, we’ve seen the likes of the BMW X2 M35i, Audi RS Q3 and Mini Countryman JCW in recent years. The Kona N is Hyundai’s first proper attempt at this sort of vehicle (not to be confused with the Kona N Line) and as its rivals are pricier and offer all-wheel drive, this front-drive only hot SUV looks set to carve out its own place on the showroom floor.
This is not the first time we’ve had the opportunity to wrestle with the turbocharged Kona N. A sinister looking all-black unit took part in the 2022 CAR Performance Shootout and what a riot that was having been one of only two front-wheel drive competitors. In the context of the 2022 Shootout it impressed despite its taller driving position, having managed a 1:13,70 lap time around Aldo Scribante. That was 0,4 seconds quicker than the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI and 2,0 seconds quicker than the manual i30 N we’d tested on the same track with the same driver in 2020. For the official launch we had the opportunity to drive on some of our favourite Western Cape mountain passes including Franschhoek Pass as well as out on track at a rain-soaked Killarney.
Other than the aggressive yet futuristic exterior appointments, the Kona N recipe is that of a rather conventional hot hatch. It’s powered by an updated version of the South Korean brands Theta-II 2,0-litre, turbocharged and direct-injected engine that feeds power to the front axle via a short-ratio 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The transmission is of the wet-clutch variety (for improved durability and heat management), the control unit is specifically calibrated for the N, resulting in quick shifts that send a serious kick in the back when shifting at full throttle in full-on N mode. When given the space on track the SUV was knocking on the door of 200 km/h down the back straight.
The powertrain is shared with the i30 N which is now available with the same DCT and delivers a maximum output of 206 kW from 5 500-6 000 r/min and 392 N.m across a wide rev range from 2 100 – 4 700 r/min. With the N Grin Shift (NGS) turbo overboost function online, the power is increased for maximum attack for 20 seconds. The round red button on the steering wheel seems like a gimmick and it has animated flames to go with it on the 10,25-inch digital driver’s display. The additional performance is noticeable and thankfully exploitable due to bespoke brakes and specially developed Pirelli P-Zero rubber which offers serious grip and stability over fast, sweeping and tight corners.
Hyundai has implemented an electronic limited-slip differential (E-LSD) on the Kona N for optimised torque distribution to the driven wheels, delivering more precise control when carving the ideal line through corners. This feature is vital in order to put the power down and it works well on both road and track, allowing the car to tuck its nose into corners far more confidently than any front-wheel drive crossover with 206 kW has the right to. In the wet the system does well, allowing for some slip before the ESP cuts in to manage traction on the slippery surface.
Once the excitement and adrenalin from the track driving experience had subsided, the Kona N proved its mettle out on the wet and winding Cape Winelands roads and it’s here where the car come into its own. It’s precise steering allows you to flow smoothly down the road while the engine and transmission work together offering eye-widening pace. It’s a firm ride but the long-travel suspension remains comfortable if kept in Normal mode making it a driver’s car with some of the annoying performance-car edges softened. Tasteful exhaust pops, cracks and bangs as well as an extensive features list are welcome considering the price tag of R749 000.
Both the i30 N and Kona N come standard with an impressive 7 year/200 000 km warranty and a 5 year/ 75 000 km service plan.
Model: Hyundai Kona N
Price: R749 900
Engine: Front-mounted, turbocharged, 1 998 cc, inline-four
Transmission: 8-speed DCT automatic
Power: 206 kW @ 5 500 – 6 000 rpm
Torque: 392 N.m @ 2 100 – 4 700 rpm
Driven wheels: Front-wheel drive
0-100 km/h: 5,5 seconds
Top speed: 240 km/h
Fuel consumption: 8,9 l/100km (combined)
CO2 emissions: 194 g/km
Words: Damian Adams