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First drive: Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.

First drive: Hyundai Kona N
Hyundai has expanded its N range by injecting some performance and attitude into the Kona crossover


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Hyundai Kona N

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It takes bravery to establish an automotive sub-brand. Whether it's luxury, electric or performance, loyalty is a very big thing and if you're going to do it, you have to be confident you can conquer customers away from the names they are used to. It's particularly difficult if you want to get into performance models, especially if you've spent decades marketing your cars as cheap, cheerful and value for money like Hyundai.

Then along comes Hyundai with its N Performance division, thinking it can take on the likes of the Golf GTi, Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall VXR. Who do they think they are? But the i30 N is impressive, the i20 N equally so and there's this, the Kona N Designed and engineered to take on rivals like the Cupra Formentor, Ford Puma ST and Volkswagen T-Roc R, do we need a hot cross Kona?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Hyundai Kona N
Pricing: 35,395
Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed DCT, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 194g/km (VED Band 191-225: 1,345 in year one, 155 subsequent years)
Combined economy: 33.2mpg
Top speed: 149mph
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Power: 280hp at 5,500-6,000rpm
Torque: 392Nm at 2,100-4,700rpm
Boot space: 361-1,143 litres

What's this?

This is the Hyundai Kona N, the third N performance model from Hyundai and while we have been very impressed with the i30 N and new i20 N, giving a crossover or SUV the steroid treatment doesn't tend to get us quite as excited.

Then you look at it, with its bulging wheel arches around 19-inch wheels shod with Pirelli rubber and housing red brake callipers. There's a go-faster red stripe that runs around it, big roof spoiler with integrated F1-style triangular brake light and a large diffuser around the two large exhausts. It's aggressive, purposeful and let's be honest, it looks rather cool.

Hyundai says it's a CUV, or compact utility vehicle, or is it crossover utility vehicle? Whatever, we'll just call it a crossover, which means it's also supposed to have the practicality of a small SUV. That means space for five people, a generous sized boot and lots of useful little features for everyday driving such as cupholders, Bluetooth music streaming and safety kit like autonomous emergency braking.

None of that screams performance though, so how about N mode buttons, an N Grin Control System, N Corner Carving Differential, Launch Control and a Popcorn exhaust sound. Yeah, that's got your attention, so read on.

How does it drive?

Quite honestly, we're past the days when we would get all excited about a car company telling us they've engineered a car to be the best it can be on the Nurburgring. It's interesting, but everyone's doing it, even Tesla and while it is the ultimate track challenge, it's not always that relevant.

However, Hyundai Motor's European test centre is based at the famous 'Ring and so the track is naturally its test facility of sorts. The Kona N underwent 10,187km of testing at the circuit, amounting to 489 laps. Its engineers analysed every piece of data and then pulled in suppliers such as Pirelli to look at everything too.

Then they handed the pre-production model to some journalists who said the ride was too firm so Pirelli adjusted the recommended tyre pressures, engineers retuned the dampers and boffins re-wrote the electronic damper control software. Then they shipped the car over to England, delivered it to Caffeine & Machine and asked us to meet them there. We gladly obliged.

It's still firm, in places very firm, but find the right piece of tarmac and boy is this thing fun. The headline here is that on the right road and in the right hands, the Kona N is as good as many a hot hatch and easily a match for some more expensive performance SUVs when it comes to outright fun. Sitting higher off the ground does mean it's not going to rival a hot hatch perfectly but it gets remarkably close.

Delve deep into the settings menu and you'll find the option to change everything from suspension to steering and even the sound of the exhaust. You can also select a navigation to take you to your favourite race track and then round it. Once there you will be able to use N Track Sense Shift, which senses when you are on a race track and optimises gear shifts accordingly. These things aren't gimmicks. Okay they are.

What also sounds like a bit of a gimmick is the N Grin System, a button on the steering wheel which gives you maximum attack mode for twenty seconds. The revs can be pushed to 6,800rpm, the exhaust goes into popcorn popping mode and we can reveal that yes, you will be grinning madly. Does it need it? No, but who cares, it's great fun.

If you don't want to go all out then there are other modes available, such as Sport and N-mode. Both of these will give you serious amounts of fun but watch for the torque steer because there can be lots of it. The Kona N might have a bunch of electronic driver assistance systems, but it can still torque steer like an old Renault Megane RS 225.

The steering is great though, with a proper feel in your hands and while the Kona N might have a dual clutch transmission, it does have a manual handbrake. This is because Hyundai N boss, Albert Biermann wants to keep as many analogue features as possible in the cars, including the ability to do a handbrake turn.

If you're reading all this and thinking the new Kona N is just a hooligan machine designed and engineered only to tackle twisty roads and race tracks, then you'd be mostly right. However, it's also a crossover and so it needs to be able to do school runs, the commute, trips to the shops and other daily driver stuff. It even has traction modes for when things become less grippy, such as in sand, mud, snow and even deep snow, although being one front-wheel drive we'd be intrigued to see it cope well with the deep powder.

As part of its everyday character. we quite happily ambled through Warwickshire villages, cruised along A-roads and generally enjoyed being in something that at its heart has been engineered to cater for the enthusiast who still needs lots of practicality. It's actually rather refreshing in a digital world where many of the enthusiast elements are being diluted to suit a business case.


The Hyundai Kona N is not perfect. It's not as comfortable and practical as a regular Kona, nor does it feel as dynamic as a a hot hatch. What it is though is the best of both and in a world of ever increasing numbers of crossovers, that makes it a marvellous piece of engineering. If you can put up with the firmness then it's a hot cross Kona you will really want to savour.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

3 3 3 3 3 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Mark Smyth - 24 Aug 2021    - Hyundai road tests
- Hyundai news
- Kona N images

2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.

2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.2021 Hyundai Kona N. Image by Hyundai.


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