Hyundai Kona: 2021 facelift smooths the surfaces

Published: 10 March 2021

► 2021 facelifted Hyundai Kona
► Sporty N-Line trim makes its debut
► Details of mild and full hybrids, and EV

Hyundai is polishing up the Kona for 2021, despite the supermini-SUV only being on sale for three years. Headline news is there’s now a sporty N-Line look among the cosmetic upgrades, a new 195bhp flagship petrol engine that does 0-62mph in 7.7secs, two mild hybrids, plus myriad chassis tweaks to improve ride comfort.

The new Kona goes on UK sale at the end of November 2020; expect a slight price increase over today’s range, which starts at £18,250.

Hang on a minute. Where’s the plastic cladding gone?

Well spotted. The red car wears N-Line trim, which eliminates the Kona’s plastic body protection. Like Ford’s ST-Line, Hyundai is rolling out sportier-looking models far and wide to tie in with its N performance flagships. Among the N-Line revisions are 18-inch wheels with a design like an untidy cutlery drawer, and a pronounced rear diffuser encompassing twin tailpipes.

Hyundai Kona N-Line, 2020, red, dead-on front view

But it’s the new front end that has such a transformative effect, on both regular Kona and the N-Line version. In profile, there’s now a pointy shark nose and new grille and headlamp graphics, which make the changes appear far more extensive than in reality. ‘The bonnet stays the same,’ N-Line exterior designer Davide Varenna told CAR. ‘All the changes come from the front bumpers, from the lights down.’

There are new exterior colours, mostly a mix of sober greys and blues. That’s because the Kona customer is typically more conservative than initially expected, and one that values enhanced ride comfort. ‘The main client base is more mature, that’s why the updates address that customer,’ said product specialist Deni Redzepovic, keen to add to the 282,000 Kona sales so far. ‘But we also have the N-Line to attract more progressive, youthful customers too.’

More comfort you say. What’s happened to the chassis?

Hyundai wheeled out Tyrone Johnson, head of vehicle testing and development, to discuss the chassis revisions. ‘We have a new spring balance, completely different damper valving, and the tyres make a big difference [18-inch tyres switch from Conti Sport Contact 5s to Conti Premium Contact 6s] – we touched everything to improve the comfort,’ he explained. Also tweaked were the anti-roll bars and rear bump stops, to improve ride and body control.

Hyundai Kona N-Line, 2020, red, rear view, driving

CAR couldn’t help but grin during Johnson’s summary of how he’d made the Kona comfier – last time we saw him, he was extolling the attributes of Ford’s uncompromising Focus RS Mk3, a car not renowned (understandably) for its pillow-soft ride.

It sounds like Hyundai’s chassis guru also got to work on the highest-powered, four-wheel drive car’s helm, ironing out what he calls ‘distractions’ such as bump or torque steer. Hyundai claims all steering racks feel more linear and balanced across a range of speeds.

More power, mild hybrids

Unlike most B-SUVs, the Kona can actually be specced with four-wheel drive, on the 1.6-litre petrol and diesel. Mild hybrid petrol and diesels join the range, promising a useful reduction in consumption and emissions, with the facelifted Kona actually having to grow 40mm longer to accommodate the componentry. However, the diesel variant won’t be offered in the UK.

Hyundai Kona N-Line, 2020, red, front view, driving

Finally, there’s a choice of transmissions: seven-speed DCT dual clutch, six-speed iMT ‘clutch-by-wire’ manual decoupling the engine as often as possible to save fuel, and a regular six-cog self-swapper.

Here’s the drivetrain line-up in full:

  • 1.0-litre T-GDI, 118bhp, 7DCT or 6-speed manual
  • 1.0-litre T-GDI, 118bhp, with 48v mild hybrid and 6iMT manual ‘box
  • 1.6-litre T-GDI, 195bhp, 7DCT, 2wd or 4wd
  • 1.6-litre diesel, 134bhp, with 48v mild hybrid, 7DCT or 6iMT manual ‘box, 2wd or 4wd

All engines except the 1.0 T-GDI with the seven-speed dual-clutch are available with N-Line trim. But there isn’t a dedicated, high performance, N-Line engine, says Deni Redzepovic. ‘We believe the existing powertrains are sufficiently sporty and eco-friendly.’ Revised fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures are not yet public.

What happened to the Kona full hybrid and EV?

The 1.6-litre full hybrid and pure electric Kona will also get cosmetic revisions, but at a later date. Hyundai states that the 139bhp hybrid with its 1.56kWh battery will arrive in early 2021.

Hyundai Kona facelift, 2020, blue, front view

‘And with Kona EV, we will carry over the powertrain as it is now, as we think it’s very competitive,’ explains Redzepovic. For sure: the EV comes with a choice of two battery packs: 39kWh for 189 miles and a 64kWh pack yielding a range of 278 miles.

Hyundai Kona Electric review

Any other business?

The final raft of Kona upgrades come in the cockpit. Naturally N-Line models get a sportier interior, with ‘N’ embossed seats, metal pedals and red embellishments. But there’s new ambient lighting across the range, ringing the cupholders and illuminating the footwells. An electric parking brake is now offered, along with new materials featuring a 3D surface finish and the boot stows 374 litres.

Hyundai Kona N-Line, 2020, interior

And this being 2020, the touchscreen and driver assistance arms races continue. In comes a new 10.25-inch digital instrument panel from the i20, and the central touchscreen can also be optioned to the same size. Connected features include running multiple Bluetooth devices at once, plus live parking and real-time traffic updates for jam-busting navigation.

Meanwhile, Smart Cruise Control can now stop and go, and the blind spot monitoring and rear parking systems will now brake the Hyundai if oncoming vehicles appear to be on a collision course. The Forward Collision Avoidance system can now better spot pedestrians, observe cyclists, and work more adroitly in poor weather. And that’s just a few highlights: if it’s a driver aid going by a three- or four-letter acronym, it’s pretty much got an upgrade.

By Murray Scullion

Petrolhead, journalist and traveller. Loves fast old cars and new tech. Deputy editor of sister site,