► Hyundai Kona N driven in the UK
► On track and on the road
► Superb dynamics, minimal comfort
Shenington is about as technical as kart tracks get. 1211 metres of tricky slow speed bends, double-apexes and hairpins, it requires patience coupled with a composed, balanced chassis. It’s not a place you’d expect to test an SUV - but it’s exactly where we’re currently driving Hyundai’s new Kona N.
It’s a strong statement of intent from the creators of the i20 N, but it makes sense given the N’s Nürburgring-focused credentials. Like most sportier cars, the Kona has been subjected to 489 laps of the Green Hell, while its new eight-speed DCT has had a total of 1350. In between laps, the Kona N’s ESC, steering suspension and tyres have all been tuned to get through the ‘Ring’s 170 corners.
So, has it worked? Is the once docile Kona crossover now a true N car – or does the N stand for ‘nonplussed’ rather than ‘Nürburgring’? Keep reading our review of the all-new Kona N to find out.
Well, it looks alright...
Things start off well. Our car is finished in eye-catching Sonic Blue, a touch different to the Performance Blue you’ll find on the i20 and i30 N. Featuring a novel light array and added sporty details, the Kona N ends up looking like an over inflated i30 N on the outside.
Jump in, and aside from a few additional controls and N seats, the Kona N feels just as practical as you’d hope. Like the standard Kona, the majority of functions are controlled with a prominent touchscreen. Other features like ESC, cooled/heated seats and N mode are taken care of by real, physical switches. There’s a physical handbrake too, which is cool.
What’s it like to drive?
Hyundai’s N division has sharpened the once docile crossover. A brief stint in normal settings – which we’ll get to in detail later – is agreeable, but we’re eyeing the large N button mounted on the steering wheel.
Engage N mode and the Kona N reveals its newly acquired performance. After a fiery animation there’s a louder burble from the turbocharged four-cylinder, and we get to work.
Shenington’s short straight is eaten up, as the eight-speed DCT and new electronic diff channel 276bhp to the front wheels with minimum fuss. Our Kona N warps between braking zones, a lilac streak with all the fizz, pops and theatrics you’d expect from the N badge.
But it’s the chassis that truly drags the Kona into N territory – as it seems to transplant hot hatch manners to the family crossover. Threading the Kona N through double apex bends doesn’t create the upset you’d expect – even when we’re ambitious with our entry speed – and it’s generally composed. Only the screech of specially developed Pirelli P Zeros reveals how hard we’re working behind the wheel.
The brakes are impressive too, providing a good balance of performance and feel. A 0-62mph launch of 5.5 seconds means we regularly hit 80mph on Shenington’s short straight, but the Hyundai allows us to leave our braking later and later. And not only does the Kona N stop, it has the poise to carry more corner speed too.
The transmission is surprisingly proactive; clearly 1350 laps of the Nürburgring must’ve paid off. For the first few laps we leave DCT to work things out, and most of the time, it’s in the gear we’d want anyway. Still, for a bit of extra control we opt for the well-placed paddles when we push on further.
However, take the Hyundai onto some local surrounding roads and the other end of the equation is revealed. It’s here, in the 30mphs and 60mphs – not when you’re achieving 7.7mpg – that the Kona N reveals its compromises. And they’re on the side of comfort, not performance.
The DCT is up for a laugh throughout, opting between fast or very fast acceleration when in normal or N modes. It’s more than enough for the road, and impressive on track.
But take away the billiard smooth tarmac of a kart circuit, and the Kona N’s ride is firm and uncompromising – and it doesn’t really change much depending on the mode you’re in. Ignore the 374-litres of boot space and the spacious cabin, and the crossover dances and skates across the tarmac just like an i30 N.
The Kona N is – for better or worse – able to nail the feel of far smaller, lighter and uncompromising hatchback. But while it has the practicality of a crossover, there’s been no quarter given to ride comfort. Some might call it a one-dimensional, I’d call it a brief, nailed.