► Prototype of Hyundai Kona N driven
► Loud 'N' lairy
► Should arrive summer 2021
It took me about five minutes to discover the Kona N pops and bangs on the overrun like the i30 N. And another five minutes to grow a bit bored of it. It's not that it doesn't sound good, it's just that it's so uniform and forced.
Which is an ongoing theme in this Kona N. It somehow feels like it's trying too hard to be fun.
Hyundai's Director of High Performance Vehicle Development, Klaus Köster says: 'Our target is that it's really fun to drive. The physics, you can't ignore, but it still lives up to the N car pillars: corner rascal, everyday sports car, and race track capability.'
There's even a function called N Grin Shift that increases torque and maximises transmission response.
Corner rascal, N Grin Shift, am I the only one who finds it all a bit cloying?
Cheer up. What about the stats?
Admittedly, the engine perks me right up. The 1998cc turbo'd four-pot is borrowed from the i30 N and has 276bhp/289lb ft of torque, ushered to the front wheels via an eight-speed DCT.
There's no manual on offer and no mechanical locking diff - it uses an eLSD, hydraulically actuated by an electric pump.
0-62mph times are unconfirmed, but i'd say it felt bloody quick. Not too far off the i30 N.
What's it like to drive?
Rapid and a bit manic. Our test route was mostly on greasy B-roads. The kind of asphalt where a good hot-hatch should outpace a supercar. The problem is that the Kona N struggles to transfer its power to the road.
In Race mode it was a real handful, tugging at the wheel like a mid-2000s Vauxhall Astra VXR. Admittedly, Race mode isn't really intended for the road, and this pre-prod car is not the final edit.
A switch to Sport makes things a lot less manic. Still a good dose of understeer from the front-wheel drive platform mind you, but getting the power down is a lot easier. Once it's into the swing of things it flows nicely like an i30 N. The steering is communicative and direct, although the brakes need a firm stamp.
The eight-speed wet DCT fires off orders at a rapid rate. Of course there's less involvement than a manual. But I guess typical hot-SUV buyers don't care for three pedals.
Back to the engine. It has a flat torque curve, making it feel a lot more linear than other turbo'd engines, while max power is delivered at an RPM range rather than a singular figure. Fans of old N/A DOHC engines will appreciate the effort made here. There's something very satisfying about the delayed gratification involved in earning your max torque figure, rather than having it fed to you instantly.
Enough about delayed gratification. How stiff is it?
I'm not a huge fan of just how bone-shaking fast Hyundais are. Luckily the Kona N seems a bit more forgiving than the i30 N.
The drive modes are much the same as the i30 N, meaning there is electronically controlled suspension. Good news: Comfort mode is genuinely usable for day to day driving, helped by the slightly higher profile rubber.
I imagine Sport mode on the day-to-day would induce car sickness in little ones.
Peel back the bin bags and the Kona N is a pumped up version of the neatly designed SUV. The wing is very Porsche Panamera. The 19-inch forged alloy wheels fill the arches without looking too aggressive.
This test car had a rough and ready interior with most things blanked off. The finished car will have Hyundai's 10.25-inch digital cluster and 10.25-inch touchscreen, with a HUD. Comically there's still hill descent control as part of its Terrain Mode Select. How many people will take their hot-SUV off-road remains to be seen.
Hyundai Kona N: verdict
A car like this is more of a marketing exercise than an out and out money spinner for Hyundai. Great coverage for its N, and N Line products.
The Max Power generation now cares more about nap times than lap times. Combining aspects of both hot-hatch and SUV seems like a sensible progression for people who want a loud and shouty car that's also practical.
I think it could become a very useful hot-hatch alternative with some fine tuning. Paring the lairy performance back a bit would prevent it from feeling a bit too try-hard.
Cut price Range Rover Sport, anyone?