A spiced new compact SUV has been decked out with power and performance to match some of the best performance hatchbacks.
The Hyundai Kona N is a new type of car.
Inspired by high-ride performance models from European luxury brands, Hyundai has transformed its Kona SUV into a machine capable of thrill-a-curious drivers.
It’s the only affordable high-performance SUV on sale today, and represents a surprisingly fun option for those looking for something extraordinary.
Priced at $47,500 more on-road costs (about $52,000 drive-away), the Kona N is a fair odd one compared to the original model on sale for $28,990 drive-away.
But you get a lot of change for the money, including a carefully reinforced body shell engineered for high-performance driving. There’s also a turbocharged engine, eight-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, big brakes and machined 19-inch alloys with Pirelli P-Zero rubber.
It also gets digital dashboards with clever apps like multi-mode shocks, a bi-modal exhaust and a GPS-based lap timer.
Kona N customers also benefit from a body kit, sports seats and leather-trimmed steering wheel with shift pedals and special buttons that help you adapt the car to its environment.
Those elements build on strong standard features which include twin 10.25-inch displays loaded with smartphone mirroring, sat nav, wireless phone charging, a digital radio and Harman Kardon stereo.
Safety gear includes six airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
Options include Metallic Paint ($595), and a Premium Pack ($3000) that includes a sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, a heads-up display, ambient lighting, and more.
Like most new cars, the Kona is backed by a five-year unlimited-kilometer warranty with capped price servicing. Unlike most cars, Hyundai N models are covered for non-competitive track days.
Our corner test drive took place south of Sydney, passing through the Southern Highlands before the lap of the Wakefield Park circuit near Goulburn.
Set up in the car’s most conservative driving mode, the Kona presents itself as a taut crossover with the strongest suspension, with an effortlessly fast engine that makes short work of a green light gateway.
The high driving position offers a clear view of the road ahead.
Smooth gearshifts, easy-to-grip infotainment and silky-smooth transmission favor it.
Like the best hot hatch and performance SUVs, the Kona N is an easy car to live in every day. Like those cars, its character completely changes when you dig deeper.
Works with the standard Kona 110kW. But this N model boasts almost double that or 206kW/392Nm which adds up further during short periods of overdrive.
The result is a 0-100 km/h sprint in 5.5 seconds – almost a full second faster than the entry-level Porsche Macan SUV.
The trade-off is seriously thirsty fuel economy – officially a 9L/100km premium, but you’ll use more in the real world.
Like the famous i30 N, the Kona’s most aggressive driving modes collide via rapid-fire gearshifts, with oversized exhaust tips creaking on overrun as you approach turns.
Slightly taller and heavier than its hatchback cousin, the Kona N nonetheless feels more like a hot hatch than a speedy SUV. It’s easy to put on with confidence and it doesn’t wither when you strike multiple turns or try to do a few hot laps on the circuit.
Strong brakes and chunky tires work in its favor.
Suspension that feels a little too firm at quiet speeds does the job to accelerate, which rarely – if ever – found in affordable crossovers.
Enthusiasts will appreciate the option to disable traction and stability control entirely.
While the lower Kona models are available with all-wheel-drive, the Halo model here provides power to the front wheels via a limited-slip differential.
The combination works well in dry conditions, sweeping out of the corners with rare gusto.
While the regular Kona is no dynamic star, Hyundai’s new N model is remarkably attractive.
Considering how Hyundai’s N division turned the pedestrian i30 hatch into a performance car, the Kona N’s excellence shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Sharp, equipped and relevant to today’s customers, Hyundai is poised to be a winner with the new Kona N.
Hyundai Kona N Vitalas
cost: $52,000 drive-away
Device: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 206kW/392Nm
warranty service: 5 Years/Unlimited KM, $1675 for 5 Years
the protection: 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert.
Cargo: 361 liters