29th November 2021
One look at the front of the Hyundai Kona N and you know this little machine means business. It’s almost all air intakes across the front, including three slits in the snout to help feed cool air to the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine under the bonnet. Overkill for a crossover? Not when it’s packing 280hp and will see off0-62mph in 5.5 seconds. Oh, and this Hyundai will reach 149mph flat out. Not your average crossover, then.
First trip out in the Kona N and initial impressions are of a very firm ride, even for a car that sits at the very fast end of the scale for hot hatches. A Ford Puma ST is more supple, but the suspension is adjustable in the Hyundai if you want to go even further down the handling route by making it stiffer. Also, by the end of this morning’s drive, I’ve come to terms with the N’s standard setting and enjoyed the stiffer Sport and N settings too.
There’s a fair amount of adjustability with the Kona N’s driving set-up and I’ve spent a very happy morning playing with it. In Sport mode, the car is easily a match for any hot crossover rival and all but the very best hot hatches. Move to N and the steering, suspension, gear shifts, and engine response all go into overdrive. This brings some childish but smile-making pops and bangs to the exhaust when you prod the NGS button for a burst of even more grunt.
With so much power heading to the front wheels only, I had been expecting the Kona N to be a handful on my local back roads. Not a bit of it. A limited slip differential and well-tuned traction control system keep the wheels turning and gripping while not corrupting the steering. It makes the Kona N a real hoot to press on in and, being a crossover, barely anyone notices as you do so.
The N may be the bad boy of the Kona line-up, but it’s still a practical wee car. Plenty of space in the back is good for the kids and the boot is big enough for most needs. It’s also blessed with excellent front sport seats that offer support and comfort in all the right places without niggling after longer stints, such as today’s jaunt. The only demerit here is a fair degree of road noise at motorway pace.
While a manual gearbox will always be more fun for old-school hot hatch fans like me, the eight-speed dual-clutch job in the Kona N is ideally matched to this car. The changes are quick and smooth, or if you switch to N mode they are markedly swifter and punchier for that sporty sensation. Either way, you drive the Kona N in all traffic conditions as gently as required, and there are also the steering wheel paddle shifters for a bit of manual interaction.
The Hyundai Kona N is not the cheapest fast hatch option out there, but it is one of the quickest. It’s also one of the most fun by a huge margin. Maybe that’s because it’s a car that you just don’t expect to be as fast or fun, but it is and it’s an indulgence worth choosing if you like left-field performance cars. Driven with some decorum, it will even turn in 33.2mpg average economy to be bang on its official claimed figure, though I only managed this briefly as I was enjoying the Kona N too much.