Review: Hyundai Kona N SUV – Firecracker on Four Wheels

The jacked-up hot hatch with real road presence.

M, AMG, Weissach, STO, and GTO are all bywords for maximum performance. Having sampled many Hyundai N cars, I was always curious about the Hyundai Kona N SUV. Finally, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of this impressive vehicle. The Kona N is not just another over-amped SUV; it’s a high-performance car that delivers a firecracker on four wheels driving experience.

The Hyundai Kona N has spent quite a lot of time in the gym.
The Hyundai Kona N has spent quite a lot of time in the gym.

Introduction to the Hyundai Kona N SUV

The Hyundai Kona N is a compact SUV that shares its platform with the regular Kona but comes with significant upgrades to the engine, suspension, brakes, and aerodynamics. The Kona N is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces an impressive 206kW and 392 Nm of torque. It also has an eight-speed N spec DCT automatic transmission and all-wheel drive as standard.

From side on the Kona N is a very well-proportioned SUV.
From side on the Kona N is a very well-proportioned SUV.

The Kona N is not just a fast SUV; it’s also a head-turner. The car’s design is bold and aggressive, with sharp lines, aggressive air intake, brutish stance, and rear spoiler – all thanks to the N sports body kit. The interior is also enhanced, with supportive seats, a flat-bottomed chunky leather steering wheel, and N accents throughout the cabin.

Design and Features of the Hyundai Kona N

The Hyundai Kona N’s design is a blend of practicality and performance. It has a compact size that makes it easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces, but it also has a muscular stance that gives it a well-proportioned, sporty look. The car’s front end is dominated by a sizeable tri-level grille with a honeycomb pattern that adds to its aggressive look. The headlights are sleek and slim, and the LED daytime running lights give the car a distinctive look.

You don't argue with a car that has three nostrils.
You don’t argue with a car that has three nostrils.

The interior of the Kona N is also impressive. The cloth seats are supportive and comfortable, and the driver’s seat is manually adjustable in multiple ways (with the N Premium model getting electric adjustment). The flat-bottomed steering wheel is wrapped in leather and has blue stitching, and the paddle shifters are well-positioned for easy access. The instrument cluster is digital and easy to read, and the 10.25” touch-screen infotainment display is intuitive and responsive.

The typically very well laid out, driver-focused interior of the Kona N.
The typically very well laid out, driver-focused interior of the Kona N.

The Kona N has many features that make it stand out in its class. It has wireless charging, a terrific Harmon Kardon 8-speaker sound system, and uprated brakes. It also has a suite of safety features, including Smart Cruise Control, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Departure Warning, and Safe Exit Warning.

Performance and Driving Experience of the Firecracker Hyundai Kona N

The Hyundai Kona N’s performance sets it apart from other compact SUVs. The car’s turbocharged 2.0-litre engine delivers instant power, and the all-wheel-drive system ensures the car stays planted on the road. The eight-speed N spec DCT transmission is smooth and responsive, and the paddle shifters add to the fun of driving the Kona N.

The beating heart of the Kona N - the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
The beating heart of the Kona N – the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.

The Kona N’s suspension and brakes have also been upgraded to handle the car’s power and dynamics. The car’s suspension is considerably stiffer than the regular Kona – especially in Sport+ or N Drive mode – and the brakes are larger and more powerful. The car’s handling is impressive for a small SUV, with minimal body roll and precise steering.

That rear wheel is 5cm off the ground!
That rear wheel is 5cm off the ground!

The Kona N’s driving experience is eye-opening. The car accelerates quickly, and the engine sounds great, especially in Sport+ or N Drive mode. The large red NGS (N Grin Shift) button on the steering wheel ups the power to 213kW for 20 seconds, and the effect is impressive. Everything gets tight and twitchy, but the low-profile Pirelli P-Zero rubber keeps everything in check.

The blue N Drive mode buttons on the steering wheel unlock several personalities of the Kona N that can be customised via the infotainment display. Steering, suspension, popping-off exhaust notes, and engine power can all be set to your liking.

The all-wheel-drive system provides excellent traction, and the car’s ventilated 360mm / 314mm brakes are solid and responsive. The Kona’s steering is also precise, and it’s easy to manoeuvre the car around tight corners. The steering wheel is a good size with excellent thickness and feel.

Hyundai Kona N 0-100km/h and Engine Specifications

The Hyundai Kona N’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine produces 206kW and 392 Nm of torque. The car’s eight-speed N spec DCT transmission and all-wheel drive system allow it to accelerate from 0-100km’h in just 5.5 seconds. Not fast by hatchback standards, but firecracker fast for a small SUV.

Safety and Technology Features of the Hyundai Kona N

The Kona N comes with a host of safety features that make it a safe car to drive. ANCAP has awarded the car a five-star safety rating. Active safety features include Lane Keeping Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, and Rear View Monitor with Parking Guidance. Sadly, you don’t get front parking sensors on the base Kona N.

The 10.25" touchscreen infotainment system with N Driving Modes.
The 10.25″ touchscreen infotainment system with N Driving Modes.

The Kona N also has a suite of technology features that make it a modern car. The car has wireless charging and the infotainment system naturally comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Pros and Cons of the Hyundai Kona N

The Hyundai Kona N has many pros and cons that potential buyers should consider. On the positive side, the car’s performance is impressive, with quick acceleration, precise handling, and strong brakes. The car’s bold and aggressive design sets it apart from other compact SUVs. The car’s interior is also sporty and well-equipped, with supportive seats and a user-friendly infotainment system. I love that it has an old-school handbrake.

On the negative side, the Kona N’s ride is stiff, and its fuel economy is not as good as some of its competitors. My week saw me cover 484kms and average 11.3L/100km.

The car’s cargo space is also limited, and the rear seats are not as spacious as some of its competitors.

Comparison with other SUVs in its class

The Hyundai Kona N competes with other high-performance compact SUVs, such as the BMW X1 xDrive20i M Sport and Mercedes-AMG GLA35. Compared to these cars, the Kona N is considerably more affordable, with a drive-away price of just under $55,000. The Kona N is also the lightest of the three, only slightly less powerful than the Mercedes, and is way faster than the BMW. However, the Kona N’s fuel economy is not as good as the other two – but that’s OK because of the way it makes you feel. The firecracker on four wheels effect.

Test Drive Experience

My week with the Kona N left me impressed and a little confused. This car is the penultimate in my Hyundai N collection (the i20 N review is coming soon). The car’s performance is exceptional, with quick acceleration, precise handling, and strong brakes. The car’s design is also eye-catching, and the interior is sporty and well-equipped.

A regular Kona and the Kona N.
A regular Kona and the Kona N.

However, you do have to wonder who the buyer of the Kona N is. The Kona range is Hyundai’s second-best-selling after the i30, which of course, has the superb i30 N hatch and sedan in its ranks.

Firecracker on Four Wheels Conclusion

The Hyundai Kona N is an excellent high-performance compact SUV that delivers an exhilarating (and beautifully noisy) driving experience. The car’s turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive system, and upgraded suspension and brakes make it a joy to drive. The N design is bold and aggressive, and the interior is sporty and well-equipped. The safety and technology features also make it a modern car that is safe and fun to drive.

Make no mistake, this is a really fun car to drive. However, as I often say to people, “…you’ve got to say no to a lot of cars to buy this…” and I think that might be the case with the Kona N.

About Author
Mike is the Australian editor of SonnyDickson.com with a lifelong passion for cars, technology and engineering. He reviews and writes about all kinds of motoring and tech products for our readers. Follow Mike on Instagram or send him an email: mike@sonnydickson.com
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