Hyundai is looking to reinforce its burgeoning reputation as a performance brand with its newest N model, its first sporting crossover which the firm says is “racetrack ready”.
The Kona N takes its place in Hyundai’s fast-growing sub-brand as a rival for junior SUV hotshots like the Ford Puma ST. N-developed technologies from other N models aim to transform its front-wheel drive chassis and 2.0-litre four-pot engine into a high-riding but hard-charging sportster, with tough looks to match.
The Kona N’s petrol motor delivers 280PS (209kW) but for short periods that can be boosted to 290PS (216kW) – it is enough with the standard launch control to get you from 0-62mph in a grin-inducing 5.5 seconds. The name of this max performance mode? N Grin Shift…
“Kona N breaks the rule that SUVs are less fun to drive,” Hyundai’s head R&D man Albert Biermann tells us.
As the N name implies (originally the N stood for Nurburgring) and the brand’s success in rallying and endurance racing has shown, there is motorsport inspiration at work here. Its eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission has been recalibrated and beefed up and offers three modes which Hyundai says allows the car to give its sporting best on road or track.
The transmission modes range from that N Grin power boost to a setting for faster shifting and exhaust pops, along with a dedicated mode for circuit driving. You toggle between modes with a customisable video game-style N button.
The Kona N also gets also an electronic limited slip diff – ambitiously dubbed the Corner Carving Differential – 19-inch forged alloys shod with 235/40R19 Pirelli P-Zero tyres and bigger brakes with better cooling. The ESC can be turned off to make it a “rascal” in the corners. It probably sounds better in Korean…
The mechanical upgrade is complemented by the expected sporting makeover: body kit with bigger air intake, front lip spoiler, double-wing roof spoiler and side skirts, exclusive trim and colours and, inside, well bolstered seats and sporty details like metal pedals.
It all gives a purposeful air to what is already quite a muscular looking little crossover, and it looks pretty cool in its new and exclusive Sonic Blue paint with red body accents. The sportification comes with no compromises to the Kona’s five-door crossover practicality or suite of driver assistance features, says the firm.
Has the Puma ST met its match? That’ll be an interesting little battle and increasingly relevant too as buyers decide that while they want SUV and sporty they don’t need something as big as a house.
The first N model came out in 2013 and since then cars like the 130N, 120N and Veloster N have amply demonstrated that Hyundai knows what makes a rewarding driver’s car, something Hyundai now wants to reflect with its new brand slogan. Nope, it’s not “Corner like a rascal” but the rather more prosaic “Never just drive”.
There are no specific UK details yet – tip is a price just over £30k – but when it does arrive here it will become part of an N and N-Line range of models that Hyundai says will be 18-strong by 2022. And, yes, they are working on sporty Hyundais with battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains.
As long as all N cars continue to be honed around the Nurburgring that’s fine by us…