The Hyundai Kona N exists in a corner of the hot crossover world that no rivals have dared to tread...yet. More expensive than fellow front-drive crossover, the Ford Puma ST, and cheaper than all-wheel drive alternatives like the Volkswagen T-Roc R and Cupra Formentor, the £35,395 Kona N brings something new to the table. It’s more outwardly hardcore than any other crossover we’ve seen yet, borrowing much of its setup from the terrific i30 N hot hatch, and inheriting that car’s track day-friendly warranty.
You have to admire the Kona N’s honesty. Its exterior design does nothing but shout about this Hyundai’s hot crossover intentions, with flicks of red stretched over protruding body trim, bulging arches over 19-inch alloy wheels and a big, proud two-part rear wing. Most impressive of all, these additions suit the Kona base well – not least when the car is finished in Hyundai’s £565 optional Sonic Blue shade of paint, Like the one pictured here. We love it.
What’s it like to drive?
It depends on what drive mode you’re in. If you’re in Eco or Normal modes, when the Kona N’s engine, steering and suspension are in their most relaxed settings, the Kona N feels rather like a regular Kona. Sure, it rides more firmly and the steering reacts more enthusiastically. But with an eight-speed automatic gearbox doing the hard work and a perched driving position, you can steer the Kona N about town or on the motorway like any other variant. The morning commute or school run needn’t be of concern.
Click to Sport or – if you’re on track – the most hardcore N mode, and the Kona N’s suspension tenses up like a sprinter ready to burst out of the blocks, and the 280hp-producing engine and gearbox are primed with razor-sharp reactions. Even the exhaust suddenly barks a louder tune. It’s in this mode the Kona N’s underlying intentions are revealed, with excellent handling and strong straight-line power to entertain anyone who’s into driving. Despite only having two driven wheels, the Kona N – complete with its limited-slip differential, which helps prevent slip under power – puts the power down excellently. It can sprint from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds. Quick!
Click to Sport or the most hardcore N mode, and the Kona N’s suspension tenses up like a sprinter ready to burst out of the blocks.
Like the exterior, the Kona N’s interior mixes some N model flashes onto a base shared with less sporting variants. You get a racy steering wheel with two N mode buttons, automatic gearbox paddles and even a power boost button, as well as bolstered seats with N emblems and bespoke graphics for the digital screens. Click the N button, and the instrument cluster screen behind the wheel turns appropriately red. Press the N button on the 10.25-inch central infotainment display and you’re presented with live data to do with the car’s performance. Exciting.
Behind those sporting details remains a Kona interior that’s well put together and tough, with a long list of standard features including heated and electronically-adjustable seats, a heated wheel and climate control, as well as vitals like Apple Carplay and Android Auto. You can even get heated rear seats, so the comfort extends to the back row, where there’s decent leg and headroom, and a centre seat that hides an armrest and two cup holders. The standard Kona’s interior is great – and the Kona N builds on that.
Behind sporting details remains a Kona interior that’s well put together and tough.
Despite gaining several N-specific features inside and out, the Kona N doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of usability and practicality. Sure, the slightly firmer ride will make the job of delivering eggs safely more difficult but for those with active lifestyles, small families or demanding weekly shopping trips (still, watch the eggs), the Kona N is practically no different to a standard Kona. You get the same room front and back, and the same boot space (enough for a small family’s suitcases. Leave the car in Normal mode, and you’re essentially just driving a lairy-looking Kona.
As the top Kona model, the N also gets a whole host of driving assistance technology, including adaptive cruise control and steering assist, to take the effort out of long-distance motorway journeys. That’ll count for a lot if you’re the sort to pack up the car and head off on a getaway on the other side of the country. Or, indeed, if you’re a commuter who regularly has to venture onto busy M roads.
Reliability and running costs
While it’s impossible to measure long-term running costs and reliability in a brand-new car like this, Hyundai’s Kona N does exit the starting gates with much promise. The brand applies its five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty to the model, with the guarantee extended to cover track day drivers, as well. Not only is that a unique selling point for the Kona N, it’s also one very strong signal to the engineering confidence Hyundai has in its hot crossover model. It doesn’t see track action as anything that should void the promise.
Our test also gave us no reason to doubt the 33 miles per gallon of combined economy claimed to be possible in the Kona N. We saw over that number during a mixed run on the motorway and through some urban streets. While this isn’t the most frugal model of the class – that was inevitable given the performance it offers – at least the Kona lives up to the promises on paper.
Our test gave us no reason to doubt the 33 miles per gallon of combined economy claimed to be possible in the Kona N.
What we love
The honesty of the Kona N is hard to ignore. It unashamedly sets out to provide crossover buyers with something fully fun-oriented, but not to the detriment of its wider skillset. With its i30 N, i20 N and now Kona N, Hyundai has established itself as a maker of great driver’s cars, and now, with this new crossover, more people can access the fun. Happy days.
With its i30 N, i20 N and now Kona N, Hyundai has established itself as a maker of great driver’s cars.
Still looking for the one?
Use our comparison tool to find the car for you
While such a performance-honed crossover will only appeal to a niche corner of the automotive market, there’s no question that the Kona N has nailed (or cinched) its brief. Offering hot hatch performance in a taller crossover body, with genuine track capabilities to support its daily usability, the Kona N is a triumph of Hyundai’s N division engineering. The fun factor is going to be hard to beat – even if you compare the car with much pricier alternatives.
This review was