The Korean brand’s first performance SUV has arrived with up to 286bhp, launch control and a 0–62mph time of 5.5 seconds


The new Hyundai Kona N is available to order in the UK now, priced from £35,395. At that price, it undercuts the Volkswagen T-Roc R by more than £6,000 and the Audi SQ2 by almost £5,000, both of which are also vying for attention in the performance crossover class.

Hyundai’s tuned Kona N is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which produces 276bhp and 392Nm of torque. That’s enough for a 0–62mph time of 5.5 seconds (with launch control engaged) and a top speed of 149mph.

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Unlike its rivals from the Volkswagen Group, the Kona is front-wheel drive only. However, the Hyundai does have a rather clever eight-speed automatic gearbox with three settings, each of which are designed to screw the maximum possible performance out of the engine.

The first setting, called “N Grin Shift,” is basically a push-to-pass function. It boosts the engine’s output to 286bhp for 20 seconds and shifts down to provide the best acceleration. Once used, though, the driver has to wait 40 seconds before it can be activated again.

“N Power Shift” automatically engages when the driver uses more than 90 percent throttle and sharpens up the gear changes to keep power flowing to the wheels. Finally, “N Track Sense Shift” supposedly optimises gear changes for track driving. Hyundai says the system makes decisions on gear changes based on “motorsport data and the driver’s behaviour.”

In an effort to compensate for the lack of four-wheel drive, Hyundai has fitted a sophisticated traction control system which it says can handle a variety of terrains, including snow and mud. Like the i20 N and i30 N hot hatchbacks, the Kona N also features an electronically controlled limited-slip differential (dubbed the “Corner Carving Differential”) to boost traction.

To support the upgraded drivetrain, Hyundai has overhauled the Kona’s chassis, fitting bigger brakes, lower suspension, adaptive dampers, a broader track width and wider 19-inch forged alloy wheels. The body has also been strengthened with more welding points and extra bracing to reduce flex in the corners.

Styling tweaks include a lower splitter, deeper side skirts and an updated front bumper with larger intakes, along with a host of red trim accents. At the rear, there’s a new diffuser that houses a twin-exit exhaust system, and a double layer spoiler teamed with the company’s trademark high-level triangular brake light.

The paint is new, too. While it might look familiar, the Sonic Blue hue is subtly different to Performance Blue, which is the colour most associated with Hyundai’s hot N products. It’s exclusive to the Kona N for the time being, although the firm has said it “previews a possible SUV line-up expansion,” meaning more hot Hyundai SUVs could be on the way. 

Hyundai has already said it will increase its portfolio of N and N Line models to 18 by the end of the year – and a performance focussed Tucson N could easily become part of that plan.

The makeover continues inside, with alloy pedals and some blue accents for the sports seats, gear lever and steering wheel. There’s also a new 10.25-inch infotainment system and a digital gauge cluster, along with a head-up display which Hyundai says “adds a game-like dimension to the driving experience” in the car’s N or Sport driving modes.

Other standard equipment includes keyless go, parking sensors, a reversing camera, privacy glass and electrically adjustable door mirrors. There’s a host of standard safety equipment, too, which includes lane keeping assist, smart cruise control and blind-spot collision avoidance assist.

Inside, there’s climate control, a wireless smartphone charger, a premium Krell eight-speaker stereo system and some USB ports for front and rear-seat passengers. Buyers also get ambient lighting and a pair of electrically adjustable, heated and ventilated front seats.

Hyundai’s future N strategy

Hyundai has already revealed that an expansion of the N SUV line-up is a possibility, but the Korean firm has also given a further hint to future N models by outlining its strategy for “sustainable driving fun.”

The brand’s RM20e prototype was shown at the 2020 Beijing Motor Show. The RM platform is a rolling test bed for electrified powertrains and possibly even hydrogen fuel cells, and  Hyundai says it “envisioned how e-performance can become more eco-friendly with the hydrogen-powered N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo fuel cell concept.”

The firm’s E-GMP electric car architecture that underpins the Ioniq 5 offers plenty of flexibility and strong performance potential. The same platform underpins sister brand Kia’s EV6, which was recently revealed in sporty GT form, so it’s possible that an N-branded EV could appear in the future using this tech.

Executive Vice President and Head of Customer Experience Division at Hyundai Motor Company, Thomas Schemera, said: “The future will be electric, maybe even hydrogen-powered, or even a combination of both, but N brand will always be focused on delivering driving fun – no matter what technology is under the hood.”

Click here for our first drive of Hyundai's new i20 N

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