MAKE no mistake, the 2022 Hyundai Kona N Premium is a serious N car. Despite a borrowed powertrain from the i30 N hot hatch, the Kona N is distinct enough as a compact SUV and deserving of the N badge for reasons of its own.
It’s impossible not the be impressed by modern Hyundai. Confidently they venture into all segments of the automotive market, from EV’s to maniacal performance cars, consistently producing standout vehicles as the heavyweights watch on.
Getting the N treatment was inevitable for the Kona, and by doing so, Hyundai also gets to swoop on an unexploited segment.
The Kona N sniffs out a little opening where the Europeans and Japanese haven’t fully capitalised – the space for a moderately-priced, utterly mad, performance focussed crossover SUV.
Meanwhile cars like the Audi SQ2 and BMW X2 M35i peer over the fence, refused entry due their price tags and, as it were, unwillingness to live a little. The Kona N immediately presents as a car doing just that – living.
Beyond the flamboyant Performance Blue paintwork, nothing distracts from the audacious N-style exterior reconfiguration of the Kona model.
Loud but functional body kit additions like the roof spoiler, rear diffuser, and front brake-cooling air vents are clear indication that speed and handling are paramount.
Other tweaks like the colour coded guards, blacked out front badge, side skirts and front lip further separate the N car from the base Kona, giving the car a more meaningful stance and balancing some of the harsher aspects of the styling.
The only external difference for the Premium spec is the sunroof. The 19-inch alloys – a perfect match for the car – sit on Pirelli P Zero tyres.
Accommodated by the wheels are big red N callipers which, along with the massive dual exhaust tips, suggest the N can justify the lively looks. Though a bigger justification is the turbocharged heart.
Getting the same 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine from the i30 N means the Kona N also benefits from the stronger block and bigger turbo for 2022 models. A solid 206kW and 392Nm is produced as standard.
With Hyundai’s N-Grin Shift feature, for 20 seconds you can do your worst with over boost and a bonus 7kW. To the dismay of many, power is sent to the front wheels only, and an 8-speed dual clutch automatic is the only transmission option.
As we found, FWD disappointment is dismissed by the performance of the electronic limited slip differential (and the price tag). Lamenting the manual gearbox also fades once you experience the speed of the DCT changes.
A real impediment to performance is the height of the Kona N, or so you might think. In fact it’s not. Standing 118mm higher than the i30, Hyundai have gone to some lengths to reinforce the chassis, countering that inherent SUV instability.
They’ve done this without weighing it down too much – the Kona N is still 31kg lighter the i30 N hatch, although it has a shorter wheelbase and shorter body.
Driving the N is characterised by two dichotomies. It’s unusual in the way it feels so hot-hatch at one time, until you roll up beside a hot hatch, where it becomes undeniably SUV-like. It’s also obedient and controlled, but nutty and hyperactive.
Even at considerable speed there is an ever-present feeling that wherever you want the car to go, it will. Particularly in N mode with heavier steering, the nose points with excellent accuracy.
It’s excitable but planted – lightly flicked into a corner but burly, grippy and determined when you’re hard on it through the apex. The ride is sometimes ripply over surface dimples but always feels stuck to the road, and for the most part, the car rides comfortably.
Adaptive dampers and Australian suspension tuning have paid off, and you can tailor your suspension, throttle response and steering using custom modes in the N screen too.
Hyundai’s electronic LSD does a beautiful job of keeping the power productive even in the poorest conditions. Most of our road test was done in torrential rain, and we were impressed by the N’s continued tight cornering traction and minimal torque steer.
Launches are forever entertaining and perilously habit-forming. Everything you want in a good launch happens – wheel spin (right up to third in the wet), a beautiful, sharp pull, a bit of a dance, and a fantastic piercing note from the turbocharged four.
Using launch control, Hyundai’s best claimed 0-100km/h time is 5.5 seconds. But it’s not just from a standing start that things are fun. Equally entertaining are rolling launches, especially after caving to the red shimmer of the N Grin button on the steering wheel.
It’s quite ridiculous how quick this thing goes, and worth knowing you’re well clear up ahead. Hyundai also claims 80-120km/h is done in 3.5s, with a top speed of 240km/h. Thankfully the brakes are sublime and make for reliable stopping from a high speed.
Changes when paddle shifting are near instantaneous and each one coincides with a little tug at the navel as the car gulps up more and more road. With an 8-speed you feel you could go on this way forever, like a dog that doesn’t think to stop running.
The DCT also accepts your decision to select unnecessarily low gears. Putting that strain on the engine and transmission is met with a polite readiness by the car, and you’re usually further rewarded with crackling and backfiring from those rock melon-sized exhaust tips.
Behind the wheel you tend to take little notice of your interior surroundings in the Kona N. It’s not just that moving your right foot and hands provides all the stimulation you need, it’s that there’s not a lot going on in the cabin. Though not without reason.
It’s a low-risk approach, but it’s tasteful. The clean style is consistent with a useable, everyday SUV. However, ultimately the space is set up in the interests of enjoying the N’s performance prowess.
Everything is black, matte and keeps a very low profile. The 10.25-inch digital cluster and equal sized infotainment display are lucid but with intelligent colour schemes. The front seats are beautifully cushioned, but the support of a good bucket seat is most noticeable.
Less noise, more driver focus is the order of the day. The Premium spec we’re driving is a bit more jazzed up with suede and leather, heated and ventilated power seats, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, and a head-up display.
An electro chromatic mirror and front parking distance warning also feature. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat-nav and Harman Kardon sound system are all standard. Much of the information displayed by the dash is also race oriented, particularly on the N-screen.
Everything from a boost gauge, G-force and tyre-pressure monitor, to a lap-timer and track maps is available. The head up display serves as a well-positioned speedo and shift light. Worth noting that the Kona N Premium is meant to be a functional SUV too.
The rear seats are equally comfortable as the front. Leg room is only fair, but headroom is generous. The cabin then closes in, leaving a 374-litre boot. Outside, the roof-rails remain a fixture.
At $50,500 before on-roads, you’re as catered for in the Kona N Premium as you would be in any compact crossover SUV. You can thrash about like in a hot hatch, but it’s meatier than one and by no means a novelty.
It’s a stunning first edition of the accessible performance SUV. To find out more, visit the Hyundai Australia website. We recommend shopping around to get a good deal, or visit PriceMyCar to get the best price.
Our test vehicle was provided by Hyundai Australia. To find out more about the 2022 Hyundai Kona N Premium, contact your local Hyundai dealer.