Hyundai has worked hard to develop its N performance brand. Countless hours have been spent pounding the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, aided by top engineers poached from companies such as BMW.
The Kona compact SUV is the latest Hyundai to get attention from the N division. And while the concept of a track-honed SUV may sound like an oxymoron, Hyundai has pulled no punches.
For a start, the exterior is a riot of angles and aerodynamic add-ons. A gaping front grille, huge rear spoiler and flared wheelarches are anything but subtle. It will certainly get attention on the high street.
A high-up hot hatch
The interior is a little more restrained, the main highlights being figure-hugging front seats, a digital dashboard and a sports steering wheel. Hyundai has also crammed plenty of technology into the Kona N, including heated seats and a 10.25-inch multimedia screen.
Drivers will notice the paddles for the dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This is the only transmission available for the Kona N, but it is razor-sharp and enhances the driving experience.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, lifted straight from Hyundai’s acclaimed i30 N hot hatch. It feels properly potent in the Kona N, delivering 276hp to the front wheels. Press the bright red ‘NGS’ button on the steering wheel and an extra 10hp of boost is unlocked for 20 seconds.
Grin and bear it
In case you were wondering, that acronym stands for ‘N Grin Shift’. Its name tells you everything you need to know about driving the Kona N. As do the flames that appear on the digital display when you engage Sport mode…
There are virtually unlimited combinations of settings for the suspension, steering, engine, gearbox and exhaust. Thankfully, these can be saved to a custom profile once your personal perfect setup is found.
Launch Control is fitted to extract the best 0-62mph time, with an electronically controlled differential working to transfer all the power to the road. The eight-speed gearbox shifts almost instantaneously in its most aggressive setting, making for a near-constant surge of acceleration. Backing off results in a flurry of pops and crackles from the exhaust, and is likely to elicit more grins from the driver.
Come on join the joyride
Do not let its lofty stance fool you into thinking the Kona N is all about straight-line performance, though. Standard Pirelli P Zero tyres offer plentiful grip, while the steering is quick and precise.
The penalty for such agility is ride quality. Even with its suspension in Comfort mode, the Kona N can feel unyielding. The stiffest Sport+ setting is almost unusable on British tarmac, and best reserved for a track-day.
However, setting everything else to Comfort means the Kona N can be driven like a regular family SUV. Albeit one that transforms every commute into a joyride.
Making the case
When it comes to rivals, the Kona N sits in something of a dead zone. It is quicker than a Ford Puma ST, and cheaper than the four-wheel-drive Audi SQ2. Arguably its biggest challenge comes from the Hyundai i30N hatchback, which costs less, comes with a manual gearbox as standard, and has a marginally bigger boot. On paper, it makes for the more logical choice.
Yet there is something strangely appealing about all the Kona N’s performance in a compact SUV body. Its styling is almost cartoon-like, while the higher driving position increases the sensation of speed.
Aside from the stiff ride, this Hyundai delivers all the things a family could possibly want from a compact SUV – along with a hefty dose of well-engineered speed and agility. The Kona N is not simply fun for an SUV. It is hilariously grin-inducing as a performance car full-stop.
John Redfern writes for Motoring Research
PRICE: From £35,395
TOP SPEED: 149mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 33.2mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 194g/km