What is it?
Hyundai’s updated small SUV has been warmed up. It’s not a full-blown hot hatch on stilts (that comes later) but it has a turbocharged engine and a sporty look inside and out.
It’s part of a busy 2021 for Hyundai’s burgeoning N Performance sub-brand, with the updated i30 N and all-new, i20 N pocket rocket coming soon. And then, before the end of the year, the Kona N will arrive to expand the performance division even further.
In the meantime, there’s the N Line version, which fits between the standard Hyundai range and the red-hot, track ready versions.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Hyundai had very little motorsport, or even high performance, reputation at the start of the decade. The Scoupe and Tiburon were failed attempts at adding some sizzle to an otherwise sensible range, so the brand got serious in 2013. It announced plans to enter the World Rally Championship and hired the boss of BMW’s M Division to head the new road car program.
In 2017 the i30 N launched and the company entered TCR competition with the hot hatch. Now it’s expanding the N brand by offering a wide range of ‘N Line’ models including the Kona, i30, Tucson and Sonata.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Kona N Line is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 146kW and 265Nm. It’s the same engine that will power the pint-sized i20 N, albeit in a slightly less-potent tune, so it has some sporty credentials.
It doesn’t mean the Kona N Line is an especially fast car (Hyundai doesn’t even offer a 0-100km/h time in its specifications) but it does feel quick and energetic on the road. It feels good off the mark, but will run out of steam if you keep your foot buried; if you want true hot hatch performance you’ll need to wait for the Kona N with its 2.0-litre turbo.
The engine is helped by its transmission, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that provides sharp, sporty shifts. It can extract the best from the engine, particularly when you want to indulge in some spirited driving.
How does it handle?
It’s not just the turbocharged engine that elevates the N Line above the rest of the Kona range. It also gets an all-wheel drive system and more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up to ensure it also handles better than the mainstream model.
It helps it feel more controlled on the road, with steady, predictable handling, but also leaves room for the Kona N to offer more thrills and engagement when it arrives. The N Line isn’t built for the track (like Hyundai claims N models are), instead it’s all about having some fun on the road when the conditions suit.
Where would you most like to drive it?
The test route we tackled in the new Kona included a long stage of gravel road – and even in the standard Kona (with its 2.0-litre engine and front-wheel drive chassis) it was a blast. It would be great to throw the N Line around some well-maintained gravel roads (it may be an SUV but it’s not really built for off-roading) and see if any of Hyundai’s WRC experience has rubbed off on it.
What’s the interior like?
To separate the N Line from the rest of the Kona range, Hyundai has fitted some red trim to five it a sportier theme. There’s red stitching on the seats and steering wheel, as well as trim on the gear selector and air vents, it’s a subtle but nice touch.
More impressive though is the technology and infotainment, with the Kona N Line fitted with a 10.2-inch digital instrument panel and an infotainment touchscreen the same size. There’s also a wireless smartphone charging pad and Hyundai’s latest infotainment system so it feels modern and stylish.
Is it good value for money?
Hyundai offers two variants of the Kona N Line, the standard model for $36,300 and the N Line Premium priced from $42,400 (both prices exclude on-road costs). That puts it not only at top of the Kona range but also crosses over the i30 N, which starts at $41,400.
It also has to compete against a growing number of similar ‘warmed up’ small SUVs, like the impressive Volkswagen T-Roc 140TSI (from $40,990) and the excellent Skoda Karoq 140TSI (from $41,290).
Would I buy one?
While the Kona N Line will suit someone looking for practical transport with some sporty flair, personally I’d rather wait and see what the Kona N offers as a hot hatch rival.
While I appreciate the entire market is shifting to SUVs and away from passenger cars, I prefer a proper hot hatch rather than these high-riding offerings. And given the i30 N is less than the N Line Premium, and a faster and more enjoyable car, that’s where I’d rather spend my dough.
2021 Hyundai Kona N Line price and specifications
|From $36,300 plus on-road costs
|1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
|146kW at 6000rpm
|265Nm at 1500-4500rpm
|Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive