Forget everything you think you know about the Hyundai Kona. Done? Good deal. The reason for this exercise is because the gear-heads at Hyundai’s N development team have thrown out the rulebook for this hot-rod compact SUV. In fact, this vehicle borders on the verge of being a tad ridiculous. I’ll explain.
One of the many things I love about the Kona N is how it demonstrates Hyundai aggressively going after the enthusiast drivers in many market segments, first the hot-hatch market with its Veloster, then sedan buyers with the Elantra and Sedona N models and now the soccer moms who prefer compact SUVs. Okay. so there likely won’t be many soccer moms scooting around town in the Kona N but it’s easily the most fun you can buy in any compact SUV as of right now.
The beastly 4-cylinder engine under its hood is what helps make the magic happen. Slapped with a turbo-charger, it churns out a potent 276 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 289 lb-ft of torque at only 2,100rpm. This means you have a gush of torque readily available at a low rpm. That translates into many exclamations coming from the driver’s mouth, the likes of which we’ll keep on the down low since this is a family publication. You can go from 0-60 miles per hour in a brisk 4.8 seconds.
Its performance isn’t merely tied to its straight-line athletics. There is also an active exhaust system that really comes alive in N-mode – plenty of glorious cracks and pops with an enticing growl. You’ll also get N-Sport seats, an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that slams through the gears faster than the Road Runner could exclaim “beep beep”. Hyundai also includes summer performance tires that have exceptional grip on dry pavement and do fairly decent in the rain, but you’ll want a good set of winter tires as well. We’d love to see Hyundai offer a manual transmission, one day, as well as an all-wheel-drive model.
Even though it offers a great deal of fun performance, it still earns an EPA rating of 20 miles per gallon around town and up to 27 mpg on the highway.
Starting with the outside, it’s hard to ignore its short wheelbase. In fact, it’s only 102.4-inches, making it shorter than a Veloster. It has an athletic front grill, marked with lots of blacked out Hyundai logo, a chromed “N” moniker and headlamps that resemble shark eyes. Moving around to the back, the large dual exhaust pipes help others know that this hot compact is all about performance.
While there’s not a lot new over last year’s model, there is the revision of the car being able to do over-the-air updates for its mapping / navigation system. There are still only three colors to choose, racing red, ultra black or lunar white.
On the road, this car handles like it’s on rails. The stuff suspension is rather unforgiving as a daily driver as there is no comfort drive-mode – this car could use one. Very few cars these days feel as if they’re begging you to take that next sharp corner at double the posted speed limit, the Kona N does that. It nearly feels that no matter how briskly you wrap it around hard corning, the more it scoffs at you, as if it’s saying: “is that all you got?”. You’ll find it takes corners very flat with almost no body roll whatsoever. Honestly, its biggest limitation is going to be whatever tires you slap on.
Inside, you’ll find a comfortable cabin area with all the latest bells and whistles you find in most modern vehicles. Technology like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, pedestrian alert, rear cross-traffic alert and all the nanny systems are here. There’s also a large 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen that feeds a decent-sounding Harman/Kardon audio system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also present.
One very slick feature for gear-heads, is the vehicle’s ability to show racetrack data which will, among other things, monitor their lap times.
Surface materials don’t look or feel very upscale, however, given the Kona N’s intended demographic, I’m unsure it’ll be a deal breaker. Both front seats are multi-adjustable and rather comfortable, even on longer road trips. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to put two adults in the back and have it be a very good space to be for anything more than simply around-town jaunts.
Hyundai offers a limited 60,000 mile warranty on the entire vehicle and a 10-year / 100,000 mile warranty on its powertrain. Additionally, there is 3-years or 36,000 miles of free vehicle maintenance.