Motor (Australia)

HYUNDAI KONA N

Has the Korean giant’s performanc­e arm delivered another gem?

- BY • ANGUS MACKENZIE

ENGINE 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo

POWER 206kW @ 6000rpm

TORQUE 392Nm @ 1450-4700rpm

0-100KM/H 5.5sec (claimed)

WEIGHT 1510kg • PRICE $47,500

THOUGH MANY OF us never venture much further off-road than the Woolies carpark, we’re obsessed with SUVs. Then there are those who want these bulky, high-riding load luggers to also perform and handle like sports cars. To please them, engineers at Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Land Rover and Jaguar, among others, have spent countless hours on this Mission Impossible. The Kona N is Hyundai’s attempt at rewriting the laws of physics, its first performanc­e SUV.

The Kona N will be available in two trim levels with entry starting at $47,500, while the Kona N Premium is $50,500. It marries Hyundai’s popular small SUV with go-fast hardware from the i30 N, including the new 206kW and 392Nm iteration of the 2.0-litre turbocharg­ed four and the N-spec version of the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmissi­on.

The suspension features heavy-duty components such as redesigned steering knuckles, plus new springs and electronic­ally controlled shocks. The front-wheel drive Kona N also gets the N-spec electronic­ally controlled limited slip differenti­al, a revised power steering system with an e-motor mounted on the rack rather than the steering column to improve response and sensitivit­y, 19-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero 235/40 tyres and bigger brakes (360mm vented front, 314mm vented rear).

Outside, the front splitter has been extended 10mm and exhaust outlets the size of bazookas now frame the faux diffuser. Other visual cues include a large, doublewing roof spoiler extending from the roof and splashes of red on the lower edges of the bodywork and on the brake calipers. Inside are the N-spec steering wheel, shifter and heavily bolstered seats.

Alexander Eichler, a former Bosch engineer now working at the Hyundai-Kia tech centre in Rüsselshei­m to hone the dynamics of all the company’s cars and SUVs, sums up the Kona N’s mission: “The target was to make it drive like the i30 N.” Job done, at least in a straight line. By Hyundai’s own numbers the Kona N is only a tenth slower than the i30 N to 100km/h, taking 5.5 seconds with launch control, and 6.4sec without.

But Eichler readily concedes you can’t argue with Isaac Newton in the twisty bits. Boasting the same 173mm ground clearance as the regular Kona, the Kona N is 120mm taller than the i30 N. It also weighs about 30kg more “The biggest challenge with the Kona N was its higher centre of gravity and higher seating position,” he says, “so we had to make it quite stiff to be as sporty as the i30 N.”

With the dampers set in anything other than Normal mode the Kona N’s ride is brutal, heaves and humps instantly transforme­d into violent vertical body motions that can unsettle both car and driver.

Eichler admits Hyundai’s own hotshoes put the suspension in Sport mode rather than full commando N mode to nail a quick lap at the Nürburgrin­g. “Generally, the philosophy of the N mode is to be optimised for a really flat race track,” he says. “We do not expect our vehicle to perform well in N mode on public roads.”

Leaving aside any discussion as to why anyone would want to take an SUV to a race track in the first place, we’ll give Eichler points for honesty. But, as we found on back roads, the Kona N is not as onedimensi­onal as you might think.

Despite 39Nm more torque and a flatter torque curve – all 392Nm is available from 2100rpm through to 4700rpm – the Kona N’s engine still feels a little dozy below 2500rpm. It’ll mooch around happily enough

at low revs in Normal mode with the dual-clutch tranny shifting itself, but if you’re having a lash, using the paddles to shift manually, it’s happiest kept spinning between 3000rpm and 6000rpm. It’s not a high-revving powerplant – everything’s pretty much done and dusted by 6200rpm – but it doesn’t need to be.

The new eight-speed dualclutch transmissi­on is quick and smooth and allows you to make the most of that broad swathe of mid-range grunt. Designed and built in-house by Hyundai, the DCT is a wet-clutch design. With the powertrain switched to N mode the sophistica­ted control software allows for near seamless upshifts when it detects more than 90 per cent throttle being used.

The transmissi­on’s neatest trick, though, is what Hyundai calls Track Sense Shift. In N mode the Kona N can sense when it is being driven on a track and activates an adaptive shift protocol designed to automatica­lly deliver both upshifts and downshifts at precisely the right moment. We’ll wait until we get the car on a circuit we know before making a definitive call, but on the poky little test track Hyundai included in the drive program it felt as brilliantl­y intuitive as Porsche’s PDK in Sport Plus, shuffling the ratios quicker, more authoritat­ively than could be managed by fanning the paddles on the steering wheel.

As with other N models, the Kona N comes standard with not only launch control, but also rev matching and the ability to completely switch off the stability

control nannies. N Grin Shift is a cartoonish moniker for a button on the steering wheel that switches the engine and transmissi­on to their highest response modes for 20 seconds, no matter what mode you’re driving in.

To get the best out of the Kona N on a good driving road, you’ll want to make sure you’ve preset the Custom tab in the N settings menu to allow the powertrain to stay maximum attack mode while having the suspension and steering in their softer Normal settings. Configured this way, the Kona N does drive like an i30 N. On stilts.

Even with the suspension in its softest setting, the ride is still very firm, but the more compliant damping allows the chassis to breathe over lumps and bumps, keeping the tyres in contact with the tarmac. You’ll notice a slight latency on changes of direction compared with the i30 N, not the least because your bum and inner ear are further away from the tarmac. But once it’s worked through the transients the Kona N grips with the same tenacity as its low-slung sibling.

As in the i30 N, the front end is astonishin­gly consistent, especially under load. That trick e-diff means you can get on the power almost as soon as you’ve rotated the Kona N towards the apex and stay on the power all the way through the corner. You’ll notice some torque steer under full power in N mode, especially on uneven roads, as the e-diff vectors optimum torque to each front wheel, but the traction is deeply impressive. The front end will go exactly where you point it, the rear axle tracking it faithfully all the way.

The laws of physics are immutable, however: No SUV can ever accelerate, stop, or steer as well as a lighter and lower car fitted with the same performanc­e hardware. If you need a small SUV and want something that is genuinely quick and entertaini­ng to drive, though, the Kona N is not only less compromise­d and more accomplish­ed than you might expect but also good value.

THE KONA N IS LESS COMPROMISE­D AND MORE ACCOMPLISH­ED THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT

 ??  ?? BELOW Hyundai’s fiveyear/unlimited kilometre warranty also covers noncompeti­tive track driving. We’re keen to utilise this soon!
BELOW Hyundai’s fiveyear/unlimited kilometre warranty also covers noncompeti­tive track driving. We’re keen to utilise this soon!
 ??  ?? RIGHT Stands for N Grin Shift. Odd name, but it does offer 20-second stints with the full fat 213kW... now you’re interested
RIGHT Stands for N Grin Shift. Odd name, but it does offer 20-second stints with the full fat 213kW... now you’re interested
 ??  ?? RIGHT Lightweigh­t, forged 19-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero tyres specifical­ly made for Hyundai
RIGHT Lightweigh­t, forged 19-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero tyres specifical­ly made for Hyundai
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? ABOVE Apart from heavily bolstered bucket seats and a chunky steering wheel with N-focused controls, not a lot changes inside the Kona N
ABOVE Apart from heavily bolstered bucket seats and a chunky steering wheel with N-focused controls, not a lot changes inside the Kona N
 ??  ?? TOP LEFT The eight-speed wet-clutch DCT pumps oil on to the clutches to keep them cool, allowing them to handle more torque
ABOVE
N exterior treatment builds on the Kona’s good looks, just don’t expect to go off-road in it
TOP LEFT The eight-speed wet-clutch DCT pumps oil on to the clutches to keep them cool, allowing them to handle more torque ABOVE N exterior treatment builds on the Kona’s good looks, just don’t expect to go off-road in it

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