What Car? says...
The Hyundai Kona N sports SUV is the South Korean manufacturer's latest weapon against its staid image – as snidely summed up by the Fast and Furious film line: “You think I’d let you roll in a Hyundai?”
So, what exactly is the Kona N? Well, it is to the standard Kona what the Ford Puma ST is to the regular Puma. It aims to balance the everyday usability and practicality of a small SUV with the driving enjoyment you’ll get from a sportier car.
In short, if you – or, indeed, your family – have outgrown hot hatchbacks but are not willing to give up on driving pleasure, it might be the car for you.
To help the Kona N accomplish its mission, Hyundai has fitted a 276bhp 2.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet, with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox handling all that power.
Straight-line speed isn’t everything, though, so the N has also been equipped with a firmer suspension set-up than the ordinary Hyundai Kona and an electronic limited-slip differential to make sure it goes round corners well.
The sports SUV category is a fairly new phenomenon, and Hyundai is pretty new to the sporty genre full stop. The question is, then, has it come out with a car that doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with rivals such as the Cupra Formentor and Ford Puma ST but can also beat them fair and square?
Over the next few pages, this review will compare the Hyundai Kona N with those rivals to see just how good it is. We'll tell you whether it's good to drive, plus everything you need to know about its performance, practicality, interior quality, what sort of running costs to expect and more.
Once you've decided which make and model of car is the right one for you, make sure you get it for the best price by using our free What Car? New Car Buying service. It'll save you having to do any tedious haggling and currently features lots of good Hyundai Kona deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Hyundai Kona N's 2.0-litre T-GDi turbocharged petrol engine generates 276bhp and plenty of shove. Hyundai says that takes it from 0-62mph in just 5.5sec, which is more than a second faster than the Ford Puma ST.
While the Kona N is not quite as responsive as the ST, with a moment of lag when you put your foot down while the turbocharger starts to spin up, it feels faster when it comes alive. By 3,000rpm, it's pushing you into your seat.
To help reduce lag, there’s also a big red ‘NGS’ (N Grin Shift) button on the steering wheel. Pressing it activates the overboost function and gives you an extra 10bhp for 20 seconds. It also makes the gear shifts a bit more brutal and makes the sound from the exhausts reminiscent of a machine gun.
It’s a nice party trick. The extra squirt of power and the quicker shifts are useful for overtaking but, to be honest, the engine still feels a touch too boosty, making it tricky to meter out the power smoothly.
That, plus the surprisingly aggressive limited-slip differential, means you often find yourself fighting against torque steering on heavily cambered roads. That’s when the driven wheels struggle for grip and pull you left and right under power.
Basically, you need to keep your wits about you and hang on tight, which for some will add to the thrill – and justify the sports SUV label. If it sounds mildly alarming, the calmer set-up of the Puma ST might suit you better. The pops and bangs from the Kona N exhausts in NGS mode add drama, but we reckon most drivers will be happy they're not a permanent soundtrack.
Now, back to the gearbox. Your only option is the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, so the Kona N misses out on some of the more mechanical interaction you’ll get from the Puma ST’s standard manual 'box. It's quick to switch through the gears, though, and in auto mode it does a reasonable job of keeping you in the powerband.
In the normal, most relaxed drive mode setting, the steering is direct, with a good amount of weight to it. The suspension is satisfyingly firm, leading to little body lean and plenty of grip through corners.
Switching to the more aggressive Sport or N mode adds increasing amounts of steering weight and firmer suspension, to the point that N is best left for a race track, and is certainly too much for around town. You can mix and match these settings with the N Custom mode if you wish.
Around town, it's not quite as pliant as the Puma ST, which does a better job of taking the edge off potholes and larger imperfections. The Kona N fails to settle down on the motorway, which makes long journeys a little tiring. Wind noise is minimal, but there’s a fair amount of road noise from the big, 19in wheels and tyres, which are tailor-made for the model by Pirelli.
You get an old-school manual handbrake in the Kona N and Hyundai says it’s there to "allow the adventurous to enjoy slides". Take from that what you will.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The driving position in the Hyundai Kona N is surprisingly low for an SUV, but that’s also true of the almost hatchback-like Cupra Formentor. That’s good for the sporty feel of the car, but if you want a higher-riding SUV, the more expensive Cupra Ateca is worth trying.
Seeing out of the front and side of the Kona N isn't too difficult because of its relatively thin pillars and tall windows. That's really helpful when you're pulling out of T-junctions and on to roundabouts.
As you look back over your shoulder, though, the Kona N’s broad rear pillars and small rear screen restrict a lot of your view. Happily, you get front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard to help you out.
The heated and ventilated front bucket seats are comfortable on long journeys and offer a good amount of side support for more spirited driving. They're covered in leather and suede, and the settings are electronically adjustable (including lumbar support).
Are there any negatives? Well, the front armrest is situated quite far back, so you can’t actually use it comfortably with both hands on the wheel.
Hyundai also gives you a splattering of N logos and an N sports steering wheel, making it feel much nicer – and sports SUV like – than the standard Kona. There are still quite a few hard plastics dotted around the interior, but everything feels very well screwed together.
Overall, the interior is a step up from the cheaper Ford Puma ST but not quite as plush as a similarly specced Formentor.
The Kona N's 10.3in touchscreen infotainment system is mounted high up on the dashboard, making it easy to see and reach. It’s responsive, the graphics are crisp and the menus are easy to navigate.
The system includes built-in sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring (so you can use your phone apps on the touchscreen). You also get wireless phone-charging and a head-up display.
For more information about the Kona’s driving position, see our full Hyundai Kona review.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s a reasonable amount of space in the front of the Hyundai Kona N, but not quite as much leg or head room as you'll find in some rivals, especially the larger Cupra Formentor and Volkswagen T-Roc R.
Storage space includes a couple of cupholders between the seats and a large hidden cubby below the front centre armrest. There’s also a tray behind the gear lever (where the wireless phone-charging pad is located) and door pockets that are big enough for a couple of small bottles of water.
It’s a different story in the back. Rear passengers will find themselves more cramped than they would in, say, the Ford Puma ST, let alone the bigger Formentor. That means people measuring in at six feet can expect to have their knees pressed against the back of the front seats, which won’t be comfortable on a long trip.
The Kona N’s boot is not that impressive, either. When we tested the standard Hyundai Kona we could only get four carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf. That’s fewer than you’ll get in the Puma ST, which can fit eight in total, including two underneath its boot floor, and the T-Roc R, which swallows six.
If you need to load larger items, you can increase the boot space by putting down one or both of the 60/40 split folding rear seats, which lay completely flat. The boot opening is quite wide in comparison to some rivals’, making it easier to get bigger items onboard.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The same pattern emerges if you're buying on PCP finance but the monthly payment will vary according to the various manufacturers’ deals. Remember to check the best prices on the What Car? New Car Deals pages.
Company car buyers will find that the Kona N sits in the highest benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bracket, which is the same as the Formentor and T-Roc R. The Puma ST incurs slightly lower BIK payments.
Hyundai came an impressive third out of 30 manufacturers in the 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey. That’s way above Seat (which owns the Cupra brand) in 17th place, Volkswagen in 20th and Ford way down in 27th. The Kona N comes with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.
The standard Hyundai Kona received a full five stars overall when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2017 (when the tests were less stringent), although there were issues noted with adult whiplash protection. Cars with a five-star rating that were tested later, such as the Formentor, could offer improved protection, but it’s hard to compare tests done in different years.