Hyundai’s new Kona N is aiming to put performance crossover SUVs on the map in a big way

Lionel Kong

The South-Korean crossover SUV gets a full performance-spec tune and a 2.0-litre, 280 horspower engine

Seoul, South Korea

Hyundai’s Kona crossover SUV has just become the brand’s fifth N badged model in its worldwide range, after the i20, i30, i30 Fastback, and Veloster N models. 

A turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 280 horsepower is where the 4,215mm-long  Kona N draws its power from. That number was once the absolute power cap for Japanese performance cars, but in the face of 600+ horsepower wagons these days it doesn’t seem like much. 

The front-wheel drive Kona N will feature an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that’s dubbed the N DCT, which Hyundai has claimed to be tuned to deliver a faster upshift than before. It has three shifting modes that come with whimsical names attached: N Power Shift, N Grin Shift, and N Track Sense Shift. 

Apparently N Power Shift is the default mode, and whenever the accelerator passes 90 percent of travel you can expect an exhaust backfire accompanying every shift to the next higher gear. 

Like a video game’s special power mode, the N Grin Shift mode gives the car a 20-second burst of maximum power and automatically downshifts to the most appropriate gear to access it. Like a video game mode too, there is a 40-second cool down period after every blast that you have to wait out before you can access it again. Hyundai claims that it’s useful for overtaking on highways.

The quickest, most aggressive N Track Sense Shift is self-explanatory, and also means that Hyundai expects you to actually take this car to a proper closed racing circuit on a track day.

Still, it has a good chance of making the Hyundai Kona N reasonably affordable if it ever arrives in Singapore, of which it is still too early for local dealer Komoco Motors to decide on. Considering that the electric version of the Kona starts from around S$140k at the moment, the Kona N will likely be above this level should it eventually arrive.

Weighing in at 1,510kg, the car can launch from a standstill to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds. The chassis has been reinforced over the standard Kona, plus it gets stronger brakes, a properly tuned aerodynamic bodykit, and an electronic limited-slip differential that Hyundai calls the N Corner Carving Differential.

In theory this will allow the car to accelerate out of corners earlier for quicker lap times. The Kona N will have launch control and variable exhaust valves fitted as standard across all markets where it will be available.

Hyundai says that it is in the process of  expanding the N sub-brand, and will bring serious performance and sports-inspired models into each major vehicle segment, expecting its N and N-Line range to hit 18 models by the end of 2022. There is a strong possibility of a series of N cars based on the E-GMP electric vehicle architecture as well. 

But what’s up with the ‘N’ badge? Is it just because it’s the letter after BMW’s ‘M’? Hyundai claims that the ‘N’ in Hyundai N stands for Namyang, home to Hyundai Motor’s global R&D Centre in Korea since 1995, where the idea was born, and for the Nürburgring, home to Hyundai Motor’s European Test Centre. 

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But there is actually a real a BMW connection in there. The man at the head of Hyundai N is Albert Biermann, who came onboard in 2015. Before this, he headed BMW’s M Division, producing cars like the famed E46 M3. The ‘N’ may still be a new thing, but the man at the head of it all has been around the block plenty of times to know what makes a good performance car.


crossover SUV hyundai kona Kona N

About the Author

Lionel Kong

An old hand from the bad old days of crazy COEs, the straight-shooting, ex-CarBuyer editor is back in the four-wheeled world. Rumours that he went to another country to start a Judas Priest tribute band are unfounded.

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