26 September 2023

A Small Suv With Attitude

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By Paul Gover.

The Hyundai Kona N is a unique wee beastie.

It’s a sassy small SUV that’s fun to drive and won’t break the bank.

In the compact SUV class, the only thing that comes close for driving enjoyment is the baby Ford Puma – which is a cross between a hot hatch and an SUV.

The story is similar for the hottie Kona, as the mechanical package under the family-focussed bodywork also comes from a hot hatch.

In the case of the Hyundai, the donor car is the i30 N which is fast becoming a cult car in Australia in the same way as the Subaru WRX once did. Right now, Hyundai has more than 500 outstanding orders for the i30 N and there is a growing fan base for a car that looks best in its signature colour of light blue – just as the WRX was always best in rally blue.

The Kona N also comes in N-car blue, as part of a package that starts with a 2-litre turbo petrol engine that makes 206 kiloWatts and 392 Newton-metres of torque, with front-wheel drive and sporty everything – from wheels and suspension to seats and instruments.

It’s not a cheap car, from $47,500, but it is good value and there is no direct rival.

Most of the sports-focussed SUVs have come at the upper end of the car business, with $100,000-plus contenders as varied as AMG Benzes, BMWs with X badges, and sporty Jaguars.

In the case of the Kona, the basics are the same as the car which is winning plenty of friends as a family hatch.

It’s a good size for a small family, easy to park and light to drive, and the styling stands out in a category where most hopefuls are just big boxes on jacked-up suspension.

The Kona N even sits down a bit, hunkering because it’s built to go.

If you want a regular Kona, and you’re prepared to brave a six-month wait, the base price is less than $30,000.

So the N package brings a lot for the extra money, starting with the aggressive turbo engine and the slick-shifting eight-seed DSG gearbox. There are all sorts of driving modes, including plenty that make the exhaust pop and bang, but it can also be calm and quiet if you are going for fuel economy or just cruising on a freeway.

Freeway cruising is not ideal for this Kona, as it’s a little more noisy and the cruise control – at least in the test car – surges for no apparent reason. It holds the speed fine, but the engine revs rise and fall even on a flat road. It’s something Hyundai has promised to investigate.

But the Kona N is not for cruising and I’ve even take one to a racetrack for extra fun. It easily coped with a full day at speeds you would never approach on a public road, yet just needed regular drinks and zero attention to even the brakes and tyres.

On a public road, the SUV with N can be lively and responsive. You pay a price in the heavy tugging through the steering, as it’s only front-wheel drive, but some people say that’s part of the fun.

It has a great turbo surge for overtaking and if you go into the more lively driving modes it responds instantly with great feedback on even the toughest roads.

For me, the steering in the sporty modes is way too heavy, and it’s not as easy to hustle as the i30 hatchback – or even the baby i20 that’s the real N-car star – but for an SUV it really does the job.

So it can be a family car when you need it, and a fun car when you want it.


Position: sporty SUV

Price: from $47,500

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol

Power: 206kW/392Nm

Transmission: 8-speed DCT, front-wheel drive

Plus: fun and practical

Minus: demands to be driven

THE TICK: Not for everyone

Score: 8/10

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