Last September we reviewed the all-wheel-drive 2021 Hyundai Kona N Line with its 146kW engine. With less equipment than the $5,000 cheaper Limited (but top-spec) model, it seemed a hard sell. I thought perhaps buyers would simply wait for the 206kW Kona N to arrive, and be done with it.

We’ve just spent a week in the 2021 Hyundai Kona N, using it as a commuter with the occasional jaunt into its stomping grounds, which should be twisty back roads.

Will adding over 50 extra kilowatts help the front-wheel-drive Kona N, or hinder it?

What We Like and Dislike About The 2021 Hyundai Kona N

What we likeWhat we don’t like
Performance
Childish exhaust noises
N Grin Mode
Practicality
Design
Equipment levels
Handling
Hard ride, even in Normal mode
Brakes and steering feel lacking
Bland interior
Some torque steer and axle tramp

What’s In The 2021 Hyundai Kona Range?

There’s now a range of five Kona to pick from if you exclude the EV model (you can read the 2021 Kona EV review here). At the bottom end is the $34,990 Entry, powered by a 2-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine that manages 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque. It’s joined to a CVT automatic transmission, and this engine/gearbox combo is used across the range, except for the N Line or N models, of course.

The N Line has a 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine giving you 146kW/265Nm. It has a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission instead of the CVT.

The newly introduced Kona N ups the equipment levels, as it should at $69,990. Basically, it’s equipped the same as the Limited model but has the i30N engine, transmission and exhaust. That means a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo motor with 206kW of power (or around 213kW in overboost) and 392Nm of torque. The transmission is changed to an 8-speed DCT to handle all that power. Keep in mind the i30N is available as a manual or automatic, but the Kona N is auto-only.

The colours available are:

  • Surfy Blue
  • Dive in Jeju
  • Ignite Flame
  • Cyber Grey
  • Misty Jungle 

These are in addition to five existing colours, including:

  • Phantom Black
  • Chalk White
  • Dark Knight
  • Pulse Red
  • Galactic Grey (our test car)

Every colour can be combined with the Phantom Black two-tone roof, and the two-tone roof also comes with matching mirror housings.

2021 Hyundai Kona Standard Equipment Highlights $34,990

  • Blind Spot Collision Avoidance
  • Rear Cross-traffic Collision Avoidance assist
  • Forward Collision-Avoidance
  • Lane Keep Assist
  • Adaptive cruise control with stop/go (not Kona N)
  • 6 airbags
  • Automatic headlights
  • Rear park assist system
  • Reversing camera
  • First aid kit
  • 17” alloy wheels
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • Electric park brake with auto-hold
  • Electric folding and heated exterior mirrors
  • LED DRLs
  • A roof spoiler with LED stoplight
  • Leather steering wheel and gearshift gaiter
  • Keyless entry
  • 8” central touchscreen
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • 4-speaker audio system
  • 4.2” colour driver’s information display

2021 Hyundai Kona Elite Additional Equipment $39,990

  • Automatic dipping rearview mirror
  • Automatic wipers
  • Leather interior
  • Driver seat 8-way electric sliding, reclining, height and lumber adjustable
  • Passenger seat 6-way electric sliding, reclining and height adjustable
  • Leather steering wheel and gearshift trim
  • Wireless phone charging
  • Proximity key and engine start/stop button
  • Keyless entry with anti-theft alarm
  • Hyundai Active Locking Operation (HALO) including speed sensing auto door locking
  • Privacy & solar glass
  • 18” alloys
  • Full leather interior
  • 8-way electric driver’s seat
  • 6-way electric passenger’s seat
  • Heated front seats
  • Wireless smartphone charging
  • Keyless start
  • 10.25” central touchscreen
  • SatNav
  • Harmon Kardon 8-speaker audio system
  • Climate AC

2021 Hyundai Kona Limited & Kona N Additional Equipment $44,490/$69,990

  • Automatic high beam headlights
  • Front-park assist system
  • Heads-Up display
  • 10.25” touchscreen centre display
  • SatNav
  • Harman Kardon 8 speaker premium audio system including subwoofer
  • Climate AC
  • 10.25” driver’s display
  • Bi-LED headlights
  • Heated rear seats
  • LED taillights
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Ventilated front seats
  • Heads-up display
  • 10.25” colour driver’s information display

Our test car had no optional equipment, so the price excluding on-road costs is $69,990.

Check out the Hyundai New Zealand website for more Kona information. The Kona N is actually listed separately from the other Kona models on their website, so it sits with the i30N Hatch and i30N Fastback.

How Does The 2021 Hyundai Kona N Compare To Its Competition?

The Kona N is mixing it up with some pretty impressive company here, all of them all-wheel-drive. Tough choices.

Make/ ModelEnginePower/
Torque
kW/Nm
0-100km/h,
seconds
Fuel
L/100km
Boot
Space,
litres
Price
BMW X2 M35i (AWD)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged225/4504.97.4470$89,990
Audi SQ2 quattro (AWD)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged221/4004.97.7335$80,990
MINI JCW Countryman (AWD)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged225/4504.47.6450$74,730
Hyundai Kona N (FWD)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol206/3925.59.0361$69,990
Cupra Formentor VZ (AWD)2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged228/3104.97.7345$68,900

First Impressions Of The 2021 Hyundai Kona N

I’m not sure Hyundai NZ has quite worked out our capacity for yet another grey test car. And ‘Galactic Grey’ at that – so flat grey. Sigh. Still, it’s got to be said it almost suits the Kona N, especially side-on with its red brake callipers and red slashes down the sill covers.

Still on the side profile, those black 19” rims make a loud statement, as do the 235/40 Pirelli P Zero tyres. It’s almost got a space-age look going for it here, not quite to the level of the Ioniq 5, definitely looking very 2022 on it.

The stance seems lower than the Kona N Line too, and I’ve got to say this car did turn heads at the lights, or stuck in traffic on the motorway. 

And let’s not forget the back, not that it’s possible to. Right there in your face are two huge exhaust tips (nothing fake here!) and a big, wide diffuser. There’s almost too much happening at the rear of the car with lights everywhere, it’s very busy and complicated. However, it’s all made better by those exhausts and the triangular race-style high-stop brake light. 

All in all, the design has nailed the intention of making the Kona N stand out as an ‘N’ car. 

What’s The Interior Like In A 2021 Hyundai Kona N?

While the exterior design is excellent, the interior is a bit of a letdown. After the Kona N Line where I pointed out that it was almost like a standard Kona, well the Kona N is pretty much the same.

In fact, other than the steering wheel you might as well be sitting in the Kona N line. There’s the same gear shifter with an ‘N’ on top of it, N-embossed front seats, and contrasting stitching on the seats, steering wheel, and handbrake.

Unlike the N Line, the Kona N has a manual handbrake instead of an electric one. It’s good to see this in place, as an electric handbrake would just be wrong in this car.

But like the N line, it’s all so dark inside with black everywhere and no sunroof. Sporty yes, but airy? No. 

Everything is so much like the N Line, if you want to know more about the interior go and check that review out.

But there is that steering wheel as a point of difference over the N Line. It smacks you in the face when you get inside, with its blue N1 and N2 buttons, and then that bright red NGS button on the lower spoke. It’s not flat bottom at all, which was surprising, but it does feel great to the touch and is a perfect size. We’ll talk more about the buttons in the drive section.

Rear legroom is the same as any other Kona, so okay but not great. The boot is very usable at 361 litres, and at least there’s a space-saver spare under the floor cover.

What’s The 2021 Hyundai Kona N Like To Drive?

It’s always a great start to a review when it takes less than 30 seconds to pair your phone over Bluetooth, and it was less than 30 in the Kona.

Then I started the engine. Even in Normal drive mode, you hear the potential performance of that 206kW motor rumbling away. Starting the engine sees a heartbeat skip across the dashboard, which is an excellent touch for an N car. It’s a shame then that Hyundai hasn’t taken the opportunity to make the start/stop button red; instead, it’s black – the same as any other Kona with keyless start.

I spent my first few days in the Kona N just tootling about on the Daily Drive, leaving it in Normal mode to see how it fared. With so much torque – 392Nm in a car this size is excellent – it copes easily with commuter traffic, or just about anything else. Passing on the motorway is a matter of pressing the throttle just that bit harder, and letting the torque do all the work. 

While the Kona N is very good on the Daily Drive, there are a few things that let it down – keeping in mind that it’s not supposed to be a commuter. The ride is pretty harsh, even in Normal drive mode. Cranking the suspension up through the settings to the max level means at that point it really needs to be on the track. The car will skip out on a bumpy corner if you have it in N2 mode, but again that’s to be expected.

Even driving the car all day long in Eco mode is all too easy. Actually, it’s almost more pleasant, as you can drive more smoothly with the performance side of the car tapered down. Like in the Ioniq 5, our SatNav and Map buttons broke during my time with the car. But it was something as simple as a software update that I did myself, and that seemed to fix it.

Weirdly, the turning circle felt bigger than on the N Line, and it is; just over a whole metre wider, at 10.6 vs. 11.66. There are a few other things that might detract from your thoughts of this car being a perfect Daily Driver and Weekend Warrior. Other than the wider turning circle, the tyres don’t like coarse-chip seal at all, and are generally quite vocal. I think with 235/40/19 Pirelli P Zeroes, you are going to have to live with that. 

Another change from other Kona models is that the Kona N won’t come to a stop when using adaptive cruise control. Not a biggie, but something to keep in mind. There’s no 360-degree camera, but the Kona N does seem very well kitted out, as it should for $70K. Front seats are heated and cooled, and I love that Hyundai does this so simply with one button for each seat; push the bottom of the button for cooling, or the top of the button for heat. Too easy. There’s Qi wireless phone charging too, and the pad holds your phone very well, even on a spirited drive. An update here is a 15-watt cooling pad like we last saw on the Ioniq 5, to help cool your phone will it charges.

You get Hyundai’s version of a heads-up display (HUD), which is a small piece of plastic that pops up out of the dash when you start the car. Is it as good as a ‘proper’ HUD? Nope, but better than nothing. A nice touch is when you switch the car into N2 mode, and the HUD then shows your gear and also a bar-type of rev counter, so you can get the ultimate gear change, if you are using the paddles.

Even on the Daily Drive and boring commuting; how does the 2021 Hyundai Kona N really go? Is it a more practical option over the i30N Fastback, or does it just not work that well as a package?

On the whole, the N team at Hyundai have achieved the vision of making an N car out of the Kona. It looks great, sounds awesome and goes extremely well. Let’s start with engine sounds; as mentioned, even in Normal drive mode it burbles and crackles a bit, and you get some rev-matching on the downshifts too. But then stick it in Sport mode and the active exhausts open up, and your ears get assaulted by much louder crackles and bangs.

And that’s not to mention the red NGS button on the steering wheel. Hit that baby in Sport mode, you get turbo overboost (up to around 213kW) and some stupendous Group A rally car exhaust noise. I officially titled NGS as Tunnel Mode, as I think that’s what it was really made for.

NGS only lasts 20 seconds, and you get a countdown timer on the driver’s display so you can make the most of it. There are some other conditions to using it as well like the engine has warmed up, and you can’t simply keep pressing the NGS button over and over again.

When you do hit that NGS button, the car will instantly change down to the lowest possible gear, ready for hard-out acceleration. How low? At 100km/h I hit the red NGS button, and the car shifted into third gear.

In Sport mode, the gear changes are ridiculously quick, and there are some amazing sounds when the car switches gear. If you think the i30N makes great noises, well those huge exhaust tips make the i30N sound quiet.

The car comes with a launch mode, naturally, but there is a bit of a process to get it to work; Select Sport mode, turn traction control off, foot hard on the brake, then foot hard on the gas until you get a note that Launch Mode is active, in the Driver’s Display. Releasing the brake will see the Kona N shoot forward, getting to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds. Be aware that to get that claimed 5.5 seconds, you have to use Launch Mode.

Getting to Launch Mode means going through the menus, and you can select ‘N’ on the first page to get your performance-related pages. And there are many. There seem to be so many N options here, and you can click on each part of the N screen to either change settings, or view things like stats. There’s also a racetrack screen, but there is only Sydney Motorsport Park on it, and that’s all.

A shame that there’s no manual gearbox option, and I believe this would sway some drivers to buy the i30N instead. Still, the DCT gearbox overall is excellently suited to the Kona N. Unfortunately, it suffers from the normal DCT Jerk, where it’s not smooth at low speeds, and backing out of a driveway with a slight incline will see the clutch going off and on, trying to cope.

I think the bigger question here is between the all-wheel-drive N Line and the front-wheel-drive N; the N has 60 more kilowatts to get onto the road. Does it cope? Yes and no. It does an admirable job of it, with electronics assisting wherever they can. But it’s easy to get some mild torque-steer going, and axle tramp is always present at the beginning of any hard-out acceleration, such as using Launch Mode. Those two things are both to be expected, but I can only imagine just how good the Kona N would be with all-wheel drive.

Although it is only front-wheel drive, you still get some controls if you are in the sticky stuff. The Drive Mode button doubles as a Traction button, and you can select from Snow, Deep Snow, Sand, or Mud. I’m not sure how well these would work – I didn’t get to test them – but at least they are there.

I keep saying “like the N Line”, as the N is so very similar in many ways. The steering lacks feel, just like the N Line. It’s not terrible, but there is a disconnection between what’s happening up front and what’s being felt at the wheel. The steering itself is quite direct though, which is a bonus. The brakes could do with more feel as they seem a little wooden, but the power is there.

As far as the engine itself goes, it’s very smooth and hits the redline quickly and without fuss. If you are in the twisty stuff, you’ll need to keep it above 5,000rpm to get the best out of it. Lower revs still work, but it isn’t as responsive and with maximum torque at 4,500rpm and maximum power at 6,000, it needs to be revved out to make the most of it. 

Still, you can really make the Kona N hustle around some bends, and honestly, it does extremely well. You would think with the much higher stance over the i30N that body roll would be an issue, but it’s held in check very nicely. Turn in is reasonable too, and the whole setup had me thinking that a guy who has a Golf GTi and then has to buy an SUV because of his kids, might actually find the Kona N a worthy performance, small SUV. 

So, let’s finish with fuel economy. Hyundai suggests the Kona N should do 9.0L/100Km, which I thought to be very keen. Surely this car would not do that sort of economy? But I have to eat my words, as over my 400km and one week of driving, I managed 9.1L/100Km, almost exactly what they suggest. 

2021 Hyundai Kona N Specifications

Vehicle TypeSmall, Performance, 5-door SUV
Starting Price$69,990
Price as Tested$69,990
Engine2.0 litre 16 valve twin overhead cam with gasoline direct fuel injection with turbocharger and variable exhaust valve system
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
[email protected],000rpm
[email protected],500rpm
Transmission8-Speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,510
Length x Width x Height
mm
4215x1800x1565
Cargo Capacity,
Litres
(seats up/seats down)
361/1,143
Fuel tank capacity,
litres
50
Fuel Economy,
L/100km
Advertised Spec – Combined – 9.0
Real-World Test – Combined – 9.1
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
700/1,600
Turning circle
metres
11.66
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
Warranty10 year/200,000km anti perforation corrosion body warranty
3 year/100,000km mechanical warranty
3 year/100,000km roadside assistance package
Safety informationANCAP Rating – 5 stars
Rightcar.govt.nz – 5 Stars – NUW277

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Driver Tech
8
Economy
8
Handling
9
Infotainment
7
Interior
5
Performance
8
Ride
6
Safety
8
Styling
8
Value
7
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.
<!-- wp:paragraph --> <p>I’m really torn over the 2021 Hyundai Kona N. I love what they’ve tried to do, I love the childish noises the car makes, and I love that it’s both practical and sporty.</p> <!-- /wp:paragraph --><!-- wp:paragraph --> <p>But I’m not sure of the target market, other than the already mentioned guy in his 30s with kids, needing something more practical.</p> <!-- /wp:paragraph -->Then there's the i30N Fastback: practical, sporty, manual, and cheaper. This may be Kona N's main competition.2021-hyundai-kona-n-car-review

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