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DRIVEN: Hyundai i30 N is everything a hot hatch should be, but what about the Kona N?

Published Apr 11, 2022


Launch Review: Hyundai i30 N & Hyundai Kona N

Cape Town - Hot hatches should make every car lover’s heart beat a little bit faster. I know the world is SUV gaga, but damn it’s a good feeling to be behind the wheel of a track-bred machine and head for the apex on a bend at Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town, or barrel up Franschhoek pass for that matter.

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Which is exactly what my ticker did when we got to drive the updated Hyundai i30 N as well as the new Hyundai Kona N, which is more crossover than hatch.

The i30 N is no newcomer to South Africa, having debuted here in February 2020 (yes, that fateful year) as a real alternative to everyone’s favourite, the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The guys at Hyundai’s Namyang R&D centre in Korea and their European Test Centre counterparts housed at the iconic Nurburgring (hence the “N” nomenclature) have been hard at work improving the i30 N as well as designing the Kona N, which is now the halo product within the Kona range.

Both are powered by the same four-cylinder two-litre turbocharged engine that’s good for 206kW and 392Nm (up by 39Nm over the previous i30 N) coupled to an eight-speed dual clutch transmission (N DCT) powering the front 19-inch forged alloy wheels covered with Pirelli P-Zero tyres developed especially for the i30 N.

Unlike a traditional dual clutch transmission that runs without oil the in-house designed “wet” N DCT with two separate clutches uses two electrical oil pumps to reduce the amount of friction between the moving parts for better cooling of the clutch allowing a higher amount of torque to transfer through the gearbox.

You have three options with either automatic, paddle shifters or the sequential gear stick depending on your mood and it won’t upshift automatically in manual when it reaches the highest RPM.

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There’s also a nifty Creep Off mode activated via the AVN screen to prevent the car from rolling forward when the brake pedal is released.

While the Kona has received the full N package as a newbie to the fold the i30 N has its looks improved with enhanced LED headlamps with V-shaped daytime running lights, Hyundai’s cascading grille, larger air inlets on the sides of the bumper, more prominent front splitter and a large winning spoiler for better downforce. The rear lights have also been updated with a new LED signature.

Not to be missed either are two rather large exhaust tail pipes that emit the most wonderful snap, crackle and pop when Sport mode is engaged.

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There’s quite a significant difference between the two when it comes to the interior.

Hyundai Kona N cabin

The biggest one is the instrument cluster with the Kona N completely digital as is the trend nowadays and the i30 N more traditional with a good old fashioned analogue rev counter and speedometer.

The Hyundai Kona N also sports a Performance Head-Up Display when in Sport or N mode where RPM, speed or a shift indicator appear. The Kona N’s seats are upholstered in full leather while its sibling has a leather and suede combination.

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You can select between Eco, Normal, Sport, N and Custom modes to suit your particular mood and with three new N performance functions in N Power Shift, N Grin Shift and N Track Sense Shift there’s even more fun to be had.

N Power Shift engages when the car accelerates with more than 90 percent of the throttle mitigating any reduction in torque during upshifts which comes with an accompanying soundtrack coming from the partial cylinder cut.

N Grin Shift is activated by a dedicated button on the steering wheel that maximises the engine and DCT performance for 20 seconds by shifting to the lowest available gear for maximum acceleration, a push and pass if you will.

To be used with extreme caution is N Track Sense Shift which as the name implies optimises everything for when you’re in a controlled environment.

Hyundai i30 N cabin

Which is what we had at Killarney except that the weather had other plans.

Leaving the pits the track had been soaked by the morning’s rain so conditions weren’t optimal for maximum traction but it did give a good indication of what the cars were capable of.

Once it was a bit dryer and the instructors had shown the correct lines for the damp track the fun factor increased significantly.

While the Hyundai Kona N is the more “modern” of the two its higher centre of gravity, extra ground clearance and slightly heavier weight mean it doesn’t boast the same grip and track feel that the race-bred i30 N has.

It’s no slouch, though, and still puts a grin on your face but there’s a marked difference when you get behind the wheel of the i30 N.

It feels a lot more subtle and will hit the apexes and power out of a corner with much gusto, showing off the significant steering and suspension improvements over the previous model.

Heading over Franschhoek pass and passing the odd tourist pottering about admiring the views with the i30 N’s exhaust in full song as you grip the steering wheel is probably my preferred way of driving the iconic road.

Once it flattens out on the other side you realise that in Sport mode the suspension is very stiff and even when you tone down the settings it’s still pretty hard but at slower speeds and probably with softer tyre settings you’ll cruise a lot more comfortably.

We had time to spare before we needed to be at the airport so we took the turnoff to Gordon’s Bay heading towards Pringle Bay along the smooth twisty road that follows the sea.

The Hyundai i30 N revelled in it as we pushed the limits showing that it’s everything that a hot hatch should be. It doesn’t like you stomping on the brakes and prefers a gentle push before applying more pressure so once you get the hang of it the grip around corners is especially good.

Idling back through Strand along the beach road we both agreed that while Hyundai won’t be everyone’s go-to for driving thrills, this new pairing and especially the i30 N deserves as much attention as possible and if I was in that space it would be my first choice.

It comes with a seven-year/200 000km warranty, a five-year/75 000km service plan and roadside assistance for seven years or 150 000km.


Hyundai Kona 2.0 N DCT: R 749 900

Hyundai i30 N DCT: R749 900

IOL Motoring