Hyundai might just win the award for the least surprising news of 2021 with confirmation that it is to launch a Kona N performance model this year, since beefed-up development cars have been spied at the Nurburgring for well over a year now. But today’s announcement has at least put to bed rumours that it might use a tuned-up 1.6-litre engine to take on the Puma ST. Instead, it will get the same turbocharged 2.0-litre unit and eight-speed ‘wet’ dual-clutch N DCT as the auto i30 N, something that reasserts Hyundai’s ambitions for an increasingly crowded segment.
That being said, we’ve not been given performance figures at this stage, although it's likely to be close to the i30 N’s 275hp output - or even a little bit more. A larger question mark hangs over whether drive is sent through the front wheels or both axles in the N variant. The regular Kona does come with optional all-wheel drive, so a two-drive axle solution isn’t out of the question, although FWD is no less likely given the N’s set to be technically very similar to the i30. All we know for sure at this stage is that the Kona N will get Launch Control like its auto hatchback sibling.
One certainty is that Hyundai isn’t billing the hot Kona as a softened i30 N but rather another proper driver’s machine. Till Wartenberg, vice president and head of N brand management, admitted that the new model “will have plenty of versatility as well as the driving pleasure like any other N vehicle”, pointing to the obvious added practical benefits of a crossover platform. But he affirmed that “enthusiasts will enjoy taking this car anywhere; from road to the track” - something the near permanent presence of test cars at the ‘ring through 2020 would testify to.
Plainly, the addition of a crossover model to the N portfolio is clearly a move intended to rapidly grow sales. Andreas-Christoph Hofmann, vice president of marketing & product at Hyundai Europe, said the company is “excited to expand the recipe for success [that it’s] developed with the i30 N and, most recently, with the i20 N to one of [its] most popular SUVs on the market today: Kona”. He added that the “addition of Kona to the N family will bring [Hyundai’s] high-performance brand to the next level”. Assuming the ingredients live up to expectation, it's hard to argue against the logic of the car's arrival. And we won't have long to wait to find out if it's any good.
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