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Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - N-Line Premium

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, comfortable interior, ergonomics, decent performance, quick steering, fun in town, fuel economy, ground clearance.
Room for improvement
Open-road ride and handling, second row accommodation, boot space, price.

Hyundai’s new Kona N Line Premium looks the business, but how does it drive?

3 May 2021

WHEREAS some brands change little more than a bumper on their ‘mid-lifecycle’ updates, Hyundai has thrown the kitchen sink at its new updated Kona, changing its look, dimensions, interior, and even its powertrains.

 

Both the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre and the turbocharged 1.6-litre mills have come in for comprehensive workovers with so much being changed that Hyundai is marketing them as new engines.

 

The N Line and N Line Premium duo are newcomers to the Kona range as part of the update and are only available with the force-fed 1.6 which has once again been mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT).

 

With a new engine, bigger proportions, and the promise of an enhanced driving experience, we spent some time in the N Line Premium to see exactly what was hot and what wasn’t about the new sports-themed luxury Kona.

 

Drive Impressions

 

Sitting at the very top of the Kona range, the N Line Premium blends 95 per cent of the Highlander’s luxury with all the sportiness of the standard N Line into one $42,400 (plus on-roads) package.

 

Standard kit highlights over the standard N Line include a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, head-up display, 10.25-inch infotainment system, keyless entry and start, power adjustable heated and ventilated sport front seats, heated rear outboard seats and steering wheel, electrochromatic interior mirror, ambient lighting, front park assist system, LED headlights, front indicators and tail-lights, high beam assist, a sunroof, multi-link rear suspension, 18-inch alloys and all-wheel-drive.

 

Despite the mass of standard equipment bundled in, it is definitely at the expensive end of the spectrum given the equivalent i30 is more than $6000 cheaper and features pretty much all of the same gear save for the all-wheel-drive system.

 

Something of a halfway pint between the mainstream range and the all-out N Performance heroes, the N Line trims are aimed at buyers who want a sporty theme to their vehicle without stretching to the dedicated performance models.

 

This is why the Kona N Lines look so different to their mainstream stablemates and while styling is largely subjective, we quite like the look of the sporty twins, decidedly more so than the regular versions. 

 

With a sports body kit, bigger and chunkier alloy wheels, body coloured cladding and twin exhausts sticking out the back, there is no chance of mistaking a Kona N Line for anything else with designers doing a fine job of maintain the model’s sense of individuality.

 

Inside there are various sporty bits and pieces like red stitching, metallic pedals, and lots of N badges without detracting from the Kona’s most basic brief: being a user and family friendly compact SUV.

 

The first part of that brief is met with ease – the dashboard is well laid out and pleasing to look at without being over complicated or boring, while the so-called sports seats (leather) are delightfully comfortable with plenty of adjustment.

 

The 10.25-inch digital cockpit is the same one used throughout the wider Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) portfolio so it’s a tried and tested system with crisp graphics and just enough configurability while the infotainment system is also familiar and just as intuitive.

 

As we’ve come to expect from the South Korean brand these days, the fit and finish of the cabin is top notch given the Kona range’s $26,600 entry price, however there are still a few familiar gripes that have been carried over to the new model.

 

First up is the cabin space which while fine in the front, is decidedly tight in the second row for anyone even vaguely approaching 180cm tall with both head and leg room in short supply.

 

It’s a similar story with the boot as well which, despite the new model being 40mm longer than its predecessor, is still down some 21 litres down on the equivalent i30 hatch (374L vs 395L) and the situation doesn’t get any better with the rear seats folded down with the difference blowing out to 145L (1156 vs 1301).

 

What the i30 doesn’t have however is 178mm of ground clearance – and all-wheel-drive in the N Lines’ cases – which is ultimately the Kona’s biggest selling point over its hatchback cousin.

 

Pair the extra height a slightly higher driving position and the results are clear; all-round visibility is predictably decent, even if those chunky D-pillars do complicate oblique intersections and over the shoulder checks.

 

Under way, the engine and transmission combination work well together with all 146kW/265Nm able to be deployed quickly and efficiently with very little hesitation from the DCT on take-off.

 

Gear changes are crisp and smooth with the turbocharged mill providing plenty of mid-range punch for getting up to speed and overtaking.

 

Grab it by the scruff of the neck and really get up it in the lower gears and you’ll be rewarded with some genuine pace and a rorty, if somewhat muted soundtrack headlined by some entertaining turbo noises.

 

The ride and handling around town are both sublime with the N Line being far more softly sprung than we were expecting, meaning all the usual suburban lumps and bumps are dealt with calmly and fuss free.

 

That compliant ride doesn’t so bode so well on country roads however where the Kona seems to bounce and even wallow around in some instances above 80km/h. This for us is a huge shame as we were expecting a fun, engaging drive along our favourite stretch of winding road where the N Line should’ve been able to let its hair down. Instead, we were met with a level of body control that’s totally at odds with the lovely direct steering.

 

Put simply, the suspension can’t keep up with the quick and well-weighted steering when being pushed, resulting in a fair amount of body roll on corner entry, further exacerbated by mid-corner bumps which can make the whole set-up feel like it’s about to trip over.

 

Obviously, the N Line was never designed to be a genuine corner carver – unlike the upcoming Kona N – but we still expected more.

 

Despite a 54kW/95Nm power advantage, we’re not convinced the Kona would be able to keep up with, let alone see where a Ford Puma ST-Line had gone on a challenging road. The flipside though is that the Kona actually has some surprising off-road chops.

 

With 178mm of ground clearance, a wheel essentially in each corner, and that compliant suspension, the little Hyundai can traverse tracks and trails the average compact SUV buyer might shy away from, especially in a sports model.

 

After our week with the Kona N Line Premium, which included a solid mix of urban, extra urban and a bit of light off-roading, we managed an indicated fuel consumption of 7.3 litres per 100km against Hyundai’s claim of 6.9L/100km. 

 

As a sports-themed compact SUV the Kona N Line Premium is a mixed bag. It has a strong and refined powertrain, looks great and can be a hoot to drive around town and on the freeway between suburbs, but a lot of that fun melts away out of town and it’s quite expensive all things considered.

 

Rather than think of the Kona N Line Premium as a sporty SUV, think of it more as a compact high-rider wearing a tracksuit – on that basis, it’s a much more appealing proposition.


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