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FIRST DRIVE | New 2022 Hyundai i30 N and Kona N pack a performance punch

Sharper frontal styling for the i30 N.
Sharper frontal styling for the i30 N.
Image: Supplied

The all-new Hyundai Kona N and updated i30 N were launched in SA last week. The performance department of Hyundai hopes to gain some share in categories where German contenders would usually be at the fore of buyers’ minds.    

In case you did not know, the N stands for “Namyang” and “Nurburgring”. The former is the town where the research and development hub of Hyundai is located in South Korea. The other is the infamous racetrack in Germany where Hyundai has a development centre. The cars are tested thoroughly on the “Green Hell”, adding credence to the sporting intent.  

The new i30 N is a facelift of the model introduced here in early 2020, with a host of improvements inside and out. Off the bat, the six-speed manual gearbox is no longer an option in SA. A bit of a blow to the purists.    

A new rear lighting signature.
A new rear lighting signature.
Image: Supplied

It has been replaced by a very capable eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT)  featuring a wet-friction clutch design to make the gear shifts as smooth and fast as possible at delivering the power to the front wheels.    

The engine has also been revised to feature a larger compressor housing on the turbocharger, a bigger intercooler and lower compression pistons – all of which combine to up the power output to 206kW at 5,500rpm and 392Nm available from 2,100rpm.    

The focus was to provide a more linear torque delivery, which in turn would give more “on-demand” power to the driver. The 0-100km/h sprint is dealt with in 5.4 seconds compared to the previous 6.1 seconds with a manual gearbox. Top speed is limited at 250km/h.

Styling of the i30 N has seen a few distinct changes. The front and rear of the car now feature a much sharper and more aggressive look. The headlights and e taillights sport a definite “V” motif, and the exhaust tips have been significantly enlarged to make sure there is no question where the pops and bangs are coming from.    

Big 19-inch forged alloy wheels are also new, and come in at 14kg lighter than the previous model’s wheels – reducing unsprung weight is a sure-fire way of improving handling. We got to sample the dynamics on a very wet Killarney Raceway and over mountain passes in the Western Cape. The model-specific Pirelli tyres combined with the performance-orientated chassis offers immense amounts of grip, despite wet conditions, and the handling of the i30 N is nothing short of engaging.    

On the track, the nose goes where it is pointed, although restraint has to be applied on the throttle out of corners to prevent wheelspin, and in some cases quite severe axle tramping in the wet. The electronically-controlled mechanical limited-slip differential is a bonus and aids in getting the most power down onto the tarmac without inducing excessive understeer.    

Spot the DCT shift lever.
Spot the DCT shift lever.
Image: Supplied

Steering feel is communicative, albeit not telepathic. The electronically-controlled dampers can be adjusted between driving modes, with Sport+ great on a smooth mountain pass, but less than ideal in everyday driving. Normal mode is still rather stiff, but comfortable enough for the morning commute.

The Kona N is the first crossover-type vehicle to get the N badge from Hyundai. Under the skin, the Kona N and the i30 N share the same drivetrain, but since the Kona is 55kg heavier than the hatchback, it reaches 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds and tops out at 240km/h. The styling of the Kona N is striking. The three-slatted bonnet intakes above the front grille set it apart from the standard vanilla Kona. The 19-inch forged alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, rear spoiler and big exhaust tips give it an “I mean business” look.

The Kona N looks as angry as it performs.
The Kona N looks as angry as it performs.
Image: Supplied

The driving experience is very different to that in the i30 N. The Kona N is extremely capable on the track and on the road, but definitely more practical than the i30 N and skews more towards everyday driving. Saying this, it managed to lap 0.5s quicker than a Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI around Aldo Scribante Racetrack in Gqeberha during a performance shootout last year. It is very capable and inspires confidence despite the raised ride height and heavier body. It features active safety technology (collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control) which the i30 N doesn’t have.

The interior is a pleasant place to be. Every bit of tech one would expect is standard and it also features full leather seats which offer plenty of support in case you find yourself carving up a mountain pass.

Hot cross(over) buns.
Hot cross(over) buns.
Image: Supplied

The digital dashboard along with the 10.25-inch touch screen for the infotainment system is a breeze to use and pairing it up with Android Auto or Apple Car Play sweetens the deal. There is no on-board navigation, so using your phone for navigation is the only way.

Both vehicles are priced at R749,900, which is competitive, considering the standard kit included. That is in addition to the exceptional, perhaps even class-leading, handling and performance.  

Kona N interior is largely similar to that of the i30 N.
Kona N interior is largely similar to that of the i30 N.
Image: Supplied

They are aiming to take the fight squarely to the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI with the i30 N, with a target of more than 200 units a year. The Kona N will satisfy a slightly different market, but is sure to please.    

A seven-year/200,000km warranty and five-year/75,000km service plan are included in the price.


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