HYUNDAI I30 N & KONA N |
Hyundai has been quietly conquering the international rally scene with its i20 WRC race car for years while also using the opportunity to develop performance tech for their road cars. Now the revamped i30 N and new Kona N have landed, giving power-hungry South African boy racers a new icon to lust over.
The GTI-faithful seemed quite unperturbed back in 2020 when, at the end of the year, Hyundai launched its ‘N’ performance sub-brand in South Africa by introducing the (third-generation) manual-shifting i30 N hot hatch.
Already well respected for producing reliable family cars and robust light commercial vehicles, Hyundai’s ability to create a performance hatch and, crucially, to confer upon it a level of desirability that would raise the attention of local brand snobs, had yet to be demonstrated.
This even though, by 2020, Hyundai had more than proved its mettle on the rally circuits of the world, their motorsport division having raked in a string of victories for the brand – with several well-known Hyundai models – since it blasted onto the WRC scene in 2014. In 2017, the Korean brand even debuted an i30 N-based car to compete in the Touring Car Endurance Series.
That said, if our previous assessment of the Hyundai i30 N (see Driven September 2020) had not sufficiently convinced you that Hyundai has the gumption to craft class-leading performance cars capable of upending the almost 50-year-old hot hatch establishment, read on…
PERFORMANCE TO THE Nth DEGREE
Named for both the Nürburgring and Namyang – Hyundai’s Korean R&D centre – the N division is much like BMW’s M or Merc’s AMG sub-brands and is tasked with developing performance-oriented versions of Hyundai road cars.
The N division is responsible for crafting the facelifted i30 N performance hatchback that, last month, blasted back onto the local motoring scene alongside a brand new Kona N model.
Powered by the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill that does duty in the previous i30 N (albeit slightly tweaked for lower compression ratio and greater turbo boost output), the updated i30 N is now available exclusively with an eight-speed DCT (dual-clutch) transmission to harness its 206 kW and 392 Nm of torque and ensure a 5.4-second send-off from zero to 100 km/h.
The i30 N delivers its full payload between 4,700 rpm (max torque) and 6,000 rpm (max power), sometimes revealing a tendency for the front wheels to lose composure on take-off, especially under hard acceleration on the (mostly) wet Western Cape roads where the launch event took place.
While the Kona N seemed to share this light-footed penchant, its personality differs substantially from its sibling. Being endowed with the same engine and gearbox combination, its performance credentials are similar but not identical.
Heavier and with a slightly higher centre of gravity, the Kona N dispenses with the zero to 100 km/h sprint in 5.5 seconds. This discrepancy is not noticeable in a straight line, but around the bends of the Killarney racetrack, where we spent time in both cars, the handling difference is slightly more pronounced.
Both deliver exceedingly sharp handling that is the envy of most front-wheel-driven sports hatches. Their dogged determination to hold the line under hard acceleration out of almost any apex exposes more than any other trait, the origin of N at the Green Hell.
MORE THAN MOST
Hyundai has built its reputation in South Africa on the back of high levels of standard specification in all of its cars. Both the i30 N and Kona N follow the same principle, with a few differences between them.
The Kona is built on a newer platform that offers more flexibility for updated onboard systems. Among other variances, the Kona features a larger Supervision cluster display than the i30 and boasts Hyundai’s first head-up display in a performance car. Both cars boast cruise control with lane-keep assist, with the Kona adding adaptive cruise control over and above this.
Although a crossover model, the Kona’s design is more daring than its sibling’s. While it will be a strong case of “horses for courses” for buyers choosing between the two cars, I prefer the less conservative Kona’s overall shape but dislike the rear light cluster array on the vehicle.
Both models’ interior layout is expectedly good, with a 10.25” touchscreen granting access to either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and various customisable drive mode settings.
Both vehicles provide seating for five. Where the Kona’s seats are upholstered in leather, the i30 enjoys a suede and leather combo. Both cars show off excellent build quality and generous application of high-quality materials.
On the safety front, the i30 N offers seven airbags and the Kona four. The standard equipment, such as anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and traction and stability control, are all there, as are blind-spot warning and emergency brake assist.
With both the i30 N and Kona N, Hyundai takes aim at some serious competition in the performance segment, making a solid value proposition that easily unseats cars such as the iconic Golf GTI and Honda Type R from the top of the pile. On paper comparisons aside, there is very little to not like about Hyundai’s performance duo. In fact, they have an unperturbed air about them that I find more attractive than the aggressiveness that too often typifies such cars. In many respects, this underscores the maxim that true greatness doesn’t have to shout to be heard.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR / Images © HYUNDAI SOUTH AFRICA