New Hyundai Kona N Line 2023 review

The N Line is the sportiest version of Hyundai’s new Kona, but it struggles to justify the extra cost

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Like so many semi-performance editions, the 1.6-litre Kona N Line S delivers extra pace but no more enjoyment compared with cheaper versions. Its two biggest problems are the Ford Puma ST, which is a proper small hot baby SUV and cheaper, and the fact that the Kona’s perfectly acceptable 1.0-litre powertrain is also available in this trim level, for a few thousand pounds less. If you’re really sold on the sporty styling pack, we’d advise you to save cash and spec it with the cheaper engine.

The latest Hyundai Kona is a huge car for the Korean brand – and while the all-electric version made initial headway back in the summer, when it secured the top gong in our New Car Awards, there are a lot of combustion-engined versions that have to deliver too.

Hyundai also believes that a few petrolheads can be tempted across into its revised small SUV, and with no immediate prospect of a second-generation Kona N, they’re being offered this 1.6-litre petrol version with some sporty styling upgrades.

The specs look promising enough on paper. The four-cylinder turbocharged engine produces 195bhp and a useful 265Nm of torque, fed through either a six-speed manual transmission or, as we’re testing here, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front wheels.  There’s no electrical assistance here but even so, Hyundai claims a 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds; decent, but over a second slower than the most obvious rival, Ford’s Puma ST.

To complete the performance image, this powertrain is only available in the top two trim levels: Ultimate and N Line S. It’s the second of the pair that we’re driving, complete with a natty bodykit – different front and rear bumpers, bespoke side skirts and a twin-tip exhaust – plus gloss-black door mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels and body-coloured wheelarch surrounds. The result is a more muscular look than you’ll find with lesser versions.

This version piles on the kit – which is useful when Hyundai has elected to not really offer many single-item options on the Kona. N Line S brings heating and ventilation on the front seats, heating on the rear seats and steering wheel, tinted side windows, powered folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors with a rear-view camera and guidance system, and a Bose premium sound system. It’s a fairly sombre environment, mind; Hyundai has shown perhaps a little too much restraint on adding sport-themed embellishments, so you do get aluminium pedals and a mix of Alcantara and leather on the upholstery, but there are no deep-bucketed sports seats.

This is high-end stuff for a Kona, so it’s not exactly cheap. The version we’re testing here, complete with metallic paint (a £585 option) comes in at £34,110 – about three grand more than a Ford Puma ST, whether you opt for the 1.5 manual or the 1.0-litre mild-hybrid auto.

There’s no denying that the Hyundai’s 1.6-litre motor serves up a decent level of punch, even for a car that has increased in size between generations like the Kona has. It’s capable of gathering speed with ease, and while the engine isn’t the most sonorous, it spins up freely and smoothly, with only a little background whistle to remind you that there’s a turbo helping you along.

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What’s less satisfying is how the gearbox interacts with the motor – or rather, gets in the way of you interacting with it. It suffers from old-school dual-clutch traits like jerkiness at low speeds, and never feels properly in tune with what the engine is doing. You can override the system and change gear using paddles behind the steering wheel, but this isn’t a particularly satisfying experience either, with a slight clunkiness to the shifts. We’re keen to see how a manual stick would improve matters, particularly since the six-speed gearbox in the cheapest 1.0-litre Kona has such a well-calibrated setup.

The chassis isn’t really configured for back-road thrills, either. N Line S is a cosmetic pack rather than a technical one, so you don’t get a lowered ride height, let alone any bespoke suspension settings. As such, this car just feels like a faster version of the base Kona – which is to say that it is secure and stable, with inert but accurate steering and not that much involvement. Despite its price positioning, it’s ostensibly a styling pack rather than a true performance variant, and there’s no escaping that. A Puma ST, which does have proper chassis tweaks, offers much more agility and fun, but for less cash.

Of course, these dynamic foibles don’t take away from the Kona’s cabin, which remains a deeply impressive experience, with high-quality materials, rock-solid build quality and enough space for four grown-ups, plus a whopping boot.

Model: Hyundai Kona N Line S 1.6T 198PS Automatic
Price: £33,525
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque: 195bhp/265Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
0–62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Economy: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 145g/km
Dimensions (L/W/H): 4,385/1,825/1,590mm
On sale: Now

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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