Hyundai turns SA's hot hatch market on its head with two new N models

Hyundai turns SA's hot hatch market on its head with two new N models

Honed for the track and built for the road, Hyundai’s updated i30 N has been officially launched in South Africa. In addition, the Korean automaker’s local arm also used the opportunity to present its new Kona N to the local market. Both vehicles are reasonably similar – under the skin and on the interior side – but there are differences to set them apart.

The i30 N is no stranger to the local market. When it launched here in February 2020, it immediately impressed with driving dynamics, good levels of steering feedback, and being a proper alternative to the always-winning Volkswagen Golf GTI. And it’s perhaps also fitting that the updated i30 N entered the local market less than a year after the Golf 8 GTI made its appearance.

But the changes brought about to the i30 N aren’t just cosmetic. Hyundai also took the opportunity to increase the 2.0-litre petrol engine’s power output and replace the (brilliant) six-speed manual transmission with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). This very engine-gearbox combination is also used in the Kona N, and both vehicles send their power to the front wheels.

Striking Kona gets N treatment

The Kona entered the local market in 2021, and the range comprised of three models: two 1.6-litre turbo engine models and one naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine – all petrol. Now the range has been bolstered with the N model, the new halo derivative in the line-up. Like the i30 N, the turbocharged engine’s power comes in with 206kW and 392Nm at its disposal, gifting the car with a character we haven’t seen in a while.

At 1 510kg, the Kona N is not too heavy, but thrashing it through corners does exhibit some body roll. The crossover does not feel as planted as its sibling, the i30 N, but it’s unlikely anyone would really notice. Notably, the Kona N’s slightly less planted feel can be attributed to its ground clearance (173mm) and overall height (1 565mm with roof rails), but the driver who enjoys the playfulness of the drive will not find this hindering at all.

If anything, Hyundai ensured that the Kona N is a different car from the i30 N and that the two vehicles do not step on each other’s proverbial toes.

Hyundai claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds and a 240km/h top speed.

i30 N gets a second wind

There’s just something about Hyundai’s i30 N. It’s an understated and underrated hot hatch, but a surefire rival to the likes of the Golf GTI and the Renault Megane RS – the latter no longer on sale in South Africa. When the i30 N first debuted two years ago with its manual gearbox, it impressed wholly and, to a degree, put the funk back in driver engagement.

Two years on and having taken note of owners’ concerns and buying trends, Hyundai is confident that it is the right approach to avail its halo hot hatch with the dual-clutch transmission. Coupled with the increase in engine power and the auto’ box taking care of shifting duties, the car is vastly improved over its predecessor. Like before, but only better now, steering is sharp and direct, and the car follows whichever direction you point it in.

Due to inclement weather and slow-moving traffic, we opted not to tackle one of the country’s most famous proving grounds, Franschhoek Pass. Still, the car performed admirably around Killarney International Raceway and stuck to the apexes with near inch-perfect precision. Aiding the enhanced driving traits includes revising the power steering system and improved augmentation of the electronically controlled suspension.

Bringing the i30 N to a stop is a set of high-performance N brakes. Hitting Killarney’s back straight, we stomped on the brakes at over 190km/h, with the electronics ensuring that the car remained stable and composed under such high stresses. And the Pirelli P-Zero tyres held up well in the exercise.

0-100km/h is blitzed in 5.4 seconds, and the top speed is 250km/h.

Inside the N

Both the i30 N and Kona N benefit from Hyundai’s latest multimedia systems. Atop the dashboard, a 10.25-inch infotainment system can be found. This system is both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible, and usage is a simple exercise. Both vehicles have multifunction steering wheels that play host to many buttons, but luckily each dial is easy to understand.

Perhaps the two most important buttons are found at the bottom end of the steering wheel, these being the drive mode selector and the ‘N’ button. The N changes the vehicle’s character almost wholly, bringing forth an enhanced driving experience that will delight from start to finish. Word of advice: hold on because both the i30 N and Kona N will require your full attention in this mode.

In the Kona N, the information cluster in front of the driver takes on a more digital approach instead of the i30 N’s more analogue approach. But if we’re honest, the Kona N’s cluster has a more engaging look and feel. In addition, the Kona N is also Hyundai’s first performance vehicle to feature a head-up display.

Other features include auto climate control, a wireless charger, push-button start, passenger comfort buttons (heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc.) next to the gear lever, and electric front seats. Speaking of the seats, these are covered in leather and suede.

Where the differences do come into play is with the cruise control. The Kona N features adaptive cruise control, whereas the i30 N boasts the standard version. Lane Keep Assist is standard on both.

In summary

At the two vehicles’ introduction, Hyundai South Africa’s CEO, Niall Lynch, said: “(The i30 N and Kona N) were born on the track and engineered for fun. With customisation at its core, the N vehicles offer something truly distinctive in today’s market.”

Lynch’s comments are not wrong, as both vehicles do indeed offer something else to your run-of-the-mill offerings. Each vehicle brings something unique to the table, and each impresses with a character that few cars in their respective segments can match. Granted, the driving traits of Hyundai’s N cars may not be to everyone’s liking, but they are more engaging than what their peers have to offer.

Hyundai N pricing

  • 2022 Hyundai i30 N – R749 900
  • 2022 Hyundai Kona N – R749 900

Both vehicles are sold with Hyundai’s seven-year or 200 000km warranty, a five-year or 75 000km service plan, and a seven-year or 150 000km roadside assistance.

References: Charlen Raymond (www.wheels24.co.za)

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