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WELCOME TO HYUNDAI’S HAPPINESS MACHINE
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

In essence, this is an i30N hot hatch that’s had its wheelbase shortened and its centre of gravity nudged up. And it drives just as the recipe suggests: an already roguish character is now even more cartoonish.

The DCT gearbox is a sophisticated item, and with eight nicely stacked ratios, you can potter along quietly and cruise at 2,000pm should you wish. But the powertrain is always gagging to really let loose, and this is a car that falls easily out of its shackles as soon as you start stiffening its suspension or loosening its stability control.

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So it’s fun?

There’s a mobile rear end should you lift off the throttle or brake exuberantly into a turn – it’s a right old laugh without ever giving you the scaries. It’s like a boisterous little puppy scurrying across the lino into the kitchen, with no malice to its excitement whatsoever.

If this all sounds like an irrelevance, then consider that its innate sense of humour really shows up the studious side of its mostly VW Group rivals. Only a Ford Puma ST feels anything like as daft as this, and it’s down by nearly 80bhp.

I bet there’s a price to pay…

Correct. This is mercilessly stiff, as has been the N Division way thus far. The suspension has three settings, but ‘Normal’ feels like where the middling ‘Sport’ ought to be, while ‘Sport+’ is something you’ll try once and never revisit, we suspect.

There’s much, much customisation possible within its numerous driving modes, but it’s all relatively intuitive and you can corral two favoured setups to access with a quick steering-wheel button prod – a prod which the Kona N’s digital dials actually prompt you to do when the car’s forward-facing camera spots a bendy road sign. Told you it was daft.

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You’ll want the limited-slip differential in its sportier setting if you’re to avoid torque steer. The gearbox has four different levels of ferocity; left in Drive in its second-most sporty mode, you might never need to pull a single paddle, so good is it at changing down into corners and up out of them. A late, impromptu manual downchange is always instant and accompanied with a naughty growl of assertive rev-matching, though, and will make you smile almost as much as if you’d done it with a traditional manual ‘box. So don’t abandon the paddles entirely, no matter how plasticky Hyundai’s made them.

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