For the past few years, Hyundai has been adding a new level of performance to its lineup with sportier N models and N Line variants. Last week we had the opportunity to get behind of the wheel of the latest N model — the Kona N — for a short drive in northern California. When the Kona N comes to market later this year it joins the Veloster N and Elantra N. The N designation signifies more than simply additional power — N models have improved handling, sportier styling and better overall performance. The 2022 Hyundai Kona N is the first N model with a crossover bodystyle, and proclaiming that it’s fun to drive would be gross understatement.
“Kona N is a true hot SUV with the performance level of a hot hatch. It breaks the rule that SUVs are less fun to drive. As an N model, it goes beyond the limits of an ordinary SUV,” said Albert Biermann, president and head of the R&D division at Hyundai Motor Group. “Kona N can carve corners on the racetrack and bring excitement to everyday driving,” noted Biermann. We couldn’t agree more.
N Model vs. N Line
Some confusion might exist between Hyundai N models and N Line variants, especially since the company has already introduced a Kona N Line (pictured here). The N Line variants can be described as “performance light” — receiving sportier design elements and some power upgrades — while full N models inherit the highest levels of Hyundai performance via maximum power, optimized handling and racetrack readiness.
The Kona has been refreshed for the 2022 model year, and it already stands out from other crossovers thanks to distinctive styling. The Kona N gains additional differentiation as a high-performance model via body-color fenders that give the vehicle a wider stance, and its footprint gets further accentuated by red pinstripes at the bottom of the front fascia, side skirts and rear valance. The large Hyundai logo has been moved to the center of the grille, and three vents between the lights add sporty flair. A wide lower air intake provides additional airflow to the Kona N’s more powerful engine.
The rear view of the 2022 Hyundai Kona N also reinforces this crossover’s performance orientation with a double-wing roof spoiler that features a unique triangular brake light. Two large exhaust outlets anchor the sporty rear view, and the sound that emanates from them at full throttle will certainly to turn heads.
Hyundai designers and engineers built the 2022 Kona N specifically for driving enthusiasts; however, the model doesn’t sacrifice any of this small crossover’s inherent versatility. With decent cargo space and a roomy rear seat, the Kona N works well as an everyday runabout — albeit one that is incredibly fun to drive.
Under the Hood
The 2022 Hyundai Kona N draws power from a 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI 4-cylinder engine producing up to 286 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels. This powerful engine gets teamed with an 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission enhanced to handle high-performance demands. Hyundai says the Kona N will sprint to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of almost 150 mph. Although we didn’t (and wouldn’t) test for top speed on public roads, acceleration to 60 mph in the Kona N feels quicker than the reported number.
In addition to the turbocharged engine, the Kona N gets an electronic limited-slip differential that distributes power for better handling, especially in corners at speed. Launch control and a variable exhaust system are standard equipment, as are high-performance brakes and 19-inch lightweight forged wheels shod with high-performance tires. Extra welding points, an improved strut ring structure and a reinforced frame provide higher levels of rigidity for improved handling and performance.
N Grin Control
For the 2022 Kona N model, Hyundai offers a level of customization referred to as N Grin Control. The system features five drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, N and Custom. These modes adjust the engine, stability control, exhaust note and steering to provide an appropriate level of performance depending on driver wishes. A red N Grin Shift button on the steering wheel adds 10 horsepower for 20 seconds — similar to a video game turbo boost button — and pressing it always brings a smile.
As the centerpiece of the Kona N’s interior, a new 10-inch infotainment system also has a supplemental digital driver display. Showcasing this hot crossover’s true nature, an N mode provides track maps and lap times for a new level of entertainment. Further setting the Kona N apart from the rest of the lineup are Performance Blue accents on the steering wheel, shifter and seats. Customizable blue N buttons on the steering wheel allow drivers to quickly load preferences; the buttons can also be used to turn the lap timer on and off.
Given its designs on a spirited driving experience, the Kona N also makes safety a major part of its fun formula by featuring a long list of advanced driver-assist systems. These systems include forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver attention warning, blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, safe exit warning and adaptive cruise control.
On the Road
Hyundai gave us a brief opportunity to experience the Kona N on the very twisty Skyline Boulevard near Woodside, California. Simply the sound of the sporty Kona starting up gets the heart pumping a bit faster, letting others know that this is not a typical Kona. With only a short drive available, we put the Kona in full N mode which tightens the steering, firms the suspension and adjusts transmission shifting for maximum performance.
Race Car for the Street
In full N mode the suspension is incredibly stiff. Skyline Boulevard is not a smooth road, and every imperfection is telegraphed into the car. But that stiff suspension rewards the driver with incredible handling. The steering is needle precise, and in corners the Kona N stays flat and stable, even on the uneven road surfaces. It’s clear this car would be an absolute blast on a racetrack.
Great Acceleration, Braking
Granted, before stepping into the 2022 Hyundai Kona N we were a bit concerned about all that power going to the front wheels, but aside from our tire spin upon leaving the parking lot the power was completely manageable. Acceleration out of corners is impressive and quick. Transmission shifts are lightning fast — we used the paddle shifters for a short time, but ultimately gave in to a gearbox that upshifts and downshifts better on its own. Brakes are strong with no fade, even after pushing the little car pretty hard. This makes sense since the brakes are designed to survive a day at the track.
The Kona N looks as if it drove right out of a video game — not a bad thing — and playing into that perception is a big red button on the steering wheel. Pushing this button labeled NGS (for N Grin Shift) lights up the driver display and starts a 20-second countdown. During that 20 seconds the Kona N gets an additional 10 horsepower — much like pressing the turbo button in a video game.
With the introduction of the N line, Hyundai has significantly stepped up its performance game, and the Kona N is a great new player. Since we only drove this high-performance crossover in its sportiest and stiffest setup, it’s hard to be specific about how this N model would work as a daily driver. However, what we did experience certainly puts the Kona N high on the list as one of the more entertaining cars we’ve driven. We look forward to spending more time in this latest variant to provide a more comprehensive review.
Coming This Fall
The high-performance 2022 Hyundai Kona N will arrive in showrooms later this year. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.