The Kona N throws down the performance in the small crossover segment.
Whoever said that the fun-to-drive on-road experience is limited to sports cars and touring models? Through the years we’ve seen a series of small cars with big power, including the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Ford Focus RS, and more recently the Honda Civic Type R. Utility vehicles, though, are largely absent from the segment, other than the six-figure Dodge Durango Hellcat or select models from Porsche. But now we’ll name the Hyundai Kona N among these exciting drivers, a subcompact crossover with an entirely performance-driven attitude.
The 2022 Hyundai Kona is available in SE ($21,300), SEL ($23,100), N Line ($25,850), and Limited ($28,600) grades. Add $1,295 for the destination charge.
All grades feature standard front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive. The SE and SEL trims are motivated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. On the other hand, the N Line and Limited models come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with an even 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The standard engine works with a continuously variable transmission, while the turbo unites with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Highlights of the 2022 Hyundai Kona N
Inasmuch as the Kona’s four-grade lineup is worth considering, there is another model that bears the name, but it is marketed separately. That is none other than the Kona N, a performance variant from the brand’s motorsport division. Our review focuses on the Kona N ($34,200), but we do shine the light on the other grades to make a distinguishment. This model, though, features a unique turbo engine, front-wheel drive, and an 8-speed “wet” dual-clutch transmission.
While incredibly like the base Hyundai Kona, the Kona N has a myriad of unique touches on the outside. Up front, aggressive vents now take the place of Hyundai’s badge, while the badge itself is proudly displayed on the front grille. Regarding the front fascia, its design and pattern include an aerodynamic front lip that blends these new features into a composed look.
Another significant change is color intermingling the cladding found on the wheel arches with the body. The rear end also sees improvements by receiving a substantial aerodynamic diffuser, which now incorporates a visible dual exhaust tip.
This layout transforms the rugged-looking and adventurous design into a sleek and eager-to-please demeanor. When you couple this with its unique rims and other updated bits of trim, you get a car that’s easy on the eyes. For these reasons, the Hyundai Kona is an appealing model.
Inside, the Hyundai Kona N is comfortable and familiar. Multiple physical buttons and switches are carefully balanced by a digital gauge cluster and a similarly sized 10.25-inch navigation and infotainment system display. It’s worth mentioning that quality materials and the fit and finish are proper for this price point.
However, the Kona N receives specific a one-of-a-kind treatment on the inside. Light-blue contrasting stitching borders the black seats and the steering wheel, fitting in nicely with the black headliner. Logos showcasing the N-line variant can be seen throughout the cabin, reminding you that this isn’t just any Hyundai. All these features and design cues are a nice touch hinting toward the vehicle’s playfulness.
Even if you’re shopping for a small and sporty car, practicality is good for the Kona’s size. The storage compartment is large enough to house several pieces of soft-touch luggage, although folding down the rear seat more than doubles that space. The rear passenger space is sufficient for two average-sized adults but is a tight squeeze for three.
There’s a lot of technology crammed into the Kona’s diminutive package. The infotainment system allows multiple users to connect simultaneously and may be controlled by voice recognition. The system also has a split-screen function, allowing customization.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included as is Digital Key, Hyundai’s proprietary app. The latter is operable with a smartphone, mainly for locking and unlocking doors. It is also useful for warming the car in the winter while waiting inside sipping a hot cup of chocolate. An eight-speaker audio system designed by Harman Kardon is included with the Kona N, along with two USB ports.
Hyundai employs multiple safety features, which is not surprising given this model’s price point. All Kona N models come with forward collision avoidance, blind spot assistance, rear passenger alert, highway drive assist, safe exit warning, and lane keeping management. Further, adaptive cruise control with full stop and go is standard. Finally, rear cross-traffic avoidance is included, making it easy to back out of tight and low visibility areas with ease.
It is worth mentioning that the Hyundai Kona performs well in crash tests, receiving “good” scores in all key test areas from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety along with five stars from the NHTSA.
Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain
The Hyundai Kona N has a turbocharged in-line four with direct injection that outputs 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. It is a thoroughly capable engine as proven by the Veloster N and the Elantra N. A drive mode selector on the center console also manages the driver experience with normal, eco, and sporty modes among them.
Something that some people might not consider is that the exhaust note is delightful, especially for an in-line four. This is something to keep in mind as engine sounds gradually give way to the relative silence of electric motors. But for now, we’ll embrace the boisterousness.
This crossover is linked to the front wheels via Hyundai’s N-line specific gearbox, an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Moreover, the transmission doesn’t automatically upshift at the redline, only doing so in the first gear, something that’s incredibly rare nowadays. Furthermore, the gearbox is aided by an electronic limited-slip differential, making sure the Kona N is agile while keeping pesky understeer at bay.
The transmission doesn’t require driver input, but steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are on standby for anyone desiring a more engaging driving experience.
On the Road
Hyundai developed the Kona N with racing purists in mind. This year, there are three “N” models to consider. N represents the apex of Hyundai performance, while N-Line has the look, but it doesn’t match the N in driving acumen.
We praise Hyundai for offering all three, although we already know that the Veloster N and likely the Elantra won’t be around for 2023. With just the Kona N left, shoppers should make their move now for the other two.
In any case, the Kona N makes its case for performance beastliness, thanks to its potent turbo-four and dual-clutch transmission. The N’s DCT is “wet,” and that means it is packed in a fluid to help it withstand the heat. It is also incredibly fast shifting and, despite a manual not being available, it enables this crossover to achieve its lofty racing goals.
The Kona N’s step-off acceleration is strong with the engine offering a faint rumble and the exhaust a modest tone. Once this crossover gets going, the cacophony builds although it is nothing like the snap, crackle, and pop of a V8. What benefits this model is engaging steering, competent handling, robust intermediary grit, and firm brakes.
Take this model to your favorite twisty roads and it makes short work of it. Specifically, the Hyundai holds the line as the limited-slip differential keeps it poised. We can see this vehicle succeeding on the track as it carves up corners, maintaining control just when it seems it should not. We pushed it on our usual strip of macadam, feeling confident while driving hard. That isn’t something we can say about any other UV in its class.
The small crossover segment is filled with competitors. However, few dare to deliver a comprehensive performance package as has Hyundai in the Kona N. We believe the Mini Cooper JCW GP is a worthy competitor. Previously, Nissan offered the Juke NISMO, but that model is no longer sold in the states. For customers shopping for the Honda Civic Si or the Volkswagen GTI, the Kona N is worth comparing.
Hyundai Kona N Considerations
Hyundai delivers a fully optioned package with the Kona N, pricing this model at around $35,000. That’s far above the $23,000 base price point customers will find when shopping this vehicle, but entirely justified by the performance package. As such, the Kona N is a niche model, designed for those who place a value on performance and experience much like that enjoyed by rally car drivers.
Cristian Pușcașu contributed to this story.
2022 Hyundai Kona N Specifications
|2022 Kona N
|2.0-liter, Twin-Turbo I4
|276 hp @ 6,000 rpm
|289 lb.-ft. @ 1,600 rpm
|8-speed dual-clutch automatic
|Curb Weight (pounds)
|Shoulder room (f,r…inches)
|Hip room (f,r…inches)
|Storage (cubic feet)
|Gross combined weight rating (pounds)
|Fuel Tank (gallons)
|EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined)
Specifications supplied by the manufacturer.
Addendum: Key Attributes of the 2022 Hyundai Kona N
The GRINS have it.
One special drive feature of the Kona N is worth mentioning. It is found on the lower right side of the steering wheel and marked by a red button with white NGS lettering.
Simply push the button while driving (especially on your favorite back roads) and the NGS maximizes engine and DCT performance for 20 seconds. Here, the vehicle will shift down to the most appropriate gear to maximize acceleration. Quite suddenly, drivers have an enhanced crossover on hand, one with rally car aspirations.
Launch this crossover.
Hyundai imbued the Kona N with all the niceties that make this model a superb driver. Beyond its fetching style, the company’s engineers added features that only make raise the driver experience.
None other than launch control is on hand. Managed through the driver interface, this system allows drivers to enjoy the full experience. It also allows them to match or beat the 4.8-second 0-60 mph time reported by Car and Driver. Other publications report a slightly higher time, but the 5-second threshold is within reach.
Superb braking system.
A tiny crossover typically doesn’t require a fancy braking system. But when this model is transformed into a veritable beast, it does.
Hyundai engineered the Kona N to include enlarged air intakes, as found on the front bumper. Further, the brake system is composed of high friction caliper materials, a lower arm guide, along with a heat shield of enhanced brake performance. This system supplies the confidence drivers need without worrying about brake fade when a quick stop is necessary.
Sweet music all around.
The growl of the engine and the toot of the exhaust system are welcome features of the Kona N. They’re fitting complements to this performance model, offering an extraordinary experience unmatched by most competitors.
While the natural “music” of the engine and exhaust system are welcome, there is more to enjoy in this department. Specifically, a Harman Kardon audio system with eight speakers immerses the cabin with your favorite tunes. But if you’re like us, you’ll use the audio package sparingly, as we preferred the din of the engine and the rumble of the exhaust throughout our evaluation experience.
See Also — First Look: 2022 Hyundai Venue
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