It’s rare we’re genuinely excited about a new small SUV, but here’s one we are very eager to drive: The 2022 Hyundai Kona N. That’s N, not N-Line—and in Hyundai-speak, that means that the Kona is about to become Hyundai’s first SUV to get the honest-to-goodness high-performance treatment.
By now, you likely know the Hyundai Veloster N and the upcoming Elantra N are legit affordable hot rods that keep company with the best front-drivers in the business, including the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen GTI. The compact Kona N is made from the same mold, using the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic we just sampled in the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N. (Alas, no manual option for the Kona N.) It also uses the same front-wheel-drive layout, which is a bit of a letdown, as we were hoping for a little AWD action to take on the Volkswagen Golf R.
Nevertheless, the translation from powerful hatch to powerful SUV seems like it will go well. The engine is tuned for 276 horsepower, though we wouldn’t be surprised if Hyundai markets it as having 275 horses to match the Veloster N’s rating. With the “N Grin Shift” feature, accessed by a big red “NGS” button on the steering wheel, maximum power briefly increases to 286 hp. Hyundai didn’t detail the operation of the system in the Kona N, but in the Veloster N the NGS button is said to boost torque to 278 lb-ft for 20 seconds, after which the system requires a 40-second rest (an improvement on the Veloster N, which needs two minutes).
Many of our favorite features from the Veloster N have been ported over to the 2022 Hyundai Kona N, including the crackling, popping variable exhaust system; electronic limited-slip diff; upgraded brakes and tires; and ability to create custom driving modes. That last one is a real spine-saver, as the Veloster N’s suspension can be downright punishing in its stiffest mode. Our drive of a pre-production Elantra N showed it to be somewhat more compliant with no loss of fun, and we hope that’ll be the case with the Kona.
Hot on the Outside
All 2022 Konas receive a plethora of styling changes, and the Kona N gets its own variations, with unique lightweight 19-inch forged wheels, body-color fender flares and rocker panels, a unique grille treatment, red stripes along the bottom edges of the body, and two massive tailpipes poking from the rear bumper. Exterior color choices include a new shade called Sonic Blue, a variation on the Performance Blue in which the Veloster N is available. Inside, the Kona N gets an N-specific steering wheel, seats, interior trim, and performance-at-a-glance graphics for both the digital instrument panel and head-up display. The Kona N also gets Hyundai’s full collection of safety and driver-assistance features.
Oh, and for those who want the show without the go, Hyundai will offer an N-Line version of the Kona, which gets the body-color treatment and a few other styling enhancements inside and out, with the more pedestrian powertrains from the regular Kona. Don’t worry—having seen both, no one will ever mistake a Kona N for a Kona N-Line. Or anything else, for that matter.
What kind of performance can we expect from the 2022 Hyundai Kona N? We clocked the automatic Veloster N to 60 in a very rapid 5.1 seconds. According to Hyundai’s figures, the Kona will weigh in at 3,340 pounds, a 93-pound difference compared to the Veloster N. (Of note: In our testing, the Veloster N was lighter than Hyundai said.) Hyundai hasn’t supplied any information on the Kona N’s gearing or final-drive ratio, but assuming they carry over from its hatchback sibling, we’d be surprised if the Kona N can’t get to 60 in 5.5 seconds or less.
Hot in New Ways?
Incidentally, the Kona N press release contained an interesting tidbit that the N series could well grow beyond gasoline engines to electric and hydrogen fuel-cell power. (Recall that when Hyundai announced the N performance sub-brand at the 2015 Frankfurt auto show, they did so with the N Vision 2025 Gran Turismo concept, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.) Hyundai is preparing to launch the all-electric Ioniq brand with the upcoming Ioniq 5, and Hyundai hinted strongly at an N electric vehicle using the E-GMP platform that underpins the 5. The company also currently sells the hydrogen-powered Nexo FCEV in California and is preparing to launch a separate fuel-cell powertrain brand called HTWO (which could be a bit of a challenge, as the name is already in use for a brand of $4-per-bottle water). Given the organ-flattening performance of Tesla’s vehicles as well as the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Tron GT, an electrically driven Hyundai N sounds like an intriguing prospect.
We’re pleased to see Hyundai continuing to spread the N love to more models, and to the Kona in particular. Although it’s not the most family-friendly subcompact SUV on the market, the Kona is notable for its sporty handling in both gas and electric models, and we can’t wait to slide behind the wheel of this hotted-up version.
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