A Proper Hot Hatch in Crossover Clothing
It’s a new era in the automotive world, and we’re not talking about EVs. We’re referring to the fact that more and more often, a lot of the performance cars we test aren’t cars at all, but SUVs. Case in point, this Hyundai Kona N. So, let’s hit the road and track and see how much excitement Hyundai can pack into this little ute.
Hyundai introduced their N Brand performance division in 2013, but it was 2019’s Veloster N that truly set the stage with a complete high-performance transformation of their tiny 3-door plus-1 hatchback. The Elantra N sedan was a natural follow up. But, it still took guts to spread such a track-worthy treatment into their 2022 Hyundai Kona N mini-ute.
Actually, most of the Kona N’s go-specs are the same as the Elantra N, starting with the 2.0-liter turbo-4. It delivers the same 276-horsepower and 289 lb-ft. of torque, and comes with an upgraded 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, remaining front-wheel-drive only.
The interior is a bit drab and monotone looking, with only some blue accents to break up the grayness; but it is decked-out with N sport bucket seats, an exclusive racing display for the digital instrument cluster, and alloy pedals. For adjusting the 5 driving modes, there’s the now familiar N Grin Control system, which comes with N Grin Shift button on the steering wheel that adds a temporary over-boost for another 10-horsepower.
Outside, it barely looks like an SUV, more a slightly taller hatchback; so, the performance transformation is not that big of a stretch. Lots of go-fast goodies lend a serious look; like the 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero summer performance tires, front lip spoiler, dual exhaust tips, and double-wing roof spoiler. There are also red accents and an N signature triangular brake light. To see how it all comes together, we hit the tight and technical turns of Summit Point Motorsports Park’s Shenandoah Circuit.
And it was a real blast, feeling very light and agile, and sounding fantastic. One of the most descriptive features we’ve seen on a car lately is the N Corner Carving Differential. It’s exactly what it sounds like, an electronic limited-slip differential that manages power distribution across the front axle to improve cornering.
Based on the stiff, borderline hyper street ride, we were expecting more of a locked down experience here on the track, and to a point that was the case. Driven at 7/10ths, it was quite capable, and easy to forget that it’s an SUV. But push that last 30% and it starts to push back, and will understeer.
It was a real handful to launch in straight-line testing too; finding the right amount of throttle to manage tire spin, wheel hop, and torque steer. And if that sounds like we’re complaining, we’re not. That’s what we live for around here, as any car with an engine that unleashes fury the rest of the car has trouble dealing with always does seem to put that grin on our faces. Eventually, we got a clean launch to 60 in 5.3-seconds. There’s no real noticeable turbo-lag, but that torque steer shows up just about every time the DCT punches up to a new gear; so a firm grip on the wheel was required. 13.7-seconds was the ¼-mile time, finishing at 107 miles-per-hour, with the exhaust popping and crackling the whole way.
Of course, buyers will spend much more of their time driving to work and running errands than hitting corner apexes or running quarter miles. So, practicality is probably more important; which is why most people buy an SUV in the first place. Fortunately, there’s no sacrifice of the Kona’s 19.2 cubic-ft. of cargo space, which expands to 45.8. Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 20-City, 27-Highway, and 23-Combined; we averaged a good 24.2 miles-per-gallon of Premium. That’s an average Energy Impact Score, with consumption of 12.9-barrels of oil annually, and CO2 emissions of 6.5-tons.
The Kona N is priced at $35,495 to start; about 10-grand over a base unit, but only about 5-grand more than the Limited trim.
Hyundai continues to impress, whether it’s their rapid expansion of hybrid offerings or their fantastic EVs; and now you can add performance SUVs to the list. Though in actuality, the 2022 Hyundai Kona N is more of a proper hot hatch in boxy clothing than a do it all utility vehicle. If you need one of those, Hyundai has plenty of them as well. Still, the Kona N is something really special.
Engine: 2.0L Turbo-4
Torque: 289 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 5.3 seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.7 seconds at 107 mph
EPA: 20 City / 27 Highway / 23 Combined
MW Fuel Economy: 24.2 mpg (Premium)