I had a chance to review the standard Hyundai Kona a few weeks prior to driving the Kona N, and I have to admit: I wasn’t super impressed. It was a decent little car to putt around in, but it never quite accelerated so much as it sighed and reluctantly went a little faster. It seemed too expensive for the amenities available in the car, like it was a few years out of date and yet still brand new. It was, on the whole, a Mostly Okay experience that I had no desire to replicate.
The Kona N was a whole different story.
I didn’t have a chance to spend a ton of time in the Kona N; Hyundai was providing a 2.5-mile test route through some twisty California roads as a little extra treat during the Santa Cruz drive event, so I’m not going to be able to give you the full lifestyle experience for this car — but I can give you those all-important first impressions and some of the hard facts while we wait for this car to hit the press fleets.
Full disclosure: I’ve already said it, but Hyundai invited me out to California to drive the Santa Cruz and take the Kona N for a spin on behalf of A Girls Guide to Cars. All my opinions are mine and mine alone.
Specs to Know
- Estimated price: $35,000
- Automatic transmission, 8-speed DCT
- Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 engine
- 286 horsepower
- 289 lb-ft torque
- Combined/City/Highway: 22/20/26 mpg
- Wheelbase: 102.4 in
- Length: 165.9 in
- Width: 70.9 in
- Height: 61.0 in
- Passenger Volume: 95 cubic feet
- Cargo Volume: 19 cubic feet
- Pirelli P Zero Tires on 19-inch forged alloy wheels
- 10-inch digital instrument cluster
The 2022 Hyundai Kona N is loaded with the features that make the N so special, including:
- N Power Shift, which enables a manual-shifting mode with steering wheel pedals.
- N Grin Shift, which adds 10 horsepower for 20 seconds.
- N Track Sense, which optimizes your shifts for the track you’re driving on.
- N Track Map, which pinpoints your exact location when driving on one of the Kona N’s database of tracks. That gives you the ability to calculate your lap time and analyze data based on your track location.
There are also a handful of different driving modes — Eco, Normal, Sport, N, and Custom — which change both the color of the dashboard and the settings for engine, stability control, exhaust sound, and steering.
Despite being taller than its Veloster N counterpart, the Kona N was well-balanced and responsive on even the twistiest of mountain roads. The electronic limited-slip differential helps you stick to the road and stay tight to the corner you’re taking, so while it’s no race car, it’s definitely going to give you the confidence of a race car driver. I was honestly a little upset that I was on a public road and not a track, since I couldn’t really push the Kona N to the limits I thought it wanted to go. I could only imagine how fun this thing would be taking on an autocross course.
Get it up to high speeds, and you’re going to notice a lot of wind and road noise. It’s not awful, but you’re definitely going to be aware of it. If you’re looking to buy this car as a daily driver for a commute that takes you through some rough highways, you’ll definitely want a test drive to see how you feel. That windier cabin does admittedly let in a lot more of that turbo whistle and exhaust grumble, so it’s a trade-off worth making.
Those rough highways will also give your suspension a run for its money, because the Kona N is stiff in its performance modes. If you’re seeking out an N version, you’re probably well aware of that. But again — it’s worth noting.
Overall, you’re getting a wonderfully outfitted performance-enhanced car for a pretty solid (albeit estimated) price. If you want a car that’s going to give you fun at a bargain, you’re going to love the Kona N.
The Verdict (So Far)
Obviously, a 10-minute test drive and a further 10 minutes poking around at the car’s features and asking questions isn’t enough to determine whether or not the 2022 Hyundai Kona N is a good car — but considering the fact that journalists ripping through some mountain roads with a loud exhaust brought out the police to check out what we were doing, I’m going to go ahead and say 10 minutes is more than enough time to determine that this car is fun.
And that’s what I liked about it. There’s value in a car being a workhouse that can efficiently serve your needs. There’s also value in being able to hit the “N Grin Shift” and do exactly what that button is commanding you to do. Not all cars need to be solely practical. Some can just be plain old fun.
The best part of all? Its starting price is going to be lower than its direct competition — things like the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4, or the BMW X2 M35i, or the Mercedes-Benz GLA35 — which start around the $40,000 mark. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive.