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Hyundai Kona N: Hella fun in a functional package

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Kona N

Hyundai Kona N (Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

The folks at Hyundai must love their jobs. In addition to producing attractive and unique new vehicles, such as the all-new Hyundai Tucson, they recently launched their first pickup truck, and they’re making waves in the performance arena. Now, the Hyundai N treatment expands into its SUV lineup with the introduction of the Kona N.

Frankly, as the “hot hatch” and performance sedan segments dwindle, this next step makes a lot of sense for enthusiasts, creating a vehicle with a dual personality. Kona N will still be the flexible and functional compact crossover it started out as, with the ability to tear up the pavement with a flip of the drive mode.

We’ve driven the car equivalents of the Hyundai N series, and if they’re anything to go by, this Kona N is going to be hella fun.

It won’t get a manual, but …

I have to admit, whenever I see Hyundai N vehicles, I expect a manual transmission. The Veloster N has it. So does the Elantra N. And they are awesome. But with the expansion to SUVs, the manual disappears.

While this is a tad disappointing, the 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission, which was developed in house, has promise. It gets improvements in durability and allows for the best possible performance by allowing for unique gear ratios.

Kona N

The Hyundai Kona N will get an 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission (Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

More power = more better

With the introduction of the Kona N, there will now be three powertrains available on this compact SUV. The base engine is a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder that delivers 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. The recently announced Kona N-Line will have the up-level 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.

The Kona N, however, goes off the rails with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that delivers (if my math conversions are correct) 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. This is where I’d insert the “wow” emoji on social media. What’s more, with the N Grin Shift (NGS) power goes up to 286 horsepower.

An SUV meant for the track

N Grin Shift? Yeah, that’s new for us, too. This is one of the “exclusive driving features” enabled by the transmission control unit, which is specially calibrated for N. You’ll also see N Power Shift (NPS) and N Track Sense Shift (NTS) – all of which translate into faster shifts and more fun.

Outside of the extra power and special transmission, the Kona N will also get an electronic limited slip differential, 19-inch lightweight forged wheels, high-performance brakes and enhanced rigidity.

And what’s a performance vehicle without performances features? All Kona N models will also get launch control, a variable exhaust system and the N Grin Control System, with five drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, N, Custom).

Oh, and speaking of launch control, the 0-62 mph time will be 5.5 seconds.

Kona N

Hyundai Kona N (Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

Get your game on

It appears Hyundai is trying to appeal to the gamer set with a “game-like dimension” to tech. In addition to a 10-inch infotainment screen, Kona N will have a digital cluster, racing head-up display and customizable N buttons.

Plus, with the digitized “N mode design” on the infotainment, drivers can see lap times and track maps, which place the vehicle’s location on the circuit while in motion.

A new blue hue

We’re familiar with the powdery Performance Blue on the N cars, but Kona N will get a new exclusive color called Sonic Blue. While we haven’t seen this color yet, we assume it’ll be a bit more vibrant. And as Hyundai states in its press release, Kona N will be the only N vehicle to get this color at the moment because it’s an SUV-specific N color, but it could end up on future N products.

Like the Tucson N, perhaps?

Kona N

Hyundai Kona N (Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

The bottom line on Kona N

Before anyone poo-poos the idea of an SUV on a racetrack, I’m going to point out other brands – such as Alfa Romeo and Dodge – have done this quite successfully. I personally have taken both of these vehicles on a track and lapped sports cars.

So, if Hyundai does this right, the Kona N could be one of those perfect vehicles that is both functional and fun.

I keep going back to “N Grin.” Yeah, those folks at Hyundai are having a blast.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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