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2022 Hyundai Kona N: The little SUV that could [First Drive]

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I’ve always liked the Hyundai Kona. It’s a good city driver with compact proportions and the ability to load up the rear cargo area when necessary. Well, it gets even better for 2022 with the introduction of the Kona N.

This is the same little SUV, but it adds up-level features and track-ready capability. Standard.

To me, there’s just something interesting about a grocery getter that can spend the weekend at the track. Without changing tires, brakes or fluids.

So, how’d it do during a day at Sonoma Raceway? Pretty well.

Under the hood in the Hyundai Kona N

The base engine for the Kona is a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder that delivers 147 horsepower. Of course, there’s also the up-level 1.6-liter turbo that delivers 195-horsepower.

But the Kona N engine is better than that.

It’s the same 2.0-liter turbo you’ll see in the Veloster N and the Elantra N, and it delivers a generous 276 horsepower. Due to the fact it’s an SUV, it’s 0-to-60-MPH times will be a little slower than its N car counterparts, but it still rings in at 5.2 seconds. Which is pretty fast considering what Hyundai considers the competitive set:

  • 2020 Subaru WRX: 6.0 seconds
  • 2022 VW GTI: 5.2 seconds
  • 2021 VW Jetta GLI: 6.0 seconds
  • 2019 Honda Civic Type R: 5.0 seconds

I pulled these numbers off Zeroto60times.com for consistency’s sake, and you can see only the Type R bests it. That’s pretty flipping cool. And it’s a Hyundai!

While both the Elantra N and Veloster N will have a 6-speed manual transmission option, the Kona N will only have the 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission. Why? Because Kona is late in its lifecycle, so developing a new transmission for this vehicle would be cost prohibitive at this point. Both Elantra and Veloster already had manuals available, and Kona did not.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Driving dynamics

The Kona N on-road dynamics are phenomenal. It’s smooth and zippy in all the right places, and the fact you can go from “Normal” to “N” modes really changes the overall feel of the vehicle. Even if you never take it to a track, you can have fun stiffening up the suspension and tightening the steering when you’re hitting highway on-ramps – and it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

What I find really interesting is Hyundai added to “N” mode buttons to the steering wheel so you can customize two different sporty drive modes and access them with the push of a button. If that makes you think of BMW M mode buttons, you’d be spot on. Albert Biermann, president and head of research and development for Hyundai Motor, was formerly the vice president of engineering for BMW M Automobiles.

“Press that N button and the driving experience should come alive,” Biermann said during the press briefing.

And it totally does.

Moving to the track or autocross, the Kona N is a pack of fun – as long as you don’t try to drive it too hard. I found some of the corners and hard turns had the vehicle skipping a bit, and it didn’t feel as solid or planted as its Elantra N counterpart.

But knowing this compact SUV can tackle a track with decent credibility is impressive. That means any aggressive maneuvers in “regular” driving will be handled smoothly.

What in the heck is N Grin Shift?

In addition to the N mode buttons on the wheel, there’s an NGS button. NGS stands for N Grin Shift. It’s kind of a funny name, but idea is this: Pressing that button is going to make you grin.

How? By using the engine’s overboost in combination with the N DCT’s ideal shift pattern, it maximizes performance for 20 seconds.

Yeah, I know, 20 seconds. But it’s a nice little lift when you need it. Or just want it.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Creature comforts in the Hyundai Kona N

The Kona N is a WYSIWIG, and everything is standard. In fact, the only option is color. Because it’s an SUV, Hyundai wanted to make sure it had a solid level of creature comforts. So, in addition to the N packaging, contrast stitching and sport seats, you’ll get standard features such as heated seats, LED headlights and taillights, a leather steering wheel, a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, a digital key, wireless charging and Hyundai’s SmartSense safety suite.

What I discovered while driving Kona N is it feels a lot more premium than the regular Kona. The touch points and materials are more up-level, and everything generally feels more premium – from the sueded inserts on the seats to the soft-touch dash accents.

One creature comfort Kona N is missing, however, is all-wheel drive. Though the base vehicle is offered in front- and all-wheel drive, for engineering simplicity (and, let’s face it, price), Kona N is front-wheel drive only.

So what does it cost?

The short answer is: We don’t know yet. Kona N will be available by the end of 2021 as a 2022 model, and Hyundai stated pricing would be announced closer to that time.

However, execs during the press briefing did point out the price of the Veloster N is $32,500, and said we’d be “pleasantly surprised” by the price of Kona N.

But if we extrapolate a bit, we’d estimate there will likely be about a $11k premium added to the base price of Kona – because that’s what the premium was when Hyundai still had a non-N Veloster.

With the base Kona starting at $21,150 and current top-tier Limited trim starting at $28,450, it would make sense to see Kona N somewhere around the $31k or $32k price point.

The bottom line on Hyundai Kona N

I’ll admit I’m intrigued by Kona N. Would I personally use it as a track car? No. Though it was really good, it wasn’t as well-balanced as the Elantra N – so I’d opt for the car over the SUV if I truly wanted to track a car.

But the possibility is there – and it can be tracked without changing a thing.

What I really like about the Kona N, however, is the everyday ride and handling. It’s comfortable and fast, and if you want to have a little fun, you turn on the “crackle and pop” exhaust with the N modes and have a little giggle while merging with highway traffic.

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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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