- Subtle styling hides not-so-subtle performance.
- There's nothing "subcompact" about 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque.
- Handling is simply on another level for the class.
In its normal guise, the Hyundai Kona is a practical, well-equipped and generally pleasant subcompact SUV. There's even an all-electric version that we owned as part of our long-term test fleet and wound up liking quite a bit. That should be it for the Kona lineup then, right?
For 2022, Hyundai's N division, overseen by famed performance engineer Albert Biermann, turned its attention to the brand's funky little SUV. Now equipped with 19-inch wheels, sporty styling both inside and out, and the promise of well-rounded, affordable performance, the 2022 Hyundai Kona N is a different proposition altogether. We hit the roads, and a bit of racetrack, to get to the bottom of the new hi-po Kona.
Far from it. Under the hood, the Kona N is packing a version of the Veloster N's potent 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Equipped with a larger turbocharger and new engine mapping, the Kona N makes a whopping 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. There's even an overboost feature (Hyundai calls it "N Grin Shift") that temporarily adds 10 hp at the push of a big red button on the steering wheel.
That power is routed through the company's versatile and quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It's then sent to an electronically controlled limited-slip differential before finally meeting the pavement via 8-inch-wide Pirelli P Zero summer tires.
The brakes, too, have seen some major upgrades. Front rotors are up from 12 to a sizable 14.2 inches, while the rear rotors grow from 11.2 to 12.4 inches and are ventilated units instead of the standard solid ones. Additional brake cooling ducts have also been equipped on the Kona N.
In fact, the Kona N has many of the same features as the well-equipped Limited model. The N's comfortable sport seats feature leather and suede upholstery and the driver even gets eight-way power adjustment. The N also boasts twin 10.25-inch digital displays for instrumentation and infotainment. A wireless charging pad and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility are also standard, as is an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. You also get heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a special N steering wheel, and keyless entry and ignition.
Hyundai hasn't skimped on the advanced driving aids either. Equipped with automatic emergency braking, a lane keeping system, driver attention warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a safe exit warning system, the only thing the N is missing is adaptive cruise control. In fact, the Kona N retains all of the practical advantages bestowed by its SUV body style. It still has functional roof rails and the rear seats fold flat.
It most definitely does. Thanks to the Kona N's multitude of settings and drive modes, it barely gives away its performance potential in normal day-to-day driving. The sport exhaust is nicely subdued, and the ride, though firm, is never punishing, the electronically controlled suspension soaking up even moderately large bumps and potholes without much fuss.
But when the daily commute ends and the good road begins, just press that blue button on the right side of the steering wheel. Summoning "N mode" opens hilarious levels of performance and adjustability for a little SUV. For optimal customization, the engine, steering, transmission, stability control, differential and exhaust (it's got all the pops and bangs you could want) can all be tailored to suit your needs, or the road's. There's even launch control. On a Kona!
Throttle response from the engine is fairly immediate and turbo lag, often prevalent in smaller engines like this one, is minimal. There's quite a rush of power throughout the engine's midrange, with maximum horsepower available from 5,500 to 6,000 rpm. While we wish we could get the six-speed manual that's offered in the Elantra N, Hyundai's eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is so intuitive and quick to shift that we hardly mind.
Being a front-wheel-drive hot hatch/SUV, the Kona N could easily have suffered from excessive torque steer, poor traction and wonky steering feel. But Hyundai's N team clearly did its homework and put in the development miles. The Kona N steers with a directness and clarity that's at first surprising but then settles into comfortable and confidence-inspiring. The limited-slip differential works hard to put the considerable power to the ground, but it's well matched to the Kona N's stability control system, which allows for a bit of wheelspin and generally unabated acceleration. Sure, there is torque steer, but it's never excessive and instead proves to be an excellent form of communication as to how hard the front tires are working.
Overall balance is just what you want from a little performance hatchback. The Kona N is eager to change direction and makes the most of both the front and rear wheels to get to where you want it to go. That even includes a bit of liftoff oversteer, something more advanced drivers rely on to help rotate a car through a corner. In short, the Kona N is an absolute hoot.
For no good reason, or perhaps the best reason, Hyundai has whipped its sensible subcompact SUV into a riotous little thing. Well equipped, robustly powered and exceptionally adept on a good road, the Kona N is both practical and more than a little special. Pricing wasn't available as of this writing, but we'd expect the Kona N to sticker just north of $30K. Stay with Edmunds to get future pricing details, as well as a full expert review when the Kona N goes on sale later this year.