Review: The 2022 Hyundai Kona N Compact Performance SUV Baits the BMW X2 And Mercedes-AMG GLB
Hyundai's N-branded high performance onslaught has now produced a trio of anti-social compact hooligans. Lead by the first-to-arrive, soon-to-depart Veloster N hatchback, the family also now counts the Elantra N sedan and the Kona N crossover, each of which has left a trail of tire smoke leading a fresh generation of enthusiasts to the automaker's showrooms.
Of the three, the 2022 Hyundai Kona N is seemingly the most in-step with the current zeitgeist, a twist on the hot hatch trope that adds a beefier SUV body to go with its scorching turbocharged drivetrain and cargo-friendly backpack. Still fun, and definitely more raucous than nearly any other similarly-priced crossover, in some ways it's this conformity of expectation that leaves the Kona N just a little less sizzling than its siblings.
Pop the hood on the Kona N and you're greeted with a ferocious upgrade over the next-step-down N Line model's engine. Although both are turbocharged, the N punches displacement out from 1.6L to 2.0L and turns up the boost to deliver 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, which is nearly a triple-digit increase for each respective measure.
Most surprising is the other difference between the N Line and the full-on N. While the more sedate model makes all-wheel drive available, the Kona N's sturm und drang is shuttled exclusively to the front wheels, a situation that sees its electronically-controlled limited-slip differential earn its keep with the throttle pinned. Torque steer is far more evident in the Kona N than the longer-wheelbase Elantra N, and while it doesn't overpower the drive it's certainly hard to ignore especially when launching at full fury, or when sampling its 'N Grin Shift' overboost feature, which gives you 20 seconds or so of 10 additional hp before putting itself in a cool-down time-out.
While the Kona N stands with the other members of its division in terms of its drive wheels, it skips out on the third pedal that's currently available with the Elantra and Veloster in favor of making its eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox standard equipment. This feels like the only true error in the Kona's calculus, for while its transmission is whip-smart about ripping the right shifts at the right time, it adds a layer of distance between pilot and asphalt that is bridged by the shift-it-yourself setup available in other N models. Although the DCT is required for overboost purposes, driving it back-to-back with a six-speed edition of the Elantra N only served to underscore the effects of this omission.
Ready To Rock
That's not to say that the 2022 Hyundai Kona N isn't fun to drive. On the contrary, its chassis tuning can only be described as boisterous, even when dialed down to maximum streetability by avoiding the fully-configurable N modes (accessed through a pair of programmable buttons on the steering wheel). This can occasionally provide a bit more jostling than one would expect on the daily commute, but if you want something soft then there are plenty of other Kona flavors to choose from.
As a hot hatch analog, or at the very least one that's been painted with the thinnest of SUV coatings to help ease its way down the palate of modern consumers, the Kona N has much to applaud. Turn down the weighty steering and crank up the exhaust crackles, and the Hyundai will dance with abandon through corners with nearly the same precision (and a dab more personality) as more expensive mini-utes from BMW (the X2) and Mercedes-AMG (the GLB).
The trade-off is road noise for days and an interior that's perfectly acceptable yet not quite on the same level as the newer design of the Elantra N sitting on the other side of the showroom.
A Class All Its Own
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the 2022 Hyundai Kona N is that it exists at all. We're a long way from the golden age of the hot rod crossover in the late-2000s, when it seemed like Detroit was dying to push as many HHR SS, Nitro SRT-4, and PT Cruiser Turbos out the door as possible.
In fact, as mentioned above you have to climb well past the Kona N's $35k starting price to access similarly-packaged shenanigans from German luxury brands (or settle for still-pricey Mini Countryman JCW). Hyundai is effectively playing on an empty field, and any time an automaker is willing to forge ahead into an unproven product niche—particularly on that involves a braap-braap exhaust note—its trailblazing is to be commended.
Still, there's collateral damage to assess here. The emergence of the Kona N means the end of the road for the wacky and wonderful Veloster N, the brand's first true turbocharged hooligan whose three-door hatchback design was too weird to survive the Kona's more mainstream approach. The additional sales volume engendered by the Kona N's normcore presentation no doubt helps keep the boost flowing at Hyundai HQ, but the world will definitely be poorer following the Veloster's swan song at the end of the current model year.
More From Driving Line
- Review: The 2022 Hyundai Elantra N Pocket Rocket Is Aimed Straight At The Honda Civic Type R
- Battle of the Mid-Priced Hot Hatches: VW Golf GTI vs. Hyundai Veloster N
- 2019 Hyundai Veloster N Blows the Hot Hatch Scene Wide Open
- Review: The 2022 Hyundai Kona N Line Looks The Part, But Doesn't Deliver SUV Thrills