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2022 Hyundai Kona N Review: How Far Can It Go?

2022 Hyundai Kona N
Photo: D.Heyman
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Dan Heyman
The Korean automaker is proving it can walk (develop EVs) and chew gum (produce performance cars) at the same time!
2022 Hyundai Kona N, N badging
2022 Hyundai Kona N, N badging
Photo: D.Heyman

Auto123 reviews the 2022 Hyundai Kona N.

As we advance into 2022, Hyundai is a brand you most definitely want to keep an eye on. Not only because they’re releasing some very cool products - including the funky Kona N you see here -- but because they are in the midst of a branding evolution. It should come as no surprise that a big part of that is their Ioniq EV program, now officially underway here with the debut of the Ioniq 5. What is surprising is they’re also putting a lot of emphasis on their N performance brand as well, one that features nothing but good ol’ turbo’d ICE performance models.

So what, then, do you do if you’re Hyundai and want to continue to showcase just how far you can take your burgeoning performance brand?

Well, you make a performance version of one of your biggest sellers, of course!

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2022 Hyundai Kona N, profile
2022 Hyundai Kona N, profile
Photo: D.Heyman

The Kona N comes equipped with a 2.0L turbo-4 shared with the also-new Elantra N, which also means that it’s shared with that car’s racing variant, the N TCR, built to compete in top touring car racing championships the world over. On paper, that translates to 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, sent to the front wheels (there is no AWD option) through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. That’s your only choice; the 6-speed manual fitted to the Elantra is not available on the Kona, which probably won’t surprise that many people.

Style-wise, the Kona N isn’t shy about its performance underpinnings. It gets special wheels wrapped in Pirelli performance tires, unique Performance Blue paint option with red rocker panels (those exist no matter which of the six available colours you select, except for the Ignite Red seen here), somewhat gaudy roof spoiler and distinctive N badging on the rocker panels and grille. While it doesn’t ride any lower than a standard Kona (it is still a crossover, so it still needs to be able to conquer Canadian winters) this is not your reasonable next-door neighbour’s Kona, I can tell you that.

2022 Hyundai Kona N, interior
2022 Hyundai Kona N, interior
Photo: D.Heyman

Inside, the N love continues with special N sport seats, Performance Blue detailing on the seats, gearlever and the two wheel-mounted N mode buttons as well as a big red button there with “NGR” stamped on it. That stands for the whatever-you-say “N Grin Shift” system, which provides a 10-hp boost for 20 seconds once pressed.

While the seats are a little more heavily bolstered than are the items found in other Konas, even the wider-hipped among us – a category in which I include myself – will be perfectly comfortable. Back seat space, meanwhile, is about what you’d expect from a vehicle this size, which is to say that most will probably use it only for the kids, as it should be. That or for more storage, since the seatbacks can of course be folded down flat.

The 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is modifiable and gets an additional “performance” style that has you feeling like you’re looking at the gauges of one of those touring car racers. There’s also a performance readout accessible from the main 10.25-inch display that provides data such as a G meter, lap time and your oil and coolant temps. That is quite the sight considering the crossover environs in which you’re sitting.

2022 Hyundai Kona N, NGS (N Grin Shift) button
2022 Hyundai Kona N, NGS (N Grin Shift) button
Photo: D.Heyman

Speaking of modifiable: there are several pre-baked powertrain and chassis modes, but you can also customize your own mode and map those profiles to the two N buttons on the wheel, just like you would in a BMW X3M, for example. Personally, I liked a Sport throttle with a slightly relaxed chassis, as it provides the comfortable ride you’d expect from a crossover, but with some nice added punch when it came time to dip the throttle. I don’t love the reciprocating knob used to flip through the drive modes, however; a simple button to press – as found in the Elantra N – would be my preference. It’s just less finicky.

There is some real punch here, in this N. Torque comes nice and low in the rev band so you get some great zip right off the line, more so if you activate the launch control system via those performance pages. After that, each gear is banged home with deliberation and speed, and with pleasingly low shudder from the driveline. This is a proper dual-clutch ‘box that is a joy to flip through with the easily-accessible wheel-mounted paddles and it’s another step into moving the Kona N into a class above other subcompact trucklets of its ilk.

The handling, meanwhile, leaves those rivals in the dust because it is a well-sorted affair that gets the important addition of an electronic limited slip differential. I tested the Kona N on rain-slicked surfaces including Sonoma Racetrack in California and you can feel that eLSD working. Almost as soon as that inside wheel started spinning during a turn, power would be diverted to the outside wheel to help pull you through. It makes the Kona N feel that much more unstoppable in treacherous conditions and you have to like that from your performance crossover.

The brakes have also been enlarged and pad material improved so you’re well-covered on the deceleration side of things as well.

2022 Hyundai Kona N, on the track
2022 Hyundai Kona N, on the track
Photo: Hyundai

Indeed, you’re covered for pretty much everything when it comes to the Kona N. Yes, it’s too bad there’s no manual or AWD option, but at the same time, I’ve sampled the Elantra N with both transmissions and it isn’t as clear-cut a win for the manual as I thought it would be. That is to say the dual-clutch auto is a great ‘box and a good fit for the Kona, and it would likely be the transmission of choice even if the manual were offered.

Hyundai, amazingly, has managed to take a vehicle that already sells like the dickens and is beloved in any of the many forms in which it’s available, and has managed to keep all that intact – except the AWD – and deliver an actual, bonafide performance model. Seems this Kona blueprint has legs for years.

2022 Hyundai Kona N, three-quarters rear
2022 Hyundai Kona N, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman

We like

Performance hatch handling
Looks
Punchy turbo power and sound
    
We like less

No manual transmission
No AWD option
     
The competition

Mercedes-AMG GLA 35

2022 Hyundai Kona N, rear
2022 Hyundai Kona N, rear
Photo: D.Heyman

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Photos:D.Heyman
2022 Hyundai Kona N pictures
Dan Heyman
Dan Heyman
Automotive expert
  • Over 12 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 70 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 150 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists