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Hyundai’s N Track Day: Taking to the Track with Two of Hyundai’s Best

Photo: Hyundai
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Dan Heyman
There’s nothing like a performance car let loose in its natural environment; in this case, two cars: the Elantra N and Kona N
The Hyundai Kona N and Elantra N
The Hyundai Kona N and Elantra N
Photo: D.Heyman

Auto123 gives you an on-track review of the two hottest new Hyundais (and no, we’re not talking about the Ioniq 5 and Santa Cruz here). We recently drove the Elantra N and Kona N at Mosport.

See also: A fun day with Hyundai (from 2013!)

Bowmanville, ON - Like any manufacturer these days, Hyundai sees its future as very much an electrified one. Of course, “future” is a little off the mark - their popular Ioniq 5 EV is very much here, now.

Still, they have far from forgotten the good ol’ fashioned internal-combustion world by going racing at top levels and – for us mere mortals – continuing to offer affordable performance models that are tapped to keep the light of the thrill of driving burning bright, even as electrification and autonomous driving continue to clog the airwaves.

While racing and performance Hyundais each constitute a slightly different breed, they both fall under the banner of N, and Hyundai is adamant about the N brand being a pillar of their portfolio going forward, just like Ioniq.

To show us what’s what, they dispatched us to the fabulous and world-renowned Canadian Tire Motorsports Park ("Mosport” to many) just outside of Toronto, Ontario and let us loose at the wheel of the two latest models sporting the N moniker: the Elantra N sedan (MSRP: $39,653 CAD) and Kona N compact crossover (MSRP: $42,554).

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Our driving instructors
Our driving instructors
Photo: D.Heyman

Well, not completely “loose”, since each of us were paired with driving instructors that have cut lines on racetracks the world over, in race cars of all stripes. A single lap with them will show you just how far away you might be – or how close.

Like us, though, they need a car to do what they do, so it all starts with these two performance compacts from Hyundai.

Both come powered by 2.0L turbocharged bangers good for 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, one comes with the option to select either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, one with just the latter, Also, one is front-wheel-drive only, the other, all-wheel drive only. You can probably guess which one is which judging from their body styles but if not, I will say this: for all their differences on the surface, they are somewhat similar at heart.

They both get all sorts of special body additions that their more-sedate siblings – including the “N-Line” variants each model gets -- do not. The Elantra N is the only model in the lineup that gets two massive tailpipes and that sizable rear wing, while the Kona N gets a wing of its own, special 19-inch wheels and a host of other exterior trim bits to help differentiate it from other Kona models.

Hyundai Elantra N, interior
Hyundai Elantra N, interior
Photo: D.Heyman

Inside each model, you’ll find powder blue trim pieces – that colour being the N brand’s calling card – such as twin drive mode select buttons, seat stitching and shift lever inserts. The Elantra N gets extra-special sports seats that hug the ribs just as they would in serious performance machines. The Kona’s seats are a little less aggressive, but they are an upgrade over standard models. And when you’re winding your way through a track like this, you need all the help you can get.

Hyundai Elantra N, tire/wheel
Hyundai Elantra N, tire/wheel
Photo: D.Heyman

Speaking of help, one of the major differences between the two is the tire choice. The Elantra’s summer-spec Michelins are a darn sight grippier than the Kona’s all-season Pirellis. It stands to reason, because with its AWD and more family-oriented body style, the Kona, even in N spec, is the one more likely to be driven in adverse conditions.

Out on the track, those tires -- coupled with the Kona’s higher centre of gravity -- means you will get more body roll through the turns and since you’re sitting up higher than you do in the Elantra, the environment does seem a little too alien for the Kona.

A Kona N, on the track
A Kona N, on the track
Photo: D.Heyman

Turns out, however, that there’s a lot you can do as a driver to either offset those effects, or even to use them to your advantage. Not to mention the AWD system, which can shuffle the power out and help stabilize and pull you out of certain situations.

Mosport is a fast track that features many elevation changes and long, multi-apex turns that will test any car’s limits. Ask a race driver and they’ll tell you that in fact, some of the downhill sweepers are some of the most intimidating turns in North America.

In the Kona, that means that if you miss your turn-in point and are forced to adjust your steering or apply the brakes through the turn as a result, the ride height and lively steering rack will cause the chassis to unsettle and lead to some white-knuckled scenarios.

A Kona N, on the track, fig. 2
A Kona N, on the track, fig. 2
Photo: D.Heyman

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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