Anthony’s Analysis: 2022 Hyundai Kona N

2022 Hyundai Kona N

by  Anthony Fongaro  - Photos by TGR- 06/03/2022

Certain cars are designed to have big upgrades. They go from a mundane vehicle to one with added power, better brakes, and steering, a louder exhaust, e.t.c. When you transform that car, you have to make sure that it makes sense. A lot of power? Add all-wheel-drive. Want to cruise along while having the ability to go bonkers? Use adjustable suspension. Hyundai has done that with a few of its cars and now, they’ve done that to the Kona.

I’ve tested the Kona Electric and really liked it. Hyundai didn’t make it into a sports crossover, but a smarter choice for a small EV. Kona N is different. It’s more of a Veloster N in a crossover body. At first, this sounds like a great recipe. Make the necessary modifications add in a powerful 2.0-liter 276-horsepower engine, and you have a practical car for both the track and the road. It makes sense, but does it actually work? To find out, I tested on everything except for its literal main purpose: the track where it should be. Why? 

This Kona N means business. There are so many subtle and big changes to the exterior that you can instantly tell this is a performance crossover. It’s lower, dressed up in black paint, and has some of the coolest and biggest wheels in its segment. A little Kona lowered and wearing 19-inch wheels look fantastic. Add in some red trim pieces and large exhausts, and you have the correct transformation from a handsome SUV to a less handsome but more aggressive SUV. The Kona N wears its N badges loud and proud.

Speaking of the letter N, the interior has a few differences compared to the regular Kona to show it's the N. This Kona N had a completely black interior and something I haven’t seen in a long time: an actual handbrake. In front of the driver is an N steering wheel with most functions minus adaptive cruise control, but three interesting buttons. I’ll get to those later. Even the infotainment system gets the N treatment with a special screen dedicated to performance. You can even see layouts of some racetracks! A special shout-out to the uncomfortable seats and simple single-zone climate control.

2022 Kona N

N. Actually, N times two. There are two big, blue buttons on the steering wheel that transform the Kona to something quite ferocious. This isn’t a subtle car and even on startup, you get an almost boy-racer exhaust note. This comes from the 2.0-liter 276 (+10) inline-four, also producing 289 lb-ft. To save money, Hyundai decided to make this front-wheel drive which is, quite frankly, a big mistake. Even so, the Kona N goes from 0-60 MPH in 4.9-seconds. This is achieved by being in N Mode and pressing a red button called NGS. Aptly named N Grin Shift, this bumps the power to 286 horsepower for 20 seconds. Combining the N Mode with NGS produces a serious quick little CUV.

In the bends, the front wheels can struggle with the power but the Kona N is great around bends. That is unless you have even a smidgen of a bad back or knees. Dear lord, this is one of the stiffest and most uncomfortable cars I’ve ever driven. Hyundai really sacrificed ride quality for this, and every one of my passengers downright hated it. After driving it from my house to Chicago, I felt like I was punched in the back. Put the Kona N into actual N mode, and the punishment is worse. Thankfully, there is an N Custom mode where you can modify the steering, suspension, and power. Full power! Not super stiff suspension.

It’s funny that there are a few Drive Modes because I mostly drove in Eco. Why? The engine is lively but returns about 24-MPG. That’s not bad by all means, but the Kona N just wants to be driven hard. Like I said, this was made for the track where the suspension won’t seem like it’s attacking you more than the asphalt. This is a loud car and when you put it into Sport or N mode, the exhaust is loud but almost comical. Like most of the changes to the N, you don’t expect it to be so…sporty. Kona N is in a league of its own since no other competitors in its segment have this kind of sporty CUV.

This brings me to the $35,000 question: is this even worth it? After a week with it, my answer is: maybe? See, the Kona N is a lot of fun. The interior has some good quality and some scratchy plastics. Being a smaller CUV, the back seats aren’t for long commutes, but the front seats aren’t that much better. Shifting with the 8-speed automatic was good and using the large paddle-shifters made the drive even more fun. In Normal or even Sport Mode. N Mode is made specifically for the track and gets its own unique dials. If you’re used to uncomfortable suspension, then the Kona N is great! Otherwise, stick with the other Konas. They’re nowhere near as quick or fun, but they’re quick enough. Or try the EV and get some fun front-wheel wheelspin. 

In the conditions, I drove: 7.4/10 and a broken back. My chiropractor made a lot of money that week.

If this was on a track: probably over an 8/10.