2022 Hyundai Kona N – Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Say hello to driving pleasure to the Nth degree
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL David Colman
With its sturdy frame, slightly bowlegged stance, and pugnacious visage, the blocky new Hyundai Kona N is the English Bulldog of the SUV world. But its stellar performance transcends the limitations of its somewhat homely appearance. In fact, the N offers two diametrically opposed modes of driving behavior. If you just get in, fasten your seatbelt, engage Drive, and motor off without so much as a glance at the gadget loaded steering wheel, the Kona acts like a perfectly subdued and compliant economy hatchback, capable of cruising the freeway noiselessly, with 27MPG efficiency.
But lurking beneath that veneer of tranquility is a bestial side to this mini-SUV that will have you gasping for air as you fight to control its darker impulses. This latest addition to Hyundai's celebrated N brigade is a wickedly quick sports car masquerading as a milquetoast SUV. The Kona N utilizes a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 to drive all four wheels, all the time, through an 8-speed paddle-shifted wet dual clutch transmission. This is the same mechanical layout that has long made Audi's Quattro the benchmark sports sedan. In some respects, Hyundai has exceeded Audi's original recipe by adding a corner carving differential with Electronic Limited Slip Differential (e-LSD), rack mounted motor driven power steering, fully electronically controlled suspension, and 14.2" (F.) and 12.4" (R.) "N" emblazoned disc brakes.
The upshot of all this technology is an explosively quick mini-SUV. Not only is the Kona N capable of outrunning vastly more expensive competition on the race track, but it will also badger ostensibly faster street machines from BMW, Porsche and Audi on twisting back roads. If you don't believe this level of competence is available at this price point, just take a look at recent race results from IMSA's Michelin Pilot Challenge, where Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai N's won the Touring Car Division last year and just won at Mid-Ohio this year.
The Kona N offers 5 modes of ambulation: Eco, Normal, Sport, N and Custom. All five are instantly accessible via a drive mode knob atop the center console. Further customization is available via a pair of light blue "N" paddles located just beneath the steering wheel's center spokes. Press these paddles and the 10.25 inch digital instrument cluster's conventional look transforms into the dashboard of the Starship Enterprise. You are suddenly confronted with huge numbers detailing oil and water temperature on the left, a target styled central tachometer redlined at 6500-8000rpm, and all four tire pressure read-outs on the right.
In the center of the tach, an oversize digit conveniently indicates the gear you have selected. Thus does Hyundai provide all the pertinent information you could possibly need for competitive event driving, right down to a lap timer. Further fine-tuning is available for engine, suspension, e-LSD, steering, transmission and exhaust resonance. In Sport setting, you get the Rice Crispy exhaust note - lots of snap, crackle and pop. The Owner's Manual cautions you not to choose this setting when driving in densely packed residential neighborhoods.
A similar warning extends to the Pirelli P Zero radials (235/40R19) which give the Kona amazing levels of grip in dry conditions but are "not for use in snowy or icy conditions." The Kona corners on rails with these Pirellis generating amazing lateral grip. A red metal button attached to the steering wheel is marked with the letters "NGS" which stands for N Grin Shift. Press this button, and the engine will provide over-boost and extra horsepower for a limited number of seconds - just like the "Push to Pass" button used in Indycar racing.
The whole N system works in consort to provide driving pleasure to the Nth degree, a state of automotive nirvana rarely achieved at any price, let alone at the Kona N's sensationally affordable entry fee of $35,000.
2022 HYUNDAI KONA N
ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged and intercooled, 16-valve, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20MPG City/27MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $35,000 (est.)
HYPES: Wicked Quick
GRIPES: Beware Torque Steer
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10