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2022 Hyundai Kona N first drive review: Wild child

Hyundai's little Kona crossover SUV gets big-time N performance.

It looks weird, but I love it.

Hyundai

Hyundai R&D boss Albert Biermann says the company's N products should all be "a little crazy," and no model lives up to that brief quite like the new Kona N. It's a rip-snorting compact crossover SUV that looks wacky as hell. And while it certainly isn't perfect, hot damn is it fun.

Hit the gas and hold on; you're in for a wild ride. The 2.0-liter turbo engine barks to life and sends jolts of torque through the steering wheel while the traction control struggles to rein in the front tires. The Kona N has launch control, should you desire a more civilized form of instant acceleration, but honestly, this little hooligan almost begs to be driven with brutality. Just stomp on the damn thing.

That turbocharged inline-four is the same engine Hyundai uses in the Elantra N and Veloster N, making 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. And while the lack of a manual transmission is a big ol' bummer for stick-shift stans, the Kona's eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox is an absolute peach. In Sport mode, the transmission slaps through the gears with immediacy and drama, but driven normally in the city, shifts are super silky smooth. This DCT is an all-star; I honestly don't miss a manual.

Unlike the standard Kona, the N isn't available with all-wheel drive. Instead, the Kona N has stronger front axle components and the same electronic limited-slip differential as the Elantra N that can split power delivery between the two front wheels. Does the Kona N understeer? A little. Does it torque steer? Definitely. But just like on the Elantra N, Biermann says this is behavior is an intentional feature, not a quirk. Indeed, the Kona N feels lively while you toss it into tight corners, the heavy steering offering lots of feedback about what those front tires are up to.

The Kona N's rowdy nature means it lacks a little finesse and precision, a reality exacerbated by its subcompact SUV form factor. The higher center of gravity and taller seating position means dive under braking feels more pronounced, and there's plenty of body roll in tighter turns. You really have to let the Kona settle before chucking it into a corner. And while the N has the same multilink rear suspension setup as all-wheel-drive Kona models, it doesn't have a stabilizer bar for that little bit of added poise.

A pair of 10.3-inch screens make up the gauge cluster and infotainment interface.

Hyundai

Even so, the Kona N wants to party all the time. You can goose the throttle on a highway on-ramp and the Kona will snap to attention, with the faintest hint of turbo whistle before you lift the throttle when the road straightens, letting the throaty exhaust crackle on overrun. This crossover is definitely tuned for sportiness above all, which means the ride quality is... let's call it appropriately harsh. The N's 19-inch wheels look great and the standard summer tires offer lots of grip, but combined, this hardware doesn't exactly make for long-haul comfort.

At least the front seats themselves are comfy and supportive, with a heavily bolstered design that's unique to the Kona N. These chairs come with standard heating, and the driver's seat has power adjustability. Rear passengers have the same bench setup as lesser Kona models, and they can fold flat, revealing 45.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.

Elsewhere, the N has the same interior upgrades as the rest of the 2022 Kona range, coming standard with not only a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, but a 10.3-inch multimedia display, too. Hyundai's proprietary infotainment software is perfectly good on its own, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on hand for those who prefer to go that route, though do note, neither connect wirelessly.

It's a riot.

Hyundai

The N-specific cabin changes are minor, save for the aforementioned seats, badges all over the place and a thicker-rimmed steering wheel. Like the Elantra N, the Kona N's wheel has hard buttons for the customizable N1 and N2 driving modes, and don't forget about the bright red N Grin Shift button, which unlocks 20-second stints of overboost for max-attack thrills.

When the 2022 Kona N goes on sale later this year, it'll likely cost somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. There aren't really any direct competitors, but I can totally see the Kona N being cross-shopped by the usual set of hot hatch buyers and sport compact -- including folks who might otherwise end up in an Elantra N or Veloster N.

Is the Kona as refined as those those other two N models, or as all-around good as something like a Volkswagen Golf GTI? Not really. But I'll also argue it's a lot more entertaining. There's a lot to be said for a crazy good time.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.