Can the Hyundai Kona N do what its sibling couldn’t and become a Motor Authority Best Car To Buy winner? It’s fun enough that it might.
The Hyundai Veloster N nearly won the Motor Authority Best Car To Buy 2020 award, but it was bested by the Porsche 911. Now Hyundai’s entered the ring with a more practical package and the same smile-inducing powertrain. Maybe it’ll rewrite history.
Packing the same 2.0-liter turbo-4 as other N models with 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, the Kona N is extroverted with its snap, crackle, and pop exhaust. It’s hard not to laugh behind the wheel when hitting the NGS overboost button and power output juices to 286 hp for short bursts. Unfortunately, you have to wait 40 seconds before using the fun function again.
Like its N brethren, the Kona N sends all the power to the front wheels, and a standard electronic limited-slip differential provides as much control as it can. Torque steer sneaks in but is mostly well managed.
Unlike its sedan and now-dead hatch siblings, the Kona N owners can’t #GiveAShift as no manual transmission option is available. Every Kona N features a quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
While not a rocket, the Kona N is plenty quick, with the ability to rip off 0-60 mph sprints in 5.2 seconds.
The Kona N really shines on a twisty back road. The car becomes its best self in Sport+ mode, which gives the engine a high-strung character as the revs stay high to keep the power on boil.
N Mode, easily accessed via a steering wheel button, has a time and a place, but it’s best left for the racetrack or a smooth road. In N mode, every response gets cranked to 11, which is great for power and handling, but on a rutted or bumpy road the Kona N could pulverize kidney stones, according to Senior Editor Kirk Bell.
Quick turn-in response and direct steering highlight the Kona N’s character as a wild child on backroads. At $35,495, its fun factor can embarrass sports cars costing twice as much.
While the Kona N sports distinct front and rear fascias from the standard lineup, it’ll take a keen eye to realize what the N is. Dual round exhaust tips poke out from the rear bumper, a rear roof spoiler controls airflow, side skirts extend the rockers a bit, and the front has slightly larger intakes with some blacked-out bits. It’s not nearly as in-your-face as the Elantra N with its trunk-mounted wing.
Inside, the Kona N comes well equipped with a 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and sport bucket front seats.
The Kona N isn’t perfect. Much of the budget was spent on the powertrain, leaving the interior a sea of hard, cheap plastics, though that’s not surprising given its economy car roots. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto require a cord. The front seats sit high and that creates a lot of head toss and body lean; almost every editor commented on the weird seating position. While slightly more practical and useful than the Elantra N and Veloster N, those siblings offer the Kona N’s powertrain in a less awkward driving position and come with an available manual transmission to appeal to purists.
Will the Kona N’s charming dynamics and budget price be enough to win over two other hot hatches, an outrageous SUV, a luxury EV, and a sport sedan? Check back on Jan. 4 when we reveal the winner, along with the champs from our sister sites, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports.
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