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It’s hard not to like the 2022 Hyundai Kona N. Who wouldn’t want a small SUV that’s practical enough to take on a weekend road trip and quicker than a lot of sports cars on the market? I know I would. The Kona N drives smoothly in normal mode as a compact SUV should. But when you push the “N mode” button, a rabid beast awakens. Here is my short take on the Kona N after spending a week with it.

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N keeps the volume cranked up to “11”

2022 Hyundai Kona N front view shot next to a mountain road
2022 Hyundai Kona N | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

When tooling around town in the 2022 Hyundai Kona N for the first few days, it took me a while to really wrap my head around what this little SUV was about. Hyundai took its smallest SUV and stuffed the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine from the Veloster N in it. It’s an odd pairing that feels even odder when you drive around at partial throttle before the engine gets into the turbocharged goodness of the powerband.

Stamp your right foot to the floor and that’s when things get interesting. After a small amount of turbo lag, the small snail spools up quickly and the car pushes you back as the 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque gets to work. That torquey thrust is enough to put a smile on your face between stoplights. But if you really want to crank things up, just push one of the “N Mode” buttons on the steering wheel.

2022 Hyundai Kona N side shot in the mountains
2022 Hyundai Kona N | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

Upon doing so, the digital instrument panel shifts into a sportier readout with a large tachometer in the middle flanked by engine and oil temp gauges and a g meter. In this mode, you won’t really care about those readouts because the exhaust gets louder, the suspension stiffens up, and the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission holds its gears longer. All of these sportier parameters mean that your attention will be more focused on the aural enhancements that the car has to offer, in addition to the road ahead of you.

And that road gets eaten up quickly as the power gets sent through the electronic limited-slip differential to the front wheels. Hyundai says that this car can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and I don’t doubt that.

More fun comes when you push the red “NGS” button, which stands for “N Grin Shift,” on the steering wheel. When this button is pressed, the power increases to 280, and the transmission holds the gear for 20 seconds of over-boosted fun. It’s like a nitrous-oxide boost without the nitrous.

There’s only one main gripe with this sporty SUV

My only main gripe with the Kona N is that in “N mode,” the steering stiffens up too much. So much so that it felt like I had to fight the car in the turns at higher speeds. That effort didn’t mix well with the car’s front-drive configuration, which understeers by nature. Also, since the Kona N is a small SUV, it’s a little top-heavy, so that didn’t help either.

The Kona N is comfortable when driven normally

2022 Hyundai Kona N's interior
2022 Hyundai Kona N’s interior | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

If you want to turn things down a notch, then the Hyundai Kona N can be switched back to normal mode with a twist of the knob on the center console. In this mode, the suspension softens up and the steering loosens, which makes it the car feel more like its softer stablemates.

Overall, the Kona N feels comfortable when driving normally. Its leather and suede-trimmed sport seats are well-bolstered although they could use a little more lumbar support. Otherwise, the cabin feels airy up front and there’s a decent amount of room in the rear seat. Just don’t stuff anyone taller than 6-foot, 2-inches back there.

The Kona N looks sporty, yet subdued

2022 Hyundai Kona N rear shot by a mountain
2022 Hyundai Kona N | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

In terms of aesthetics, I like that the Hyundai Kona N doesn’t look too boy racer-like. Hyundai mainly added N Design front and rear fascias, “N” badges, and a dual-tip exhaust system to the original Kona design. It works well and made me feel like I could blend in with the crowd when I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about any onlookers laughing at a large shopping cart rear wing. (I’m looking at you, Honda Civic Type R).

2022 Hyundai Kona N: The chicken and waffles of SUVs

2022 Hyundai Kona N's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine
2022 Hyundai Kona N’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

Ultimately, the 2022 Hyundai Kona N’s dual personality works well for anyone that needs the space and practicality of a small SUV but wants to unleash their wild side at a moment’s notice. I call it the “chicken and waffles of SUVs” because its spacious proportions and turbocharged engine work well together in an odd way.

That being said, if you’re looking for a rabid beast in sheep’s clothing, then the Kona N is worth a look. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road when you push the “N mode” button.


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