Reasonably affordable compact crossovers are generally not known for high performance or driving enjoyment, but Hyundai decided to throw that conventional wisdom out of the Kona N's window. Launched in the USA to great acclaim for the 2022 model year, the Hyundai Kona N remains largely unchanged for 2023, and continues to offer an appealing combination of sporty handling, storming performance, and a surprising amount of charm in a rather unlikely body shell.
Motive power is provided by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine rated at 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, with the power going to the front wheels through an eight-speed dual-wet-clutch transmission. Its accelerative capabilities make it a rarity among crossovers of this size; even Hyundai Kona N competitors like the turbocharged Mazda CX-30 aren't nearly as quick. There is no manual gearbox option for the Kona N, and neither is there any possibility of all-wheel drive. Instead, the differential is of the electronically-controlled limited-slip variety to get that power to the asphalt, and the suspension is adaptive to give damping that varies between firm and bone-jarring.
These are but a few of the elements which distill the Kona N's performance abilities into a great example of a front-wheel-drive hot hatchback, even if it is actually a crossover. Amusing details abound as well, such as the drive mode selector named the "N Grin Control System", which is accessed by a big red button on the steering wheel. Push the button and keep it in, and you'll even get an overboost function which liberates an extra 10 horsepower. Overall, the Hyundai Kona N offers a grin a minute, and it even comes with a competitive price tag to sweeten the deal.
Nothing has changed this year to dramatically alter our review of the Hyundai Kona N. Hyundai has added over-the-air map updates which were previously unavailable, and that's about it.
The price of the Hyundai Kona N starts at $34,700 excluding a destination fee of $1,295. That makes the base price more than a new Golf GTI's starting MSRP in the USA, but less than even a mid-spec GTI, representing great value for money in our eyes.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The driving experience is really what the new Hyundai Kona N crossover is all about. Thanks to its well-resolved adaptive suspension setup, electronically-controlled limited-slip differential, quick-changing transmission, and muscular engine, it's very easy to make it go fast in a straight line and lots of fun around corners. While the steering isn't awash with road feel, it does have a pleasantly weighty action, and all responses to steering inputs are immediate and controlled.
Most importantly, there is lots of available road grip along with predictable and trustworthy responses at the limits, so the Kona N encourages its driver to have some fun. This dynamic excellence does take its toll on ride comfort, however, as the stiff springs and beefy stabilizer bars militate against ride compliance. But, given the Kona R's brief of being a focused driver's car, this compromise is entirely reasonable.
The need for a very sporty suspension setup is emphasized the moment the gas pedal meets the floor, because there's a pretty serious powerhouse living under that stubby hood. Power is never in short supply, thanks to a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter gasoline engine delivering 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, and the abundance of gear ratios in the dual-clutch transmission ensure that the potent engine is always kept on the boil. It doesn't hurt that the variable exhaust pops, bangs and roars with the best of them, either - there's some real aural character here, and that needs to be appreciated in an era of ever more sanitized performance cars.
While you may not really notice the extra 10 hp liberated by the overboost function, it's nice to know that there's always a little bit of extra power waiting to be exploited. A note of caution must be issued for slippery surfaces, however, as all that torque can easily overwhelm the 19-inch Pirelli performance tires, especially in the lower gears.
There's simply nothing like the 2023 Hyundai Kona N available at its price point. But, rather than just being a good small performance crossover, the Hyundai Kona N is a genuinely enjoyable hot hatchback in its own right. It may have the body style of a crossover, but at its core, the Kona N is meant to deliver speed and giggles without too many compromises elsewhere, and it meets that remit with remarkable success.
The ride quality is quite stiff-legged over poor road conditions, the interior materials are a bit scratchy in some places, and there isn't a ton of room in the back seat, but these issues all fade into oblivion as soon as this little oddball is shunted down a twisty road. Massive fun in a small car with a comparatively low price is always a good thing.
Anyone who is currently considering a Volkswagen Golf GTI needs to take a close look at the Kona N: while the Golf is more expensive when specced-up to the Kona N's level, the Hyundai has stronger performance and a more engaging driving experience, carries a higher level of standard equipment, and doesn't really demand many practicality compromises. The Hyundai's slightly cheaper cabin is easy enough to overlook given its substantial price and performance advantage.
The Hyundai Kona N only comes in one easy-to-digest configuration, so there's not much to choose from when optioning one out. Hyundai will offer a few color choices on the exterior, but we think the N-specific Sonic Blue looks best.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Hyundai Kona N: