“Never Just Drive” might seem an odd brand slogan in a world rapidly accelerating toward an autonomous future. But Hyundai’s growing N performance brand apparently believes younger customers raised on racing video games want something more than a self-driven vehicle, whether it’s fueled by gasoline, electrons or hydrogen.
Driving enthusiasts are intensely brand loyal, according to Hyundai’s market research, so the “affordable and accessible” N lineup is critical. Its role is to attract new customers early in their lives and to keep them within the brand family for years to come.
With the new ’22 Kona N, the automaker is targeting “active young singles” and “enthusiastic young families” in the hope that once they’ve owned an N-badged Hyundai, they’ll stick with the company as they grow older.
This is the main takeaway following a short “N Day” presentation in association with the full reveal of the company’s new Kona N. In the U.S. market, the small CUV will be the second N-badged vehicle. However, the similarly tuned Elantra N joins the lineup soon and other models are on the way as Hyundai expands its sporty N Line and performance-tuned N portfolio to 18 vehicles globally by the end of 2022.
The ’22 Kona N is the first N-badged CUV but Hyundai hints that it won’t be the last. It has a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyl. generating 280 hp and 289 lb.-ft. (392 Nm) of torque. Activate N Grin Shift mode and drivers can enjoy an extra 10 hp for 20 seconds, with 40-second intervals between activation of the boost.
Modified for improved durability in the ’22 Kona N, Hyundai’s 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission (N DCT) powers the performance CUV’s front wheels. Hyundai says the N DCT is specifically calibrated to enable the N Grin Shift, N Power Shift, N Track Sense Shift and Launch Control functions. Activate Launch Control and the Kona N zooms to 60 mph (97 km/h) in about 5.5 seconds. Top speed is a lofty 149 mph (240 km/h).
All-wheel drive is unavailable. Albert Biermann, president and head of R&D for Hyundai Motor Group, explains a front-drive configuration keeps both vehicle weight and the Kona N’s price down. With a good set of winter tires, he suggests, the CUV will have no trouble in the snow.
Hyundai relies on its N Corner Carving Differential electronic limited-slip differential technology to keep the ’22 Kona N’s front wheels under control. Drivers also can use the N Grin Control to select between Eco, Normal, Sport, N and Custom driving modes.
There is more to the ’22 Kona N than a powertrain. Hyundai structurally reinforces the CUV for improved body rigidity and to minimize body roll has an N-tuned electronically controlled 4-wheel independent suspension. Rack-mounted electric steering boasts a quick ratio for maximum responsiveness.
Lightweight, 19-in. forged aluminum wheels are wrapped in 235/40 Pirelli P Zero tires. An active exhaust system is quiet when you need it to be, and riotous when you want it to be.
Oversized dual exhaust outlets punctuate the ’22 Kona N’s lower rear bumper and Hyundai makes numerous functional design changes that ensure you won’t mistake the Kona N for a typical grocery-fetching crossover. They range from a wider front air intake for maximum cooling and a full aerodynamics kit to a double-wing rear roof spoiler. Red accents also identify the ’22 Kona N.
Inside (pictured, above), Hyundai delivers what it calls a “game-like” experience. Twin 10-in. (25-cm) displays provide instrumentation and infotainment, and the ’22 Kona N also has a racing-style head-up display. Customizable N buttons provide quick access to favorite features and Hyundai says it optimizes the data displays for size and legibility, ensuring quick reference and readability at speed.
Bolstered seats hold occupants in place while drivers grip a thick-rimmed performance steering wheel with paddle shifters and N function buttons. The Kona N also includes a full complement of Safety Sense driving-assistance technologies.
Till Wartenberg, Hyundai vice president of N brand Management & Motorsport,says: “Driving was never meant to be boring and with N, it never will be. This is reflected with our new N brand slogan ‘Never just drive’ and will also be the guiding principle of the future electrification of Hyundai N.”
During its “N Day” presentation, Hyundai confirms an electric N model is “in the pipeline,” inferring it will be based on the automaker’s new Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP).