Road Test Review – 2023 Hyundai Kona N – This CUV Has Performance To Spare

The Hyundai Kona has proven to be equivalent of the legendary Barbie doll for Hyundai. While the Kona doesn’t have as strong of an emphasis on providing customers with a dream house or playsets like the iconic doll, the CUV has proven to be good at the other side gig Barbie is known for: being the ultimate flex play for Hyundai sales machine. Whether its in its traditional ICE form, a pure EV or serving as a hybrid model in international markets. The Kona has proven to be a good chameleon for Hyundai and can easily morph to fit a wide range of sub-segments in the broader CUV landscape just like how Barbie can be an astronaut, nurse or any other profession. The 2023 Kona N is seeking to take the Kona into a new level of performance, but is the rowdy N model enough to make the Kona go full circle in its plans to dominate the CUV wars?


Kona N Picks Up Where The Veloster N Left Off

The 2023 Kona N serves as the next chapter in the U.S. side of the N brand. The Veloster N was the spearhead into this country, but with the funky three-door hatchback discontinued, the Kona N is now the lone representative of the N philosophy left in a hatchback like shape (the Elantra is four-door only.) The exterior styling is largely carried over from the standard Kona but the transformation into an N model has given the Kona N some trim exclusive touches. The front fascia features a reworked front bumper with the hood featuring three faux vents. The front grille itself has also been tweaked and the side profile has enhanced side sills. The rear gets a roof mounted spoiler and a dual exhaust system with two large tips providing a rowdy soundtrack to passersby. More importantly, the Kona N has four traditional doors which helps improve entry and exit for rear passengers.

When taken at face value, the exterior styling allows the Kona N to standout against a sizable pool of traditional hot hatch entries as well as other pretenders in its own segment that look sporty but put any further notion of performance on the back burner. We like it but we encourage buyers to look at other colors in the Kona’s color palette since the white paint on models like our tester doesn’t mesh as well with the N model’s enhancements as a darker color like black or blue.


Front Seat Occupants Rewarded With Comfort, Backseat Passengers Left In The Cold

Slip inside and it becomes apparent that the Kona N was designed to provide the bulk of the experience to front seat passengers. The front sport buckets in our example provide plenty of support and legroom is very commendable. However, like the axed Veloster version, the Kona N is dogged by cheap plastics with the overall look feeling plain and chintzy in some areas especially the door and dash panels. A 10.3-inch infotainment screen and a matching digital instrument cluster helps make the Kona N feel modern and the heads-up display does a good job reducing driving distractions. The steering wheel also feels good in the hands and the N exclusive controls are within easy reach of the driver. Front occupants also get two USB charging ports and a wireless phone charging pad.

With all the things that the front seat passengers get, it’s a shame that rear passengers are treated to the equivalent of flying economy on a passenger plane. The rear seats are cramped for tall adults and there’s not much to speak of in terms of general amenities with passengers only getting a small storage shelf and one USB port to charge their devices. When the rear seats show are not showing their limitations hauling people, they do a good job folding down to enhance the Kona’s cargo space with the rear boasting 45.8-cubic feet of real estate (that figure shrinks to 19.2 cubes with the seats up.)


Kona N Engine Is Eager To Please, Suspension Needs Work

The reason why the Kona N exists in the first place is found when you look under the hood. Unlike other Kona models, the N comes equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 286 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is the lone transmission available (sorry manual fans) but the setup is enough to help the Kona N to launch its way to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Those figures are when you engage the NGS to provide an extra 10 hp boost with the engine typically making 276 hp in other driving situations.

The engine gives the Kona N an impressive amount of acceleration and the small proportions allow the Kona N to be a fun instrument when it comes to the art of carving corners. Sadly, there is a price to be paid and it was exposed when the Kona was forced to navigate Metro Detroit’s ragged network of pot hole infested roads. The suspension does not have a formal comfort mode and the default stiffness that the setup has makes going over bumps a punishing ordeal. That’s in stark contrast to a Volkswagen GTI or Golf R which have more refined handling behavior and are smoother over rougher patches of road. Our tester’s 20 mpg in city driving also highlighted the tradeoff that the 2.0-liter brings to the table but we suspect that won’t be a big deal with Kona N buyers.


Value Quotient

The Kona N’s pricing ladder is about as simple as it gets, with the model having a base price of $36,685 when you include the $1,335 destination charge. Our tester came close to crossing the $37,000 barrier but that was due to two minor pieces of optional equipment. This back to basics pricing structure represents a great value in the performance CUV segment and the Kona N can also bring the fight to a few hot hatch entries as well in the war of prices. While the chintzy interior and the overly stiff suspension are consequences of this penny pinching approach to vehicle pricing, the 2023 Kona N is still a potent contender in the performance wars and it’s hard to deny that the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder fits the Kona like a sharply styled suit.