Hyundai’s Kona N and Veloster N:
‘N’YTHING YOU WANT – YOU GOT IT
While only distantly related to a discussion of Hyundai’s two hottest hatches, the Veloster N and more recently introduced Kona N, bear with me. Driving into our apartment’s parking garage in Kia’s all-new EV6, and despite it having an almost-full charge, I instinctively looked for the charging stations close to the garage entrance. All four were in use, three with EVs or plug-in hybrids umbilically attached to the chargers, and then – of course – the outlier: a newish Dodge Challenger offering, I’ll guess, 400+ horsepower and 15 miles per gallon. The owner was showing it off, and chose an EV-only parking spot to do it. And if there’s anything that better describes the yin and yang of electrification, it’s this: while a lot of America (and its auto industry) is buying in on electrification, there remain huge swaths of our country wanting their horsepower in the most visceral way they can get it. For those people (OK, maybe not the guy in the Challenger) Hyundai offers its ‘N’ lineup.
KONA N: Billed as Hyundai’s first high performance SUV for the company’s growing N brand, it offers – again, according to Hyundai – racetrack capability with SUV versatility. And while hard-pressed to envision someone going from an elementary school dropoff on Friday to an area trackday on the weekend, from my few days with the Kona N I’m inclined to think Hyundai’s N Brand is delivering the goods. Although the subcompact Kona comes in a variety of guises (including an all-electric EV), most are sold in a completely prosaic front-wheel drive form with a normally aspirated 2.0, while for the upwardly mobile Hyundai offers an optional 1.6 liter turbo driving through an available dual-clutch transmission. Our experience with the 2.0 has been underwhelming, while the 1.6 turbo proves credibly entertaining.
A Kona N, however, is a completely different world of earthly delights. Whereas that 1.6 liter turbo delivers 195 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, the Kona N is equipped with a 2.0 liter turbo supplying 276 horses and 289 lb-ft of torque. It is, if employing Volkswagen for comparison, roughly the difference between VW’s GTI and Golf R, at least in terms of the horsepower under their respective hoods.
Connecting this prodigious power to the road is an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the front wheels. And if you’re thinking 276 horsepower driving only the front wheels is a recipe for torque steer, so was Hyundai. To that end, the Kona N comes with the company’s N Corner Carving Differential, Launch Control and – wait for it! – NGCS, or in marketing speak, the N Grin Control System. The N Grin Control System, when not controlling your grin, supplies five distinct drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, N and Custom. And when one is selected, the driving parameters of the car’s Electronic Stability Control, exhaust note and steering feel are appropriately modified.
The acronyms supply all the fun you might imagine for a window sticker in the mid-$30s, while offering fuel economy in the mid-20s. Car and Driver reached 60 from a standstill in just under 5 seconds, which is – as the folks at Rolls-Royce might suggest – ‘adequately fast’.
Beyond the fun is the utility. Within its 102.4 inch wheelbase, 166 inches of overall length and 3,340 pounds is a fairly practical, somewhat upright hooligan. And with it every school dropoff could be, you know, a trackday.
VELOSTER N: My first introduction to the Veloster N was the most perfect introduction; it was at the Elkhart Lake road course in Wisconsin hosted by the Midwest Automotive Media Association. The day was damp, and the Veloster N’s pale blue exterior looked perfect on the grid. Of course, on a damp track the challenge is to keep it on the track; thankfully, the Veloster N is imbued with enough tech to make that less of a challenge than it might initially seem, especially when yours truly is limited by age, eyesight and – let’s admit it – hindsight.
As a package, the Veloster N is more tightly drawn than its Kona N sibling; while the wheelbases and overall lengths are within a couple of inches, the Kona offers 95 cubic feet of interior volume, the Veloster supplies 90 cubic feet. With the Veloster there’s no pretense at carrying much beyond two adults and their two youngsters, or – more probably – a big dog. Access to the rear seat is made easier by a rear door – similar to what Honda once offered on its Element – attached to the passenger side, while the driver side retains just one door and a more traditional coupe vibe.
The biggest dimensional difference is in the Veloster’s height, sitting some six inches lower than the Kona, despite the Kona N’s slightly lowered suspension. That lower height and seating position in the Veloster increases your connection to the platform, and the fun factor goes up commensurately. You are (as they used to say) at one with the car, and the Veloster N is at one with the road.
Powertrains are almost identical, although the Veloster N’s product team has retained a six-speed manual as standard; here the DCT is a $1,500 option. I’d be fine with either trans, although the DCT does add – beyond the price bump – an additional 140 pounds of curb weight, roughly equivalent to your girlfriend or (younger) boyfriend. For you weekend warriors I’ll recommend the stick, while worker bees should consider the DCT.
In a less-than-crowded field of affordable sports cars and GTs, the Veloster N represents a compelling alternative to the Subaru’s BRZ/Toyota 86, Mazda’s Miata or VW’s GTI. It’s sportier than the VW, and some $10K less than VW’s more performance-oriented Golf R. And when comparing it to the Subaru/Toyota twins, that third passenger door gives you an advantage in the school’s drop-off lane that is only matched by the BRZ/86 if you put the kids in the trunk.
Hyundai’s Kona N is compelling, but I like better the funky spunk – or spunky funk? – of the Veloster N…especially when doing a lap at Elkhart Lake.