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Sunday Drive: Hyundai Kona gets ‘a fun button’ addition

By Craig and Deanne Conover - | Oct 8, 2022
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The exterior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.
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The exterior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.
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The exterior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.
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The interior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.
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The interior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.
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The interior of the new 2023 Hyundai Kona N Line.

There are getting to be a lot of letter designations in the automotive industry, with things like BMW “M,” Nissan “Nismo,” Toyota “TRD,” Dodge “SRT” and the list goes on. Most of them relate to speed and/or track driving.

Now there is a new letter to contend with: the “N” division at Hyundai. The Kona is not the first to receive this designation, but it is definitely the one that has received the most enhancements to date. It seems as if James Bond would like to have a “N” division.

The mission of the folks over at “N” is to push the limits of performance and help other divers to discover just how much fun driving can be with just a few awesome modifications to a vehicle. The company recently revealed the N brand’s new claim: “Never just drive.” This completely captures their mindset and spirit. “Do more than simply drive. Enjoy every second of it.”

We could not agree more with this statement. Getting out on the open road is so exhilarating, no matter what we are driving. And with the addition of things like the new Hyundai Kona N, they have taken that excitement to an even greater level. After a week in the Kona, we have knighted it a true “Hot Hatch” and were ready to keep it around permanently.

Truth be told, Craig’s sister Marci bought a Hyundai Kona N Line about six months ago after searching for a couple of months for a small, eco-friendly vehicle to help transport her kids around town. Now, there is a huge difference between the N Line and just the N. The N Line Kona has a very nice 1.6-liter engine that makes a great 196 horsepower. However, just the N gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that make an outstanding 276 horsepower.

We found out just a week in advance that the Kona was in Utah and that it was an N. At first glance, we figured it was just like Marci’s SUV and, having spent some time in her car, would be a great vehicle to review.

However, during our first night out in the Kona N, it became quite evident that it was something different and very special. Our first clue was the tires. It comes with Pirelli P-Zero paws. We couldn’t imagine why it was sent to us in this state.

Our second clue was a red button located on the steering wheel labeled “NGS.” We discovered that this stands for N Grin Shift and puts the Kona in a turbo overboost situation for a short time, increasing the horsepower to 286 along with 289 foot-pounds of torque. Pressing this NGS button added a huge amount of fun to the drive!

Of course, Craig then texted Marci a photo of the NGS button with the question, “How come your Kona doesn’t have a fun button?” Yeah, it took all of about three seconds to get the call wanting us to bring the SUV over so she could experience the fun button.

After just a few minutes with us in the Kona, Marci was completely in agreement that she should have gotten the one with the fun button and would definitely go that direction next time. It was all a testament to what the designers have done with the N version of the Kona.

Inside, the cockpit is loaded with digital technology. There’s a 10.25-inch infotainment display and an all-digital driving display. When put into N mode design, it transforms into an almost video game-like experience, providing the driver with all kinds of information from turbo boost to lap timing. There is also a track navigation portion that can be turned on when taking the Kona out for a day at the track.

The designers have also included two “N” buttons on the bottom of the steering wheel close to the fun button that allow the driver to switch between driving modes without having to take their hands off the wheel.

Paddle shifters, of course, were also on the menu and would slip through eight gears using the dual wet clutch that is included in the N package. Suede bucket seats held us in place in the front, no matter how fast we carved through the corners in the Kona. The interior was enhanced with blue performance stitching.

On the safety side, the Kona was loaded. Lane tracing assist kept the small SUV centered in the lane and worked exceptionally well. There was also adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, high beam assist and rear cross path detection.

Tim Wartenberg, vice president of N brand management and motorsport at Hyundai, said it best: “As a successful challenger in the performance category for almost four years and proactive player of Hyundai brand, N addresses and adapts to the upcoming changes in the performance category. 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.”

Base price: $33,650

Destination price: $1,045

Price as driven: $34,695


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