Back in 2018, when Hyundai first released the Veloster N, it was a big deal. The Korean automaker had done a lot to make its cars more competitive, but it still wasn’t a company that was known for building cars that were fun to drive. Once the Veloster N showed up, that all changed. It quickly became a Jalopnik staff favorite, thanks to how fun it was to drive on both the street and the track, all while still being plenty practical as a daily driver. Now Hyundai’s given the N treatment to two other cars: the Elantra and the Kona.
(Full Disclosure: Hyundai flew me out to Napa, paid for my room in a swanky hotel, fed me lots of free food, and also provided an abundance of fancy wine that I’m not remotely fancy enough to appreciate. They also rented out Sonoma Raceway so we could drive several cars that were already full of gas.)
If you’re not familiar with these two cars, the Elantra is Hyundai’s compact sedan aimed at competitors such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The Kona, on the other hand, is a subcompact crossover that’s more of a Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR competitor. I spent the majority of my time in the Elantra N, so I’m going to focus on that one first. And yes, both are very fun to drive, just like the Veloster N.
In addition to sportier bodywork, both the Elantra N and Kona N get more power in the form of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. That power is sent to the front wheels via either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed dual-clutch. If you pick the DCT, you also get a button that you can push for an extra 10 horsepower for 20 seconds.
The run from 0-60 mph takes 5.0 seconds in the Elantra N (using launch control with the DCT) and 5.2 seconds in the Kona N. They’re definitely quick, even though I’d argue exact numbers aren’t really the point here.
Hyundai also added an electronic limited-slip differential to improve handling and an adjustable suspension. Plus, you get upgraded brakes and a variable exhaust that lets you pick how loud you want your N to be. Eco, Normal, Sport, N, and Custom drive modes change the way the car drives, but you may be surprised how many options you have in Custom.
Want everything else loud, sharp, and sporty for your drive to work but a comfortable suspension? Hyundai will let you do it. The level of customization isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but considering how many other brands offer more limited options, it’s refreshing to see.
As with the rest of Hyundai’s lineup, the Elantra N’s styling makes it impossible to miss. You’ll probably either love it or hate it. Although, even if you hate it, you may still be willing to put up with it if you like the way it drives. The front end is probably the most controversial part of the styling. Getting it in black definitely helps hide the, uh, polarizing front end, though.
Around back, the big controversy is going to be the rear wing. I didn’t mind it, but it isn’t exactly cleanly integrated. And while the overall look is far from subtle, it isn’t a wild departure from what you get on the regular Elantra.
The inside, meanwhile, isn’t pretty, similar to the regular Elantra. You get more heavily bolstered sport seats with an illuminated N logo, blue N Mode buttons on the steering wheel, and that’s about it. Some of the plastics feel cheap, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to keep the price down.
Personally, I like it when car companies are willing to actually produce something that stands out even though they risk alienating some potential customers. At the very least, no one will call this car inoffensive or boring.
On the road, you’ll probably want to leave the suspension in its most comfortable setting. Much like the Veloster N, it’s still pretty stiff but not uncomfortable or punishing. I might have complaints driving around Detroit, but to be fair, that’s Detroit’s fault, not Hyundai’s.
The seats themselves are comfortable and aren’t so heavily bolstered that they’ll annoy you during everyday use. I would have liked that extra bolstering on the track, but let’s be honest, very few people will actually take an Elantra N to a real race track. Expect to see plenty of them at future autocross events, but at its core, this is meant to be a very fun daily driver.
And yes, the Elantra N is very fun. It’s plenty quick, it’s tossable, the exhaust sounds good (unless you can’t stand pops and crackles) and most importantly, it’s a car that makes you want to drive a little faster than you probably should. Even if you don’t already do autocross, it’ll make you want to get into autocross.
In an empty parking lot, where the biggest danger is that you might eat a cone or two, you can push it in a way you probably shouldn’t on public roads. The E-LSD means understeer isn’t much of a concern, and you’ll even find some lift-off oversteer once you really give it the business.
In cars with the DCT, it never really got in the way, nor did I notice much of anything about it. It shifted quickly enough, and if you spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic, maybe it’s the way to go. But the manual was much more enjoyable and felt like it fit the car’s character better. I’d be willing to bet the new Honda Civic Si’s shifter feels more precise, but it’s still a good transmission, especially considering this is the go-fast version of an appliance car.
But you don’t really begin to understand just how good the performance upgrades are until you get onto an actual track. Yes, even in the stiffest suspension setting, you get more body roll than you’d want on a car you’re going to track on a regular basis, and stickier tires would probably improve braking, but remember, this is a very sporty daily driver. Not a race car.
After the first couple of laps, the part of my brain that’s always terrified I’m going to crash someone else’s expensive car turned off, and I was just able to have fun. The E-LSD kept the understeer at bay, and torque steer was minimal, leaving me to really only worry about picking better lines and when to shift. It wasn’t stressful. It was genuinely enjoyable. And that’s getting harder to find these days.
A couple of months ago, we got a quick spin in the Kona N, so a lot of the basics have already been covered. But unlike Elizabeth’s time behind the wheel, I got to take the Kona on the track. Still, she’s correct. The Kona N is fun. (Are you sensing a theme here?)
Is it as fun as the Elantra N? Not quite. There’s more body roll, and it doesn’t feel quite as quick, but that’s to be expected. In exchange for a little performance, you get more headroom, more space, and the potential to haul around more stuff in what is essentially a hot hatch with a small lift.
If you want to buy a car based on numbers you can enter into a spreadsheet, the Elantra N is the better car. Drive both back-to-back, and the Elantra will still come out on top. But if you’re picking one to be your only car, I’m certainly not going to blame you for picking the Kona N. It’s still a hoot to drive no matter how good the Elantra N is.
Considering how closely related the Elantra N and Kona N are to the Veloster N, it should come as no surprise that they’re both great cars. And much like the Veloster N, they’re both way more fun than they have any right to be. I genuinely enjoyed driving them fast, and they’re both comfortable enough for whenever you’re stuck driving them slow.
And while the numbers themselves are impressive (I mean, a front-wheel-drive Elantra hitting 60 mph in five seconds flat? Are you kidding me?), I’d argue the numbers don’t really matter. A few tenths of a second here or there? The specifics on this or that feature? That’s all far less important than how you feel behind the wheel. And driving both felt good.
Their styling isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but outside of maybe the new GTI, they’re also about the only game in town with this kind of performance for around $30,000. After all, it’s not like Honda’s got an HR-V Si for you to pick over the Kona N.
If you want something faster, quieter, or more luxurious, that’s OK. As I’ve said many times, neither of these cars are going to be for everyone. But even if you hate the styling or can’t stand the feel of the interior plastics, you should at least be excited that there’s a company selling cars in the U.S. that are still relatively affordable and downright fun to drive.