TFL’s Pro Race Driver Drives The New Hyundai Kona & Elantra N At The Limit: Are They Any Good?

See why Hyundai now makes the best FWD sports car you can buy.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N with Paul Gerrard
TFL Performance Tester, Paul Gerrard and the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N. (Images: TFLcar)

TFLcar performance driver, Paul Gerrard, was sent to Sonoma Raceway in California for the launch of the 2022 Hyundai Kona N and Elantra N. And to be honest, he wasn’t all that psyched to do it. But after a day on the track, he came away shocked and now convinced that Hyundai is now selling one of the best, if not the best front-wheel drive sports cars in the world.

Hyundai’s N cars compete against the likes of the VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type-R, and other performance spec’d sub-brands. And to compete, in 2018, Hyundai hired away the brains behind BMW’s M-series performance shop, Albert Biermann, who years turning the M3 and other BMW’s into the best in the world. The fruits of his work are just now hitting the salesroom in the form of the previously released Veloster N and the Kona N and Elantra N seen here.

2022 Hyundai Kona N
Despite being a bulky crossover, only a split-second separates the Kona N and the Elantra N. [image: TFL]

The Power Behind the Kona N & Elantra N

Both vehicles share a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine tuned to pump out 276 hp and 289 ft-lb. torque. Both come standard with a DCT 8-speed transmission that throw all that power to the front wheels. The Elantra N can be had with a 6-speed manual for those who want to up their visceral driving experience even more. One downside to a manual though: It doesn’t come with the Overboost function, a button on the steering wheel that taps an additional 10 hp for 20 seconds, then lets you do it again after 40 seconds. As Gerrard points out, this is the exact same engine that recently won the Touring Car championship over entrants from Honda, VW, and Audi. In other words, these value-minded sportsters come with a proven racing heritage.

Both the Kona & Elantra share an electronic limited slip differential, side skirts, 14.2-inch brakes, customizable dash screens, different suspension, engine mapping, and steering response feels (between Eco, Normal, and Sport), rear wings, and high-performance rubber. Differences are obvious once inside, with the Elantra N sporting much more performance-oriented bucket seats, a more refined melding of the two 10.2-inch gauge and infotainment screens, and a signature cross brace hiding behind the fold-down rear seats.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N manual
In “N” mode, the dual exhaust cackles and pops with glee. [image: TFL]

Which Is Faster? The Kona N or the Elantra N?

On paper, the Kona N, being a crossover, and without the additional bracing in the rear like the Elantra N, seems like it should be noticeably slower. But on the track, Gerrard proves it’s not. On the 2.5-mile road course at Sonoma, Gerrard was only 2/10ths of a second slower in the Kona N than the Elantra N. The difference, according to Gerrard, comes down to a difference in tires, with the Elantra N sporting Michelin Pilot sport 4S rubber while the Kona N rolls on Pirellis that Gerrard felt got too hot too fast to keep up with the Michelins.

Overall, Gerrard found these Hyundai’s “shockingly competent,” with their ability to survive and thrive in 20-30 minute all-out track sessions. Gerrard’s closing comment says it all when he reveals that these Korean screamers are as fast as the Audi R8’s he drove on the same track years ago. If Gerrard has one bone to pick, it’s that neither of these sports cars come in all-wheel drive.

Pricing hasn’t been revealed yet, but based on the price of the Hyundai Veloster N, $32,250, we wouldn’t be surprised to see both the Elantra N and Kona N come in around the mid-$30,000 range. For a car that’s the equal of a 10-plus year old Audi R8, that’s a phenomenal buy.