Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald
In J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Survey, Hyundai ranked significantly higher than Toyota, Honda, Infiniti, Mazda and Subaru. It fell just behind its own premium brand (Genesis) and the other brand in the Hyundai Motor Group (Kia). The brand has been focused on quality and longevity for decades now, beginning with its industry-leading 10-year powertrain warranty which it introduced in the 1992 model year. With all that effort, it’s no surprise that Hyundai has come to be known as a go-to source for reliable and affordable vehicles.
What consumers can be excused for not knowing is that Hyundai has a line of performance cars: Veloster N, Kona N, and Elantra N.
It’s gotten virtually no press for any of these cars, and it does very little marketing around them, as most of its customers are purchasing its mainstream crossovers. But make no mistake: These cars are exceedingly fun to drive, and if you’re in the market for cars like this from Volkswagen, Honda, or Toyota, you are doing yourself a disservice by not at least learning about Hyundai’s sporty N cars.
Hyundai also offers a trim level of vehicles with some performance add-ons known as N Line. These are different from the three N models described above, and the naming convention can make it a little confusing to figure out which is which. Let’s take a look at what they offer:
Hyundai N Models
Veloster N arrived in the 2019 model year. We had a chance to drive it at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, California, and we wrung it out both on the road course and the autocross track. We thought it was the closest you could possibly come to a Honda CRX Si in the 2020s.
At the time, the Veloster N was rated at 250hp with the option of a performance package that boosted power to 275. But today, the performance package is gone, and it’s standard with a 275hp 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder. Standard features also include an all-important electronic limited-slip differential that helps put that power to the front wheels. The only option on the $32,500 Veloster N is the eight-speed automatic wet clutch gearbox if you’re not up for the rev-matching six-speed manual. 19-inch wheels and specially designed Pirelli P Zero tires are standard, and there’s a set of Nitto track tires available from Hyundai retailers.
It is a hilariously fun car to drive. Selectable “N” mode engages a high-flow active sport-tuned system with a variable exhaust actuator. This system — enhanced by an electronic sound generator — delivers a cackling engine over-run note that we suggested, “must be just this side of legal.”
The suspension features electronically controlled MacPherson struts up front and an electronically controlled multi-link suspension in the rear with a 19mm rear anti-roll bar. Stopping the Veloster N is nearly instantaneous with N-branded 13.6-inch rotors in the front, and 12.4-inch rotors in the rear. Veloster N buyers also get some exterior modifications, as well as unique sport bucket seats, shift knob, wheel, and N door sill plates. We say “unique,” but not really. We’ll get to that shortly.
The Kona N – new for 2022 – is the first N model in an SUV body configuration. The Kona features the same 2.0-liter power plant, for some reason rated at 276hp instead of 275, with 289-lb.ft. of torque. The eight-speed DSG gearbox is the only transmission option. The Kona N features something called an “N Grin Shift turbo Overboost function,” where the power is temporarily increased to 286 horsepower. You also get the eLSD differential, calibrated specifically for the Kona N, along with the Veloster N’s 19-inch tires, lightweight alloy wheels, high-performance brakes, Launch Control, and Variable Exhaust System. Needless to say, this is one spicy little crossover SUV.
The Elantra N is also new for 2022. It sort of splits the difference between the Veloster N and the Kona N by providing the same “flat power” turbocharged 2.0-liter, but mated to your choice of an eight-speed DSG or a six-speed manual. Only this time, it’s packaged in a more passenger-friendly form factor than the tiny Veloster and a more car-shaped profile than the upright Kona N.
There are some unique Elantra N features, notably to the suspension, which uses a dual-compound insulator to the front suspension. It also uses four-point strut rings and a rear stiff bar to strengthen body rigidity. The Elantra N also delivers with torque-feedback, rack-mounted power steering (R-MDPS) that’s designed to provide “consistent steering feel even when the external environment changes, such as temperature.” Basically, they took the highly popular Elantra and made it an absolute riot on curvy mountain roads, and dare we say track days?
Hyundai N Line
The N Line trims from Hyundai aim to capture some of the aesthetic spirit of the Veloster N, Kona N and Elantra N, along with some of the bolt-on performance equipment. The Kona, Tucson, Elantra, and Sonata are all available in N Line trim levels.
Each of these N Line vehicles starts out with the top-of-the-line powertrain from each vehicle line, adding aesthetic treatments to appeal to enthusiast buyers.
Kona N Line
New for 2022, look for sporty front and rear fascias, body color cladding, and specific diamond-cut alloy wheel design. In place of the skid plate on the regular Kona, the N Line has a specific aerodynamic lip with low corner fins, along with a larger air intake featuring a unique mesh design and surface treatment. The 18-inch wheels are N Line-specific, as are the rear diffuser and dual exhaust tips.
Inside, the Kona N Line has dedicated N Line colors with black seats and red stitching, a black headliner, metal pedals, and N logos for the seat, steering wheel, and gear shift lever. It definitely “looks” sportier and feels more exclusive, even if it doesn’t offer all of the performance of a true N car.
Tucson N Line
Tucson N Line is also new for 2022. It includes N Line front and rear bumper fascias, grille, black headlamp bezels, fender badging, unique 19-inch wheels, black side mirrors and window surrounds, dual exhaust tips, and an N Line spoiler outside.
Inside, the Tucson N Line includes the same logos as the Kona, leather and cloth seating surfaces, red accents on the seats and door trim, a black headliner, metal pedals and door sill plates, and a Bose premium audio system. Along with three colors available on other trims, the Tucson N Line is available in Red Crimson, exclusive to the N Line. Altogether these are pretty great upgrades for Tucson buyers who’d like to up the cool factor a bit.
Elantra N Line
Both the Elantra and Sonata N Line vehicles are carried over from 2021. They include a lot of similar features to the Kona and Tucson N Line, but the Elantra includes a sport-tuned suspension, steering, and revised powertrain mounts, a multi-link independent rear suspension, larger front brake rotors, and summer tires. So, while it might not offer all the thrills you get with the N version, the Elantra N Line does back its sporty look with a few performance upgrades of its own.
Sonata N Line
For 2022, the Sonata N Line is a carryover with quicker steering response and stiffer, sport-tuned suspension to make handling more nimble and precise. 2022 also sees the addition of the Sonata N Line Night Edition, with dark chrome badging, carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, and matte black 19-inch alloy wheels with carbon fiber center caps and red brake calipers. The N Line Night is only available in Phantom Black or Quartz White. Again, this is just a trim level upgrade, but there is some real value there for the right buyers.
How To Choose
For performance-oriented drivers, the Veloster N, Elantra N, and Kona N all provide a significant step up in power and driving exhilaration. For enthusiasts interested in some suspension upgrades and a sportier appearance, the N Line trims provide it at a minimal cost upgrade, slotted between the SEL and Limited trim levels, with the exception of the Sonata N Line Night, which is slightly more expensive than the Limited. With the N and N Line models, Hyundai adds style and performance at a bargain price.
Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.