Hyundai has built a surprising amount of brand equity with its N series of performance cars. The Veloster N, Elantra N, and Kona N are all excellent little performance cars at affordable prices, making “N” a household name in the world of automotive performance letters. It might not be quite as famous as BMW M or Mercedes-AMG, but it’s on its way. However, cars that will bring that brand equity down are cars like the 2024 Hyundai Kona N Line, which is about as sporty as a pair of Crocs.
In its defense, the Kona isn’t a sports car, it’s an affordable, compact crossover. However, slapping the N Line badge on it with some go-fast looks and a sporty-looking interior does tend to change expectations. Despite all of its visual bark, though, the Kona N Line has absolutely no bite. Will that matter to most of its customers? Probably not. What will matter, though, is how it drives and even when viewed as a normal, economical hatchback, there isn’t much substance there either.
2024 Hyundai Kona Specs
For 2024, the Hyundai Kona is redesigned. Rather than the old car’s squinty headlights, it has a massive LED light bar that spans the width of its face. Mimicking that front light bar is its taillight bar, which also spans the rear’s entire width. It also has an updated interior with a new infotainment screen, a new shifter, and a less cluttered center console. The Kona’s funky design language falls in line with that of recent Hyundais such as the Ioniq 5 and 6. The N Line, though, is designed to be a slightly sportier version. While it is a bit more powerful, it is not a full-on, hot hatch-rivaling Kona N.
It sure does look like a hot hatch, though. The N Line’s spoiler, aggressive wheels, and larger front air intakes should garner a double-take from most passersby. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s good-looking—there are far too many weird angles that don’t go anywhere purely for the sake of looking aggressive, but it’s certainly more eye-catching than something like the Honda HR-V or Volkswagen Taos. My six-year-old thought it was cool looking, which is about all you need to know about its looks.
The interior is more mature, though. The black and red seats are a bit boy-racer, but the rest of the Kona N Line’s cabin is simple, easy to understand, and made decently well. Of course, there are some cheap plastics and a few questionable material choices (what’s with the fuzzy speaker fabric on the dashboard?) but, for the most part, it’s a nice place to be and everything feels appropriate for the price. The steering wheel is nice to hold, the flip-out cupholders are a nice touch, the touchscreen is easy to use, and there’s a big center console tray for storing all of your stuff. If I have a gripe, it’s with the digital gauges, as the speedo and tach are both just cartoonish circle outlines that grow as you accelerate, and they look childish. Its rear seat space is surprisingly good, though.
The N Line trim does bring more than a spoiler and red seat stitching. Rather than the anemic 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine in the Kona SE and SEL, the N Line (along with the Limited) packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-pot, with 190 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, up from the former’s 147 hp and 132 lb-ft. The N Line also gets a proper eight-speed automatic transmission rather than a continuously variable unit. While this gearbox isn’t excellent—it was sluggish to shift most of the time and was a bit dimwitted when trying to hustle it—it’s much preferable to a CVT.
Driving the Hyundai Kona N Line
Without knowing anything about the Kona N Line, you might expect it to be fun. After all, it has a spoiler and all cars with spoilers are fun, right? Well, in the case of the Kona N Line, no, it isn’t fun. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be fun going into it. After all, it isn’t the proper Kona N, but instead, a regular Kona in athletic wear.
What disappointed me, though, is that it isn’t even great at driving for a regular, affordable, compact crossover. Its engine, while punchy enough, groans like a two-stroke lawnmower when you push it hard, and its transmission is borderline infuriating to use at times. On more than one occasion, when overtaking someone or using a highway on-ramp to merge with traffic, I’d get nothing from the throttle pedal for at least two seconds, as the trans searched for the right gear. That isn’t just annoying, it can be frightening when there’s a car bearing down on you.
As for the rest of the Kona N Line, it’s remarkably uneventful. Its steering is overly light and completely devoid of feel but that’s sort of par for the course in the segment. The suspension is a little crashy, with too many secondary vertical motions over bumps, but again that isn’t surprising for the price. Aside from the transmission, there’s nothing egregious about its drive but no standouts, either.
The Highs and Lows
Almost all of the Kona’s highs come from inside. Its seats are fairly comfy, even if they’re a bit thinly padded, its center console is useful and capacious, its touchscreen responds as quickly as your smartphone, and its back seat is more practical than you might imagine looking at it from the outside. While its exterior design will attract customers, its interior is what will hook them. It also comes packed with tech I didn’t expect in this segment like Hyundai’s cool blind spot cameras that take over the digital gauges when the turn signals are on, and an intuitive, high-quality infotainment touchscreen.
Unfortunately, its lows are more fundamental. With numb steering, a choppy ride, and an infuriating transmission, the Kona N Line becomes more of a chore to drive than a joy, which is disappointing given its fun-loving looks. It isn’t even particularly fuel-efficient, netting me just over 23 mpg during my week with it. Fuel economy is usually a big reason why customers buy small-engined crossovers, so sub-24 mpg is disappointing.
Hyundai Kona Features, Options, and Competition
The 2024 Hyundai Kona starts at $25,425 and comes standard with the 2.0-liter, atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and CVT. Front-wheel-drive is standard but all-wheel drive is optional. It comes with a surprising amount of standard gear, though. Things like 17-inch alloys, the 12.3-inch touchscreen, and wireless Apple CarPlay come at no additional cost, even on the most basic-spec Kona. Even Hyundai’s advanced safety systems are standard, like blind-spot monitors, lane-keep assist, and Hyundai’s clever trick of telling you that the driver stopped ahead of you began moving, to make sure you’re paying attention.
Stepping up to the N Line bring seven more equipment and it’s all standard. There aren’t even many options. As standard, it gets 19-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports seats, and Bose speakers, among others. The only extra box my $33,695 test car had ticked was all-wheel drive.
Compared to its rivals, the Kona N Line has more power than most. The Honda HR-V Sport only makes 158 hp from a 2.0-liter engine and pairs that with a CVT. Coincidentally, the Volkswagen Taos also makes 158 hp but from a 1.5-liter turbo-four and packs a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox when equipped with all-wheel drive. The Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Nightshade is priced similarly to the Kona N Line, looks sport, and packs 192 horsepower but it has the added benefit of hybrid assistance.
I barely saw over 23 mpg with the Kona N Line, which isn’t great considering it’s supposed to get 26 mpg combined according to the EPA. These numbers are also surprising given the size of its engine, sub-200 hp, and a relatively low 3,483-pound curb weight.
Value and Verdict
The 2024 Hyundai Kona N Line’s strongest selling point is mostly the way that it looks. For just about $34,000, there are plenty of stylish, well-equipped crossovers with similar or equal performance, all-wheel drive, and even better EPA-rated fuel economy. Is the Kona N Line worth your 34 grand over its aforementioned competitors? Ultimately, it’s up to you to say for sure, but I can say that little about Hyundai’s compact crossover stood out to me.
The Kona N Line is an interesting-looking crossover with a cool cabin, surprising practicality, and impressive tech. However, if you’re looking for any sort of driving substance, the little Hyundai is going to disappoint, especially if you’re expecting it to deliver on the promise of its N badge. I’d recommend checking out its competition before pulling the trigger.
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