Many shrugged when Hyundai told us a few years ago that it would launch a performance division named N. Associating the Korean firm’s products with sportiness is not as natural as linking the letters AMG to Mercedes-Benz, M to BMW, or RS to Audi.
So once the announcement was made, the automotive world moved on. Behind the scenes, however, a team dedicated to confounding the skeptics went to work. Those in the know, however, have noticed the presence of an impactful name at the head of the group responsible for giving birth to the N models, namely Thomas Schemera. If the latter doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry, you’re perfectly normal. Just know that between 2015 and 2018, he headed the M division at BMW. Among other things, he is the architect behind the latest BMW M5, a true war machine.
The man spent his career at BMW before landing at Hyundai.
That’s enough to keep one’s attention and add credibility to Hyundai’s N division venture.
The Veloster N
The first N model we were treated to was the Veloster in 2019. To say this one impressed us would be an understatement; it threw us off our feet. Yes, its 275-horsepower, the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine had something to do with it, but beyond that interesting cavalry for a small model, it’s the balance of the chip that left its mark. I had the pre-owned opportunity to drive it twice, and I came out amazed each time. The acceleration is swift, the steering is precise and communicative, the running gear is in symbiosis with the road, the brakes are biting, and nothing was wrong.
After this first contact, knowing that we were being offered an N version of the Elantra and the Kona did not have the same impact as when the division was first announced; we had now had a taste of the medicine. Their debut was quiet, however, so they are already in dealerships without being noticed too much.
To get a real feel for them, Hyundai Canada invited us to Mosport, Ontario, for a real track test. And not on the small development track, but the biggest, fastest, longest, most technical track.
Here’s how it went, but first, a word about the N treatment.
Of course, the first thing that jumps out is the aesthetic changes. Some of them are significant, especially regarding aerodynamics; the rear spoiler offers more support, front diffuser, large exhaust tips and 19-inch alloy wheels for both models. The same goes for the interior, this time focusing on sportiness. The most important addition is the presence of wraparound sport buckets.
And of course, there are those available colours, all with red accents, the trademark of this N division. If the car is red, the accents are gray, by the way.
We get similar, if not nearly identical, modifications with both models. And everything serves the pursuit of a single goal; to raise the level of performance, both on the road but especially on the track.
Of course, we’ll quickly refer to the mill found under the hood of these models, a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder offering 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. But the significant changes are elsewhere.
That said, note that with the Elantra, a six-speed manual transmission is available, which is not the case with the Kona, which makes do with the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is, of course, available with the car.
At the chassis level, there’s an electronically controlled suspension whose job is to continuously adjust the suspension components to reduce the vehicle’s roll, pitch and vertical movement. And, as you may have guessed, different settings are available depending on your driving preferences. A variable sport exhaust system is also included, adding a pulsating sound.
The automatic transmission versions even have a device that allows you to enjoy an extra 10 horsepower for 20 seconds, as long as the engine speed is higher than 5,500 rpm. We agree it’s for the track… and it shows how serious the exercise is. There’s also talk of limited-slip differentials for each model, with the possibility of targeted power distribution (read to the right wheel).
And on the track?
Technically, it’s all impressive, but how does it look on the track? Let’s start with the Elantra, with which I ran about 20 laps, both with a manual and automatic transmission.
One word could be used to describe the experience: overwhelming. And on several levels.
First is the handling. The car is surprisingly stable, and for a front-wheel drive model, it hides its configuration so well that its wheels stick to the road. Once you’ve chosen your racing line and committed to high-speed corners, the suspension takes care of the rest to offer you a stable and reassuring trajectory. What’s even more impressive is the braking capacity. Not only is it powerful, but it doesn’t falter after several consecutive laps at full throttle.
With extreme and repeated braking at 120, 150 and 210 km/h, the car does not flinch. A pit stop, and 10 minutes later, it was ready to go again for another sequence. After three hours, it asked for more. The driver worked harder than the car did…
And this was not my first track event. Usually, unless you’re driving a Porsche or something like that, you limit the number of laps you do, especially to let the brakes cool down. This was the least of the organizers’ worries. The beast is capable of taking it.
So imagine how effective it is for everyday driving.
And the Kona? Also impressive, but for me, it’s a no-go. This model’s shorter wheelbase and higher ground clearance made me feel like I was locked in a dryer for 20 minutes; I came out crumpled!
So, is this N-division serious or just showing off?
If you have any doubts, put them aside immediately. The company is more than serious with its N approach, proving its involvement in car racing.
And don’t think it will stop with electrification; the company is preparing an N version of the Ioniq 5. After seeing what the Elantra and Kona were capable of, I can’t wait to see how the expertise will translate to the Ioniq 5.