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Hyundai N Line Delivers Winning Effort on and off Track

The Tucson Compact SUV Has ‘the Beans’ to Handle the Highways and Twisting Roads around Los Angeles.

By John Oreovicz

LONG BEACH, Calif. – The inaugural Grand Prix of Long Beach was staged in 1975 – the same year that Hyundai created the first car designed and manufactured in South Korea and 11 years before the first Hyundai arrived in America.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. We think of Long Beach as the granddaddy of urban street races in the U.S., yet, as a relative newcomer in the automotive arena, Hyundai is still considered a “young” brand.

And what a transformation Hyundai has gone through in less than 40 years – from a producer of budget-priced economy sedans to a premium mainstream manufacturer with a competitive model in every segment of the market – including a selection of performance-oriented vehicles badged as “N” and “N-Line.”

As rapidly as Hyundai itself as evolved and developed, the N sub-brand created in 2012 has emerged as a force in the performance car and motorsport world even faster. Named after both the Namyang district in South Korea, the location of Hyundai’s global research and development center, and the legendary Nürburgring racetrack in Germany, where Hyundai established a technical center as a testing and development base, Hyundai N cars have achieved winning success in sports car and World Rally Championship racing.

Hyundai is completing a two-year rollout of no fewer than seven N and N-Line models for the U.S. market, including the Elantra N and Veloster N that are race-prepped for competition in the Touring Car (TCR) class of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian has spearheaded Hyundai’s effort, winning three consecutive TCR championships, most recently with the driver pairing of Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler. The duo shares the No. 1 Hyundai Elantra N TCR this season and sits atop the standings again two races into the 2022 season.

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Full-fledged N models (the U.S. N lineup is rounded out by a 276-horsepower version of the Kona mini-SUV) are engineered for all-out performance and maximum driving enjoyment. They all feature high-output turbocharged engines with throaty-sounding exhaust systems, a limited slip differential, sport-tuned transmission, suspension and brakes, along with aggressive styling modifications.

The N-Line trim level, which is offered on the Kona and Tucson SUVs as well as the Elantra and Sonata sedans, is aimed at drivers who want to enjoy a sportier driving experience without the hardcore edginess of a full-bore performance model. That means larger wheels and performance tires, tauter springs and shocks, tasteful exterior styling cues and an upgraded interior with cloth and leather sport seats with red stitching and N-Line logos.

Hyundai was kind enough to loan me a Quartz White Tucson N-Line when I traveled to California to cover this month’s Long Beach race weekend, and it was an ideal vehicle for a few days in greater Los Angeles.

The Tucson, a new design for 2022, is a perennial frontrunner in the compact SUV class, and the N-Line accoutrements make an already capable vehicle even more appealing, adding a fun-to-drive element to the Tucson’s baked-in comfort and versatility.

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While some will undoubtedly wish the Tucson were offered with a version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine offered in Hyundai’s N models, the N-Line’s normally aspirated 2.5-liter powerplant producing 187 horsepower had plenty of beans for the cut-and-thrust of L.A. traffic. The N-Line offers a Sport driving mode that provides more aggressive throttle response and programming of the eight-speed automatic transmission.

At highway speeds, the Tucson is quiet and refined, with comfortable seats and an outstanding Bose stereo. But it also proved surprisingly fun on the twisty canyon roads north of Malibu, the HTRAC all-wheel-drive system ensuring plenty of grip transmitted through nicely weighted steering. The wheel, the shift knob and other key interior touch points feature supple, high-quality materials.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that N-branded Hyundais are such sweet driving machines when you look at the track record of who the company recruited to turn its dream of a pedigreed performance division into reality.

Albert Biermann, who retired in December 2021, played a key role in developing the N brand after a 31-year career with BMW, the end of which was spent as vice president of the M division. Another former BMW executive, Thomas Schemera, headed Hyundai’s High Performance Vehicle and Motorsport division prior to becoming the firm’s chief marketing officer in 2021.

It’s no secret that Hyundai’s N brand was inspired by BMW M, along with other performance sub-brands like Mercedes-AMG, Honda Type R and Toyota GR. What’s most amazing is how quickly N got up to speed and competitive, both on and off the rally stage and racetrack.

But then again, if you look at how quickly Hyundai in general went from a start-up car builder to a worldwide automotive force, it’s just par for the course.

(Photos courtesy of Hyundai)