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It wasn’t too long ago Hyundai’s lineup was practically the antithesis of automotive excitement. If you struggle with insomnia, might I suggest looking at the press pack for the brand’s offerings from 20 years ago. I did earlier and passed out right on my desk, waking up in a pool of drool so immense I had to replace my computer’s keyboard.

Hyundai N Vision 74 Concept, this Hyundai Sports Car will be offered in limited numbers starting in 2026.
Hyundai N Vision 74 Concept | Hyundai

Back then, Hyundai made boring cars for those who find putting jigsaw puzzles together to be overly stimulating.

But my how the times have changed.

Hyundai is the most exciting automaker right now. Scoff, chuckle or roll your eyes all you desire. I stand by my position.

Part of this belief is based on novelty. We expect supercar manufacturers and luxury sports car automakers to deliver excitement across their lineups. But familiarity does breed indifference. Porsche came out with the 911 Dakar, a 911 with some all-terrain capability. Cool. Doesn’t make up for the fact Porsche’s typical level of excitement is offering a semi-annual “special edition” that pays homage to a 911 that placed fourth in a racing event that hasn’t existed since the Nixon administration.

But Hyundai creating a host of cars that are thrilling from behind the wheel is provocative. It’s unexpected.

And like Cadillac’s “V” or BMW’s “M,” you can be assured when a Hyundai wears an “N” badge, there is excitement to be had.

Hyundai’s N performance division has delivered several models that are some of the most charming sports cars on the market.

The Elantra is a mainstay in the Hyundai lineup, and its fairly sober in its standard guise. But when given the N treatment, it transforms into a 276-horsepower sport compact with staggering cornering prowess that emits an impressive four-banger roar from its coffee can sized dual exhausts. The Elantra N will make mincemeat of the Civic SI, Jetta GLI and, dare I say it, the Subaru WRX around twisty tarmac. I’m sure that comment will get me banned from the next WRX meet up, but I’ll still be able to find it due to the massive vape cloud created by attendees.  

The subcompact SUV segment is the most soporific of them all, but here comes Hyundai with the Kona N. It sports the same turbocharged four as the Elantra N, and its performance is like of an aggressive chihuahua. It barks, growls and is overly aggressive. Lightly press the throttle and it sits back on its haunches ready to attack. And its small stature gives it exceptional agility. Put it into sport mode and it delivers the kind of driving pleasure that is what a modern hot hatch should be. It’ll break your back with its ultra-stiff ride, but that’s a small price to pay for a subcompact SUV that can actually put a smile on your face.  

The Veloster N, unfortunately, is no more. But that means you can probably get a good deal on this oddball little performer, which is just as competent and even more athletic than the Elantra N, on the used market.

And that, affordability, is another reason why Hyundai is the most thrilling automaker right now. N models deliver a driving prowess that beguiles their sub-$40,000 asking prices. Delivering cars and SUVs that are stimulating to drive when the asking price is three figures isn’t inspiring. Producing cars that can produce vast smiles-per-mile and cost no more than a typical midsize SUV? I certainly consider that exciting.  

There are more thrills to come with the Ioniq 5 N. The Ioniq 5 with dual motors and all-wheel drive is a fantastic EV SUV as is, so pumping it with over 600 horsepower, giving its futuristic styling a more aggressive look, bigger brakes, a sport suspension and a drift mode is sure to cause zero emissions titillation.  

Though less exciting, and only because only 70 street-legal versions will be produced, Hyundai is manufacturing 100 of its stunning N Vision 74s.

The rest of the Hyundai lineup, even more mundane offerings, are a cut above the rest for excitement. Yes, it’s hard to argue a mainstream midsize SUV is thrilling, but Hyundai models like the Santa Fe and Palisade still deliver their own type of delights.

“All those standard features, a class-leading warranty, an upscale interior and a fully agreeable price – what a value!” That might not stir the loins of an enthusiast, but it will for a typical car buyer who wants good bang for their buck in a family hauler/commuter.

Hyundai is actively shaking its former reputation of being a boring automaker, and it’s done such a thorough job of it, they’ve climbed to the top of the leaderboard for overall excitement. Sneer at that sentiment if you like. But get behind the wheel of an N-branded model and you’ll quickly change your tune.