To a nation besotted by all-wheel-drive SUVs, the thought of a front-wheel-drive sedan has become non-starter. The same could be said of a performance sports sedan, except to a select few who know better.
To the ranks of such fabled nameplates as the GTI, WRX and Si, we must now consider N, Hyundai’s performance line of what it calls “Everyday Sports Cars.” Like the Volkswagen, Subaru and Honda, N models get performance upgrades, and few seem so transformative as the Elantra N, which transforms an everyday economy sedan into a car that felt as if it were always meant to be a proper performance sedan.
“Hyundai Motor’s high-performance N brand constantly aims to provide customers with a range of exciting choices for increased driving pleasure,” said Till Wartenberg, vice president and head of N Brand Management & Motorsport at Hyundai. “Elantra N is the purest expression of our mission to date.”
Most of the compact Elantra line-up consists of affordable grocery getters, powered by a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4, or a hybrid model that returns 54 mpg. These are the models that account for most of Elantra’s sales. Sure, you can opt for the sporty N Line, which adds a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine that’s produces a healthier 201 hp and 195 pound-feet of torque.
But why settle for a mere 201 hp, when your Elantra can handle even more? Welcome the Elantra N, powered by a turbocharged 4 that unleashes as much as 286 hp and handling that lives up to a badge that’s named for the German track where it’s tested. And it comes one way: loaded. Pick your transmission and color. Sound tempting? You don’t know the half of it.
As you’d expect of a track-worthy warrior, the Elantra gets the expected body kit upgrades to enhance its aerodynamics, as well as an exclusive red strip at the base of the front fascia continues along Elantra N’s side valance. And of course there’s a sizable N-exclusive rear spoiler with diffuser to aid airflow.
Unlike the performance mods you typically see on compact sedans, the upgrades don’t detract from its energetic design. Hyundai has done a better job of employing sharp edged, origami styling than other automakers, and the add-ons seem to be a more natural fit as a result. And it’s finished with striking 19-inch alloy wheels.
Once it’s time to climb inside, you’ll find the expected N-exclusive trim on the steering wheel, shifter, seats, door scuff panels and metal pedals. Driver and passenger sit in N light sport seats that are 10mm lower and two inches thinner than stock Elantra thrones. The steering wheel with paddle shifters and an NGS (N Grin Shift) button — more on that in a second.
The Elantra’s cabin features supportive front seats with aggressively firm side bolstering made for track work. They are very firm, and covered in a cloth meant to keep you planted. Rear seats are a little less accommodating, as legroom is a little tighter but more than hospitable for most. But the rear bench sits higher than the front seats, limiting headroom, so try before you buy.
As you’d expect of a performance, the cabin can get very raucous, with road, tire, engine and exhaust noise all ensuring that you’ll rarely hear the audio system clearly.
What separates the men — um, N — from the boys is its 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder engine mated to a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or an optional 8-speed Wet Dual-Clutch Transmission with paddle shifters. It’s rated at 276 hp from 5,500-6,000 rpm and 289 lb-ft of torque. However, the“N Grin Shift” overboost feature temporarily increases output to 286 hp on dual cutch models.
And, while other Elantras get Normal, Sport and Smart driving modes, the Elantra N comes with Eco, Normal, Sport and N Custom 1 and 2 driving modes, which allow you to customize settings for steering, suspension, the dual-clutch transmission and the powertrain’s rev-matching operation via a REV button on the steering wheel. One wonders why they bothered with an Eco mode in a performance sedan; it must be to satisfy the EPA.
Speaking of the EPA, its ratings reflected those we realized in city and highway driving. However, unlike other Hyundai Elantra models, the N requires premium unleaded fuel — not surprising given its performance proclivities.
Like other Elantra models, the N is fitted with MacPherson struts up front with a multi-link independent rear and stabilizer bars at both ends. Unlike them, it gets performance upgrades, including a reinforced chassis, an electronic limited-slip differential and high-performance brakes with 14.2-inch front brake rotors in front and 12.4-inch in back.
It also boasts an electronically controlled suspension, rev matching, launch control and an integrated drive axle to save weight — a design lifted from WRC rally cars — and has rack-mounted power steering for a more consistent driving feel.
Safety and Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Hyundai Elantra N only for rollover, for which it earned five stars. Other categories go unrated, although other Elantra models merited five stars in overall crashworthiness. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Elantra a “Top Safety Pick” on models with LED headlights.
The Elantra N’s digital instrument cluster has a special N mode that displays a tachometer front and center, along with the gear you’re in, plus readouts for oil temperature, engine temperature, torque readout and a turbo boost gauge. There’s also a performance-oriented infotainment screen, which lists vehicle status, shift timing indicator, a lap timer and an N track map, along with other features.
Plenty of other performance sedans claim to offer greater thrills, but few live up to the promise like the Elantra N. The turbocharged 2.0-liter’s guttural burbling that will be familiar to those who’ve already spent time in the Veloster N.
The Elantra N’s burst of power can chirp the tires, but the Elantra N remains a paragon of predictability and control that brings out the grins in any driving enthusiast. The ride is extraordinarily firm, which allows for extraordinary car control and no noticeable body lean in corners. It remains remarkably composed, with the Elantra N’s electronic diff sends more engine power to the outer wheels to enhance cornering agility. Steering is nicely weighted with some road feel. This is one star athlete, with the dual-clutch gearbox always in the proper gear.
However, like any performance car, you’ll have to put up with engine, road, exhaust and tire noise, along with a harsh ride over poor road surfaces. But this is the price paid for its incredible performance. Its boisterous impishness invites you to play it like a fine instrument, drinking in its capabilities with delight. And the popping, brapping exhaust note are the perfect finishing touch. Switching to normal from sport mode, finds the N calming somewhat, like an athlete coming down after a big game. The pavement suddenly seems smoother, the throttle less ready to leap at the slightest twitch of your right foot.
2022 Hyundai Elantra N Specifications
|Dimension||L: 184.1 inches/W: 71.9 inches/H: 55.7 inches/Wheelbase: 107.1 inches|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, 8-speed dual-clutch transmission and front-wheel drive|
|Fuel Economy||20 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $33,650; As tested: $34,695 including $1,045 destination charge.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
This car is a hoot. It’s the perfect accessory for those who enjoy the thrill of driving and appreciate a star athlete. It’s a worthy flagship to the Hyundai Elantra line.
2022 Hyundai Elantra N — Frequently Asked Questions
How much will the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N cost?
It costs $32,925, $600 less than the Veloster N, yet it offers more power and torque.
What does the N mean in the Hyundai Elantra?
It stands for Hyundai Motor’s global research and development headquarters in Namyang, South Korea, as well as the Nürburgring in Germany — where the vehicles are tested.
What is the difference between Hyundai N and N line?
N vehicles feature performance and cosmetic upgrades, while N line vehicle upgrades are merely cosmetic.