We stood in the parking lot alongside the Hyundai Elantra N, quietly listing to the pinging of hot engine parts cooling down after just a few more indulgent trips to the redline; its ferociously crackling exhaust note is very hard to resist. And like all memorable cars we drive, when our time was up we reluctantly surrendered the keys. As we trudged over to our significantly more un-fun daily driver and headed for home, it occurred to us that we have now had the pleasure of driving all three Hyundai N cars currently for sale- the quirky, asymmetrically doored Veloster (which Hyundai had sadly announced recently would be going out of production), the steroidal cute ute Kona and now the Elantra, served up in traditional sedan body style. We didn’t need seat time in all three of these funsters to arrive at the conclusion that Hyundai has made its bones in churning out some seriously capable sports cars.
It slowly dawned on us that as good as the other N cars are, the Elantra is easily the best of the breed. It has less ground clearance than the Kona, and so its lower center of gravity coupled with a longer wheelbase make for ride quality that is head and shoulders above its SUV cousin. The astute handling characteristics these cars are known for seems just a little sharper and while we did not strap testing gear to our Elantra it felt more engaging to drive than the Kona. The fact that it wears 245-section Michelin performance tires- the widest fitted to an N car yet- probably helped the situation, at least where turn in and braking are concerned.
The Elantra N enjoys some additional exclusivity over the Kona with its trick front suspension setup. Hyundai’s experience in building competitive front-wheel drive rally cars is on full display here, employing a sophisticated front axle design that combines the drive shafts and the wheel hub assembly. Hyundai claims that not only does the setup improve rigidity but it also shaves seven pounds from the original setup. You can feel the front tires bite confidently and trace a precise arc through a corner, and although we cannot quantify this, steering feel is more accurate and linear than its higher riding counterpart.
We were very pleased to see a manual gearbox lever poking out between the front seats not only because we much prefer to row our own gears, but also because the 6-speed transmission Hyundai endows on their N cars is a sweetheart. Clutch take-up is a breeze and the shifter navigates through the gates with delightful slickness. You can ask the car to automatically rev match for you on downshifts, but with pedals so perfectly spaced we highly recommend doing so on your own. There is a dual clutch automatic available that will no doubt be quicker around a racetrack, but we will gladly sacrifice a few tenths for the enjoyment this setup gifts its driver.
Speaking of enjoyment, drivers who relish the experience of tailoring driving characteristics to the nth degree will feel right at home. You can relax the steering and suspension yet still have the exhaust on full blare with the limited slip differential on full alert. All these possibilities, and everything in between, can be dialed up to your every whim. If you don’t feel like playing chassis engineer, simply hit either button for full red mist N mode to evoke the angriest behaviour out of the hottest Elantra. There’s no N Grin Shift button like you’ll find in DCT-equipped examples which has an overboost feature delivering slightly more horsepower and torque, but we honestly didn’t miss it. Those cross shopping a Civic Type R should know that you don’t get this level of customization in the scrappy Honda.
Like the Civic Type R, the Elantra N displays a compelling bandwidth that only adds to the charm of the car. Not all journeys involve apex slaying and constant trips to the redline. For those times when you just want to get from A to B- and let’s face it, that is going to be most trips you will take- it proves to be a remarkably composed conveyance. Dial back that rip snorting aggression and the Elantra N becomes docile and composed. It does all the ‘regular’ car stuff very well indeed; ride quality is firm yet compliant, and there’s decent space in the trunk and for passengers out back and the infotainment system is brilliant for its user friendly nature and obedience to your commands. On hot days, the air conditioning faithfully cools you down with a chilly blast.
Normally, this would be the time when we don our judgy pants and levy our finger wagging criticisms at the Elantra N. Try as we might, there really wasn’t anything that bothered us to the point of relevance. We suppose that Hyundia could have chosen higher quality materials for the interior, but bemoaning hard plastics in a car that exists solely to put smiles on the faces of those behind the wheel seems highly pedantic. Heck, it’s even reasonably priced and gets excellent fuel mileage on highway slogs.
There are references to the Civic Type R sprinkled throughout this road test because that is the most natural competitor the Elantra N. Throughout the week we had it under our care, the question we were most often asked was how does it compare to Honda’s hot hatch? Given that we’ve spend a good amount of time in both cars, we can tell you that the Honda does enjoy a slight advantage in outright speed and handling, so much so that we have called it “if Porsche made front-wheel drive sports cars, it would be a lot like this.” That said, the Elantra N comes extremely close to the class benchmark and only the most hardcore track rats would be left unfulfilled at the small delta that exists between these two great cars. When you factor in the significantly cheaper price for admission that Hyundai asks for the Elantra N, the toss up between these two becomes even harder to navigate.
No matter which choice you favor, you really can’t lose in picking a favourite. One thought kept occurring to us during the Elantra N’s tenure in the Carpages Garage, and it is this: if someone had told you 15 years ago that Honda would build the best front-wheel drive car in recent memory, you’d simply shrug and go back to watching your bootlegged copy of Gladiator. But if they told you that Hyundai would turn the humble Elantra into a fire breathing, world class sports sedan you would likely fall off your chair in a fit of laughter. Suffice it say, no is giggling now; Hyundai is not messing around with its N-massaged cars.
2022 Hyundai Elantra N— Specifications
- Price as tested: $39,124
- Body Type: 4-door sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0 turbocharged inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 276 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs.-ft.): 289 @ 2,100rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,450 kg (3,196 lbs.)
- Fuel consumption: 9.8L/100km (24 mpg)