by Ian Wright
Hyundai is looking to add six performance models to its lineup by 2022 with two distinct flavors. The sporty models wear the N Line badge, while the singular N badge identifies the dedicated performance heroes. The Elantra N Line becomes the third car from Hyundai's performance division, joining the Veloster N and the Sonata N Line. It will then be followed by the pure-blood Elantra N. At a recent event in coastal California, Hyundai handed us the keys not just to the fresh Elantra N Line, but also to a prototype of the Elantra N.
The N Line enters the ring as Hyundai's cheapest performance line model, starting at $24,100 with a manual transmission. Under the hood is the same 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder as found in the Kia Forte GT, sending 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. However, the Elantra N Line doesn't just feature more power and a slick DCT option. It also comes with a bunch of handling upgrades and independent rear suspension.
The full-fat Elantra N packs a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 276 hp and, along with other high-performance hardware, an electronically controlled suspension, and a limited-slip differential.
The Elantra is all-new for the 2021 model year and features some bold styling choices. The N Line version of the Elantra's cascading grille appears at the front, along with a different bumper and lip spoiler. The rear end looks more aggressive with a new bumper fascia, a diffuser, and chrome twin exhaust tips. There are also subtle N Line badges, window accents, and black side sill moldings. Intricate new 18-inch N Line wheels top of the upgraded aesthetic, and come wrapped with Hankook Ventus all-season tires for DCT models or Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires on manual cars. The Elantra N Line also comes with LED taillights and projector headlights.
Not much is given away by the Elantra's N camouflage, but the aggressive front splitter and rear spoiler are a clue to aerodynamic upgrades. We do know there's a unique grill hiding under there, though, and expect it to have the same sort of red detailing seen on the Veloster N. Hyundai hasn't bothered to hide the fact that the Elantra N will be riding on a set of intricately designed 19-inch wheels and sport a set of dual exhaust pipes.
Power is supplied to the N Line's front wheels by an eager 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating an eager 201 hp and 195 lb-ft torque. It uses Continual Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) to improve fuel economy, and Hyundai boasts its overall figure is five percent lower than the outgoing Elantra Sport. Curiously, and against the industry grain, you can expect the manual Elantra N Line to return 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined and the DCT optioned vehicle to return 25/34/28 mpg.
Big news is that of the Elantra N, which boasts a big upgrade in power with its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. That's sent to the front wheels via an 8-speed wet DCT, the same as the one that impressed us in the new Sonata N Line model. We drove the manual version, but we have it on good authority the DCT model will feature the "N Grin Shift" system we've already experienced in the Veloster N. On the Elantra, it will induce an "overboost" of torque for around 20 seconds.
Both of our test vehicles were outfitted with the manual transmission, which is a smooth unit with a light clutch pedal on the N Line model. The way the transmission and clutch is setup makes it easy to drive in traffic and, along with the pedals positioned ideally for rev-matching, a breezy joy to use when driving more aggressively. The N division has stiffened aspects of the Elantra N Line, but it hasn't impacted the ride quality too much. Part of that is likely down to the addition of multi-link suspension at the rear. The result is a composed ride that isn't fussy about rough roads but keeps the chassis from rolling around in hard cornering.
We found an incredibly technical and challenging piece of road on our drive full of tight corners and switchbacks to throw the Elantra N Line down. The car's chassis balance is excellent and deals with changes of direction admirably. The engine is bright and eager but doesn't come with an abundance of power. Instead, it's just the right amount of power for the chassis, and there's minimal torque steer compared with the more powerful Sonata N Line.
There's plenty of grip from the summer tires and suspension working together, but understeer is inevitable, and the lack of a limited-slip differential is obvious. Overall, the Elantra N Line is fun to chuck about on a back road but has its limits.
The Elantra N, as it should, stretches the limits placed on the N Line model. The engine puts the power down instantly, with virtually no turbo lag. The clutch was light and grabby on the prototype, and we hope it gets a little stiffer on the production model to provide some feedback to the driver. Once it's moving and in Sport mode to increase the suspension stiffness and burble and pop of the exhaust, the Elantra N is a riot of noise and sensation. In Sport mode, the ride is too firm for around town, but for hurtling down a canyon road, it helps the car become a crisp performer delivering plenty of feedback through the seat of the pants. The chassis balance feels good, and the car is taught and snappy as it digs into corners before hurtling out the other side with the aid of the limited-slip differential. The larger brake discs and soft pads grab hard when demanded and have real stopping power.
Hyundai's concept of basing the interior around a fighter jet suits the sportier side of driving. Adding to the sporting theme are N sport seats with leather bolsters, leather-wrapped perforated steering wheel with metallic spokes, red accent stitching, and an analog gauge cluster with a red theme, and alloy pedals. Infotainment is accessed by an eight-inch screen connected to a six-speaker sound system, and wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard equipment.
The interior in the Elantra N has a more serious sense of purpose, although it was unfinished in the prototype. It comes with the higher-spec 10.3-inch touchscreen and a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster as standard, as well as the same steering wheel as the Veloster N. That features big buttons for selecting drive modes and red rev-matching button.
At $24,100 with a manual transmission and $25,200 with the DCT, the Elantra N Line represents excellent value for money. It's not a scorcher of a performance sedan, but the N Line isn't trying to be. Instead, it's a well-rounded entry-level car that will reward experienced drivers and give newer drivers a great platform to enjoy and learn with.
There's no price yet on the Elantra N, but we're confident Hyundai will make sure it's competitive. Despite bribery attempts with hard cash and candy, Hyundai wouldn't divulge a price point, but we're expecting it to launch at around $32,000. With its more serious performance, it will appeal to those that like the driving chops the $32,250 Veloster N delivers but want the practicality of four doors and less of a "look at me!" exterior.