Driven: 2023 Hyundai Elantra N Is Entry-Level Performance Perfection (2024)

Driven: 2023 Hyundai Elantra N Is Entry-Level Performance Perfection (1)
Elantra N


If the Volkswagen Jetta GLI and Honda Civic Si are too laid back for you, Hyundai has the answer for an affordable yet gloriously entertaining compact performance sedan. It's boisterous in looks and when it comes to performance, with specs that place it above both its German and Japanese rivals. If you can get past the ugly nose of the Elantra N, $32,900 gets you a sedan that carves corners and attacks straights with gusto while also being able to perform daily duties comfortably and seating five people in a lovely cabin. A 276-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers it, it gets an exhaust that treads the line between loud and obnoxious, and comes with something that's becoming a rarity at any price these days - a manual transmission.

For those looking for an entry-level enthusiast car but don't want to roll the dice on a used car that's likely been driven hard or messed around with modifications, the Elantra N looks like a hard car to beat. We spent a week with it to find out.

Exterior: An Ugly Nose

Hyundai has been doing great work with exterior styling throughout its range, but this writer isn't sure the Elantra - in any of its variations - is an example of that. If you can live with the gaping grille, the performance Elantra has some N-specific trim and upgrades elsewhere that are slightly less divisive, including N badging, red accent lines, an understated wing-type spoiler, and N diffuser. It also rides on 19-inch alloys clad with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires - which is a serious tire, and a big clue to how focused Hyundai is on grip and handling here.

For the rest of the car that isn't the nose, the Elantra's crisp lines and smooth overall shape suit the performance treatment. The rear shows off contemporary styling with a striking taillight design.

Interior: Solid - But Built To Price

The Elantra N comes loaded with features you won't find on an Elantra base model. This includes N Light Sport bucket seats with an illuminated N logo and leather and microsuede upholstery, and aluminum-alloy sport pedals. The seats are long-haul comfortable and do a great job of holding a front passenger in place as things warm up on a long, winding road. However, they are not power-adjustable. In the back, there's the same legroom as in the regular Elantra, which is enough for kids to go from toddlers to tall adults.

An N leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel and heated front seats are standard, which goes a long way to making the cabin feel premium.

Infotainment:Fully Loaded

Infotainment is taken care of through a 10.25-inch touchscreen display matched with a 10.25-inch digital display for the driver with N Performance gauges. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard in all Elantras, but the N gets a Hyundai Digital Key to lock, unlock, and start the car remotely, as well as wireless device charging. SiriusXM satellite radio and navigation are also included, along with an N-specific section on the display for things like lap timers and additional performance gauges.

An eight-speaker Bose sound system is also included, but it's typically Bose with wooly bass, unexciting mids, and overly bright treble. We wish Hyundai would go with a different brand for its upgraded sound systems, as it's not that much of an improvement over the base system on the regular Elantra, which only has four or six speakers, depending on the trim.

Drivetrain: Not Too Much, Not Too Little.

The Elantra N's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 276 hp and 289 lb-ft, which isn't spectacular when put up against much more expensive cars. But against rivals in a similar price bracket, it's ample. Peak torque is available between 2,100 and 4,700 rpm; it's a spicy little engine that rewards aggressive driving.

These specs are enough for a five-second sprint to 60 mph with the dual-clutch transmission fitted, which also gives it another 10 hp in a short burst for the purpose of launching off the line. This is courtesy of the DCT version's N Grin Shift (NGS) function - we thoroughly enjoyed the DCT when we first drove the Elantra N at Sonoma Raceway.

Our week-long tester arrived with the manual transmission, which is three-tenths slower to 6- mph, and while it's a satisfying shifter, it's not quite in the league of greats. It doesn't shift with the precision notching of the Honda Civic Si, and the clutch will annoy those who like something heavy to pound on with their left foot. That doesn't make it bad, but we're not sure it's going to satisfy the more hardcore enthusiasts.

On The Road: Fun, Fun, Fun.

Around town, the Elantra N's ride is fun, and it feels and drives like the amped-up Elantra it is. However, it can be driven with docility when the in-laws are visiting, and you're playing taxi driver. What you're likely more interested in is how it behaves when you put your foot down and hit your favorite road.

That's when the Elantra N becomes one of the most entertaining ways to spend around $32,000. Aurally, the exhaust is the kind of thing tuners chase in terms of sound for that balance between a loud, satisfying tone and not being so obnoxious that the neighbors instantly hate them.

The power is there when you want it, and it rewards the art of carrying momentum through corners. Keeping up that momentum is aided by some terrific suspension tuning, a limited-slip diff, and those Pilot 4 tires. But unlike a few other performance cars we've driven lately, it doesn't do all the work for you. The steering is happy to give feedback on what the tires are doing, which you want when coming out of a corner and torque steer starts to threaten. The diff does a great job of de-weaponizing the torque steer, but under hard acceleration, it will start pulling the steering wheel around.

Hyundai leans into the Elantra N's corner-carving ability in its promotion, and rightly so. The chassis is taut yet predictable and enjoys changing direction without whipping driver and passenger around. At the same time, the suspension is stiff, but it's compliant enough when set softer so as not to annoy those in-laws during taxi duty.

Is The Elantra N A Great Performance Car?

The short answer to that question comes with a caveat. The Elantra N is a fantastic performance car that you would need to spend another ten grand or so to beat. As someone's first performance car, we couldn't think of something better to recommend: It outpaces the Civic Si and Volkswagen Jetta GLI in terms of fun and performance, but there are different values at play with the Elantra N. The Si's manual transmission is much better, but both the VW and Honda look better and dial up the comfort while dialing down the fun.

The Elantra N is a riot to kick around a back road while delivering features and a comfort level the Elantra already offers, but it doesn't quite provide the refinement of its peers. We'll take the grins over the extra refinement, though.

Driven: 2023 Hyundai Elantra N Is Entry-Level Performance Perfection (2024)
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