By on November 16, 2020

While the world seems to be abandoning small cars, Hyundai is committed to making them and making them great. How great? We spent some time in the entire lineup of Elantras recently to find out, including special access to the new Hyundai Elantra N.

(Full disclosure: Hyundai wanted me to drive the new Elantra so they flew me to Los Angeles, secluded me in a hotel room, and only let me out to drive the cars, including a couple of solid hours in the Elantra N prototype.)

The mainstream Elantra is powered by a 2.0-liter four-banger making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. Hyundai brands it as Smartstream, and it’s paired to a continuously variable transmission. Power runs to the front wheels. The standard car also makes do with a torsion beam rear suspension.

While most looking at this car aren’t looking at it for driving excitement or engagement, the Elantra sedan is reasonably adept at handling the twisty roads around Malibu. The car feels plenty powerful for the daily commute, and the transmission isn’t as sloppy as some CVTs I’ve driven. I wouldn’t seek out a twisty road with it, but if I happened to stumble across one there are worse cars to be in.

The Elantra is available with loads of tech, including two digital displays (one for the infotainment and one for the instrument cluster) and features Hyundai’s advanced safety systems. Adaptive cruise and lane centering, mated to Hyundai’s highway driving assistance program, make the Elantra a capable long-distance cruiser. In fact, I’d venture to say that Hyundai’s lane-keeping is more intuitive and has fewer false alarms than even Tesla’s standard Autopilot setup.

And before the Tesla fans rip me in the comments, I have a Tesla Model 3 that I have access to daily.

The trunk can swallow up 14.2 cubic feet of luggage, which isn’t bad for the class. While I would prefer the car in hatchback form, the sedan is capable of delivering what most people need. In the Limited trim that I sampled, the EPA rates the fuel economy at 31 mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway, or 35 mpg combined.

If you want more MPGs, you’re going to want to upgrade to the Elantra Hybrid. It’s powered by a 1.6-liter Atkinson Cycle engine making a total output of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Power is also sent to the front wheels, but this time via a six-speed dual clutch automatic. Additionally, and thankfully, on the hybrid the rear suspension gets a multi-link independent setup.

There are more options available on the hybrid, including ventilated seats on the Limited Hybrid. Trunk space remains the same on the hybrid.

Around town, it’s a competent cruiser. On the highway, there’s a bit more cabin noise than I’d like, and the seats are a bit hard for longer journeys. I’m not sure why seats would be different in the gas model compared to the hybrid, but I assume it’s due to lightweighting efforts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get as comfortable as I would’ve liked.

While I had every intention of hopping in the N-Line for the return trip to the hotel, a representative from Hyundai pulled me aside to let me know that I was to take one of the full Elantra N prototypes back to the hotel. Who was I to argue with that?

For the sake of being a completist, I’ll mention that the N-Line is available with a manual transmission, has the independent rear suspension, and makes a healthy 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft from its turbo engine.

The Elantra N was completely wrapped in camouflage, which definitely attracts attention. It contains the same powertrain as the Veloster N, which means a turbo four making 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front via either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed wet dual-clutch automatic. My test car was equipped with the latter.

From the moment you press the engine start button, you know you’re in for a ride. The engine burbles to life, just like the Veloster, and there is a litany of driving settings you can change to make the engine louder and more obnoxious.

Blasting down Decker Canyon Road north of Malibu, the Elantra N impresses. No matter how fast you seem to be going, the car grips the road and brakes well. Turn-in is quick, but not darty as it can be on some higher-end cars. The transmission, left to its own devices, shifts quickly and nearly exactly when you want it.

It’s not as good as a Porsche PDK box — nothing is — but it’s far better than any transmission has any right to be in a commuter car turned road racer. I’d still go for the manual transmission but if you need the automatic, you won’t be disappointed.

The longer wheelbase compared to the Veloster helps both with high-speed stability and regular ride comfort. The car is still stiffly sprung, but it didn’t feel jittery. Comfort mode smooths a lot of it out, but it’s not Lexus smooth. It’s a bit easier to live with every day than the Veloster N.

Even if you’re putzing along in comfort mode and want to be aggressive for a few seconds, the Elantra N has an NGS button. Like a “push to pass” style button, the N Grin Shift mode puts the car in full attack mode for 20 seconds, and there’s even a countdown clock on the digital instrument cluster. Is it silly? Yes.

But the whole car is silly. From the minute I started driving it was laughing and giggling. It’s a truly fun car to drive. It’s not as precise as a Honda Civic Type R, but it takes itself way less seriously. But unlike a Fiat 500 Abarth, which is all giggle and no real solid performance, the Elantra N gets you about 90 percent of the way to the Civic Type R in performance.

It’s silly, but in all the right ways. It’s a daily driver that turns sports car. It’s loud. It’s raucous. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Sign me up.

[Images: Hyundai and © 2020 Chad Kirchner/TTAC]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

20 Comments on “2021 Hyundai Elantra/Elantra N First Drive: Opt for the Ridiculous...”

  • avatar

    “the transmission isn’t as sloppy as some CVTs I’ve driven.” That’s ringing praise. Hyundai seems to have built some decent traditional automatic transmissions. I’m guessing Hyundai needs to offset the fuel economy of the SUV fleet, so we get stuck with the CVT. My ’13 Elantra that I keep as a daily commuter is going to get handed off to my teen driver soon. I buy my cars to keep them, so I avoid turbos and CVTs. Not sure what I’ll be able to replace the car with.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Tough choice. I’d prefer the wet clutch automatic without the hot engine, but I guess that’s not available.

  • avatar

    Interesting how the camouflage makes the car attract more attention, sort of how during Desert Storm our jungle green camo was entirely wrong for the situation.

    H/K is becoming more competitive in leaps and bounds, and the Elantra is a good-looking car. That T-shaped slash on the doors, though… it looks like it landed funny on a guardrail. I’ll bet the body shop techs just love the current random dents and folds that pass for styling touches.

  • avatar

    I suppose everyone sources the exact same 10 1/4″ screen these days. 3 series, latest Golf / GTI, and this one… I’m not complaining, it’s a good screen, and the “Germany Inc” determined-to-be-optimal position, at the same height as the instruments, as high up as possible, and requiring as little eye movement as possible, probably is. But it’s starting to look a bit monotonous… N-Line cum SI, and N cum Type R, bot with proper transmissions available, is awfully sweet. Perhaps light at the end of the bore-me-to-death battery-CUV tunnel after all.

  • avatar

    “Even if you’re putzing along in comfort mode and want to be aggressive for a few seconds, the Elantra N has an NGS button. Like a “push to pass” style button, the N Grin Shift mode puts the car in full attack mode for 20 seconds”

    This actually sounds like a good feature.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought the same thing. It’s a bit ridiculous at first blush, but there are plenty of times when I’m like, “Hey, an on-ramp”, or, “Hey, a twisty-road-ahead-sign” and one button to to balls-out for a minute or so would be perfect.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m interested to see how the N sedan performs. I prefer the styling of the sedan over the Veloster (and the Type R for sure) Sadly I’ve only seen one Veloster N in the flesh here in Truckland.It looked good in the pale blue .

  • avatar

    If the N isn’t too gaudy (I’m looking at you, Type R) then I’ll certainly put this on my shopping list when it comes time to replace my GLI in a few years. I’m definitely intrigued.

  • avatar

    The biggest thing to recomend the Elantra N over the Sonata N-line is that the Elantra gets a mechanical LSD.

    I know the Sonata isn’t a true “N” damn 311 lb ft through an open differential? I don’t care which wheels your driving you need to put effort into controlling spin (and not just having the computer step in and kill the fun.)

    • 0 avatar

      Based on the 1st drives, even without an LSD, Hyundai managed to limit torque steer.

      One reviewer preferred how the N-Line drove compared to the TLX.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not even thinking torque steer. If I were to get either vehicle I’d slap the best all-season tires I could on it and drive it year ’round. I want the LSD to help me on those nasty weather days. I trust it more than traction control.

  • avatar

    I’m relieved there wasn’t a blurb in here about how allegedly attractive this car is. Were I to get one, I’d have to go with the Elantra N because manual. I have no interest in a CVT or a DCT. With that said, I’d have to look at it on the daily, so no deal.

  • avatar

    I would rather Kia Tellurude.

  • avatar

    I am fully interested in this and the upcoming 2022 Civic models.
    I only want to buy a manual transmission car to replace the manual transmission sedan Mazda3 I have been driving since 2006!
    The current type R is too everything for me personally at 63 and I would prefer a sedan over a hatchback period.
    But manufacturers need to get these kind of models to all of their dealers. We can’t buy them logically if they are not within a hundred miles radius. I live near Chattanooga and it is difficult to find manual transmission cars period. None currently available here with BMW, VW, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, or Dodge. Wow!

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • SCE to AUX: Unlike 3G, that CB radio would still function today! Sadness = 140 HP from 5.9 liters. The rollback of a...
  • 28-Cars-Later: “We have the Northstar system, do we even use it?” That’s the real question.
  • tane94: Two-tone exteriors were quite a trend in the late 1970s. Black and silver were available from several...
  • FreedMike: Bingo. And that works great, as long as you can pay. The problem comes when you can’t…or if...
  • eng_alvarado90: If I recall correctly, up to the late 70s Cadillac did not share any powertrains with...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber