2021 Hyundai Elantra N First Drive Review: Worthy of Praise

I spent less than an hour driving the 2021 Hyundai Elantra N. And even though my test driver is essentially a pre-production prototype, it's evident Hyundai has created a highly desirable rendition of its all-new, seventh-gen Elantra compact sedan. "The N concept was born out of the passion of Hyundai's talented engineers at our research and development headquarters in Nanyang, South Korea," said Olabisi Boyle, vice president of Product Planning Mobility strategy, Hyundai North America. "Our goal is to get the hearts of our customers racing and keep them there. We want them to feel thrilling performance measured in beats per minute, in cars that are truly fun to drive."

For the first time, the Elantra will be available in two high-performance models: Elantra N and N Line. Both are based on the new 2021 Elantra, and both come with powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engines. However, both N models receive bespoke styling cues like a new front grille, unique alloy wheels, gloss black side mirrors, full LED taillights, dual chrome exhaust tips, a decklid spoiler, and an aggressive rear diffuser.

Also new for the Elantra N is a fully independent multi-link rear suspension (similar to the new Elantra Hybrid) to replace the standard Elantra's torsion beam unit. And with 17-percent stiffer spring rates, thicker stability bars, larger brakes, and unique N-tuned dampers, the Elantra N has the bones to match its newfound purpose.

The newest Elantra N Line has a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is available from 1,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm. However, the Elantra N has a larger and more powerful 276-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger, and it was definitely worthy of praise. Connected to an eight-speed wet dual-clutch automatic gearbox (similar to the Veloster N), you can expect the transmission to be quick, unobtrusive, and responds eagerly to your right foot.

Thankfully, the Elantra N will come standard with a slick six-speed manual gearbox, and with the option between the automatic and the manual, I opted to test drive the manual, of course. The clutch feels great and the shifts are buttery smooth.

The Hyundai Elantra N is poised to battle for supremacy with the Honda Civic Type R, VW Golf GTI, and the Subaru Impreza WRX. And for a brief moment during my test run, it seems Hyundai is forging the right path.

On a brief stretch of winding corners on California's Mulholland Highway, I witnessed the Elantra N's newfound agility despite the absence of an all-wheel drivetrain. The steering is fast, precise, and piles the weight nicely upon entering a corner. The Elantra N can dive into bends like a hard-tuned track monster, while the exhaust sound is begging me to push harder with its bevy of crackles, pops, and snorts.

The Elantra N has larger 19-inch wheels and electronically-controlled dampers (the N Line has smaller 18-inch alloys), although it was amazing the N version had more feedback than the less powerful N Line model despite the beefier alloys and stickier Pirelli P-Zero summer tires.

Hyundai is taking a two-pronged approach to broadening its product portfolio. With plans of releasing up to ten eco-friendly vehicles (hybrids, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell included) by 2022, the South Korean automaker is similarly ramping up its high-performance offerings with the Elantra N, Elantra N Line, Veloster N, Sonata N Line, and the incoming Tucson N Line.

The 2021 Elantra N Line will arrive first at U.S. dealerships near the end of this year with base prices starting at around $27,000. On the other hand, the bonkers Elantra N will go on sale next year carrying a $35,000 base price, making it more affordable than a Civic Type R and yet more pratical than a Veloster N.