2023 Hyundai Elantra N Deep Dive: All About the Fine Tuning
The Elantra N doesn’t use exotic engineering or AWD, but it’s just as effective as its competitors.
The 2023 Hyundai Elantra N drives more than great. It is one of the best handling cars you can buy short of the sports cars from that one German brand that starts with P. This isn’t by mistake. Hyundai did some impressive engineering to get the Elantra N to dance the way it does, including a novel torque steer solution hidden in the front suspension. But the truth is that Hyundai did a lot more with less hardware than the competition.
There’s no all-wheel drive here, no expensive and heavy separate hub carrier suspension, and no track width-increasing widebody. It is simply a hot-rodded Elantra packed to the gills with the core essentials of modern performance: bigger brakes, a limited-slip differential, a six-speed manual gearbox (or eight-speed DCT), adaptive suspension, and more power from its 2.0-liter turbocharged Theta II engine. But there is one small ace up the Elantra N’s sleeve: its Integrated Drive Axle (IDA).
2023 Hyundai Elantra N Specs
- Base price (as tested): $34,015 ($34,415)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four | 6-speed manual transmission | front-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 276
- Torque: 289 lb-ft @ 2,100 to 4,700 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 3,186 pounds
- EPA estimated fuel economy: 22 mpg city | 31 highway | 25 combined
IDA In the Front
This car’s front suspension may look rather normal, but the sharp-eyed will notice one crucial difference, which is the lack of an axle nut in the center of its aluminum hub. It is, quite unusually, a machined flat surface that only acts as the center bore for the wheel. This is the IDA.
There are several important geometries in the front suspension of any car, especially those of a MacPherson strut front-wheel-drive car like the Elantra. But the most important one is the kingpin axis, which is a virtual line that runs from the top pivot point of the suspension to the bottom one. In this case, the top is the very top of the damper and the bottom is the lower ball joint.
Optimizing the kingpin axis directly affects scrub radius, and is often a primary consideration in suspension design. Scrub radius is the distance between that virtual line of the kingpin axis and the center of the tire. That distance has a huge influence on steering feel and torque steer and acts like leverage on the steering. The bigger the scrub radius, the more leverage, which gives the torque going to the front wheels more leverage to ruin the party. Generally, small scrub radius good, big scrub radius bad.
But even with the scrub radius minimized, there is still another consideration: the distance between the axle joint and the kingpin axis. It’s another leverage point where the torque going to the wheels through that axle joint can cause torque steer, but packaging that axle joint close to the kingpin axis is difficult. Normally, an axle has to index with the hub using a long splined section and a bolt to secure it to the hub. Hyundai has eliminated that and made the axle a semi-permanent part of the hub, bringing the axle joint much closer to the kingpin axis. Hence, the Integrated Drive Axle.
As a wrench, this does mildly scare me because future servicing will certainly be more difficult, but it is a neat concept that saves weight and packaging space. Hyundai says it comes from rallying, which is a servicing-intensive motorsport. Most likely, the disassembly point for the front suspension is now inboard at the inner joint instead of the outer like most cars. For what it’s worth, there was no torque steer to speak of while driving the Elantra N.
Best of all, the rest of the front suspension looks easy to service and still uses the classic two-bolt method to attach the strut to the hub instead of the annoyingly popular clamp-type strut mounting. And the brakes are huge 14.2-inch single-piston vented units that should be up to any task with your choice of brake pad.
Moving to the rear, things become much simpler, with a semi-rear trailing arm suspension with just four links. The trailing arm does the forward-back location of the wheel, while there is a lower control arm that carries most of the lateral load. Then, naturally, a camber link controls the camber, and a toe link controls toe.
The rear brakes are vented and large at 12.4 inches and clearly meant to handle some extra duty in the form of brake vectoring to assist turn-in and mid-corner balance. There isn’t much that’s fancy in the rear beyond that, with some fairly basic geometries that are mostly carried over from the standard Elantra. There is a dual-compound trailing arm bushing that simultaneously increases ride comfort and also sharpens reflexes by having a harder rubber compound that is only used only certain load conditions.
Reading between the lines of the rear suspension tells a simple story: there’s plenty of kinematic toe-in as indicated by how much shorter the toe link is than the lower control arm. There’s also a healthy dose of kinematic negative camber gain, though not as much as I’ve seen in competitors’ cars.
Engine and Gearbox
Things get a little more interesting in the engine bay, with the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four known as the Theta II engine. As part of a round of updates after the Veloster N, this engine got a larger turbocharger consisting of a 5 mm bigger compressor wheel and a 6 mm bigger exhaust turbine, which is fairly substantial. Power gets a marginal-at-best bump to 276 horsepower, just 1 hp up from the 275 hp of the Veloster N. But torque is increased substantially to 289 lb-ft from 260 lb-ft, showing that the turbo has plenty more in the tank.
As I touched on in my review, the tuning of the engine was interesting. It felt as though it was held back somehow, with the initial spike of boost coming on quickly and ferociously, but the ECU would pull boost back slightly just as it leveled off. I could feel it in the thrust of the Elantra but also hear the whistle of the turbocharger reduce slightly as the ECU adjusted power, along with a slight reduction in boost pressure on the gauge cluster display. It’s just an observation, but I have a hunch that there’s a lot left on the table in terms of tuning, or the engine is held back for drivetrain protection reasons.
There’s some neat equipment under the Elantra N’s hood. A small but appreciated oil-to-water oil cooler uses engine coolant to bleed heat while a small secondary water pump keeps coolant circulating when the engine is off or needs extra help. Extruded charge pipes are made of aluminum in the name of saving weight and for better throttle response.
Up top, there’s extensive heat shielding around the turbocharger, including a patch of shielding on the underside of the hood. Physically, the turbo is quite large and similar in size to a Mitsubishi (MHI) TD05 frame turbo. In reality, though, it’s made by a Korean supplier called Keyyang. It’s not your typical IHI or MHI turbo but is effective all the same. Details about Keyyang’s partnership with Hyundai are scarce, though it is likely that there is close collaboration with Hyundai’s R&D base in Namyang, Korea in a similar arrangement to Toyota and Denso. From what I could find, their relationship started in 1995 with Keyyang building diesel turbos for Hyundai, one year after Keyyang was established.
Of course, the engine is direct injection with the injectors located next to the intake manifold. There’s a protrusion on the intake manifold that houses an actuator, which actuates a dual-stage intake manifold. Most of the charge piping is metal with small house couplings which aids throttle response, and the primary charge pipe to the throttle body has a black coating that likely helps with heat resistance.
Finally, the gearbox is a six-speed manual unit, while the electronic limited-slip differential clutch pack is housed in an extension off of the gearbox. Instead of using a conventional mechanical limited slip that lives inside the gearbox, the so-called N Corner Carving Differential uses a clutch pack to distribute torque to either front wheel. It is, again, very similar to what Volkswagen uses with Haldex but much more responsive and less electronically involved. Most importantly, it can send the vast majority of torque to either wheel, though Hyundai has yet to confirm the exact percentage.
The most important advantage to this style of limited-slip is the ability to have true zero differential lock, which allows for extra-sharp turn-in and mitigates understeer on deceleration. But with the clutch pack, the differential can lock up and provide traction under acceleration. It’s having your cake, some pie, and a slice of pizza and eating it all, too—all while losing some weight in the process.
A Formidable Yet Relatively Simple Machine
What I love most about the Hyundai Elantra N, besides the way it drives, is that it does a lot without a ton of fancy engineering. The Honda Civic Type R has an incredibly involved engineering masterpiece in its separate hub carrier suspension, which does mitigate torque steer and help steering, but the mechanically simpler Elantra N somehow still has better steering calibration. The Toyota GR Corolla has an advanced all-wheel-drive system with two limited-slip differentials and the ability to have a rear-biased torque split, yet the Elantra rarely struggled for grip.
Sure, it has the Integrated Drive Axle, but that is not a defining piece of engineering that transforms the car like the Type R’s front suspension and the GR Corolla’s all-wheel drive do. Instead, every single part of its performance repertoire has been tuned to maximize both its potential and driving fun. But the Elantra N is also simple enough to modify and work on so that future tuners and modders will have fun owning one too.
The Elantra N is a great example of the value of fine tuning over revolutionizing the wheel. There are good parts here, but the way they’ve been tuned is what makes it all a great whole. It’s a no-nonsense machine, and the car is all the better for it.
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