2022 Hyundai Elantra N First Drive Review: You Can’t Spell Fun Without N

The name "Hyundai Elantra" doesn't exactly conjure up images of white knuckles and burnt rubber. But with the Hyundai Elantra N, it should now.

Chris Tsui

Out of all the established automotive nameplates, I cannot think of one that is more painfully milquetoast and average than the Hyundai Elantra. As sharply styled and objectively good as the current-gen Elantra is, nothing about the word "Elantra" illicits passion or indeed any sort of notable emotion—partly because, out of all of the mainstream compact sedans (still) around, the Elantra is near the bottom of the scale when it comes to performance pedigree. That is until the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N came along.

Think about it: The Mazda3 has always been fun, the Toyota Corolla looks and drives quite sharply these days and has its Initial D connection, the Volkswagen Jetta has the GLI and the implicit (however misguided) autobahn-ability on the basis of it being German, the Subaru Impreza has its extensive WRC history, and even the Nissan Sentra has its SE-R glory days to look back on, to say nothing of the tuner darlings that are the Honda Civic and VW Golf. Sure, the Elantra does have the Sport model from the previous generation and the current, mildly sporty N-Line edition isn't bad, but you just don't see that many copies of Hyundai's compact sedan at Cars and Coffee. 

Predictably, that'll stop with the Elantra N—a full-on high-performance Elantra built to take on the red-H Civics and 315-horsepower Golfs of the world and give the Elantra name some much-needed cool points.

Chris Tsui

2022 Hyundai Elantra N Specs

  • Base price: TBA
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | 6-speed manual or 8-speed wet dual-clutch | front-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 276 (286 with N Grin Shift) @ 5,500 to 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 289 lb-ft @ 2,100 to 4,700 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Cargo volume: 14.2 cubic feet
  • Curb weight: 3,186 pounds (manual) | 3,296 (automatic)
  • Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined (manual) | 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined (automatic)
  • Quick take: One of the best all-rounder performance compacts you can buy. 

The Basics

The Hyundai Elantra is the compact middle child of the Korean brand's sedan lineup, slotting in between the subcompact Accent and mid-size Sonata. Built to go fast and sit on top of the Elantra range, the Elantra N is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four making 276 hp and 289 pound-feet of torque, which replaces the 2.0-liter and 1.6-liter naturally aspirated motors in the non-N Elantras. Right out of the gate, the N will be available with your choice of two transmissions: the standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed wet dual-clutch automatic. Naturally, the latter shifts quicker but adds 110 pounds of weight. 

Chris Tsui

Power goes to the front axle (and the front axle only) via an electronic limited-slip "N Corner Carving" differential for, y'know, better Corner Carving, while a variable-valve exhaust and launch control up the Elantra's aural and accelerative fun-factor. A WRC-inspired integrated drive axle consolidates the driveshaft, wheel hub, and bearing—resulting in weight savings of 3.81 pounds, a stronger driveline, and supposedly better performance during high lateral g cornering.

Visually, the Elantra N's most noticeable enhancement would probably be the blacked-out front end that's apparently inspired by the visor on a race helmet. Red trim surrounds the bottom of the car all around, while a rear spoiler, 19-inch wheels, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires fill out the hot Elantra's sport compact bingo card.

Driving Impressions

In the interest of cutting to the chase, the Hyundai Elantra N is solidly one of the best-driving cars in its class on both road and track. One of the first things I noticed was just how good the six-speed manual transmission is. It's fundamentally the same one found in the Veloster N but improved for a better shift feel. And, boy, does it feel good. The throws are short, well-weighted, and slick—still not quite as unflappably metallic as the Civic Type R's world-class stick but a league above the longer, less well-defined one in the Golf GTI and Golf R twins

Auto rev-matching is consistently, perfectly executed while the clutch is easy and forgiving. The top of the shifter is also exactly one hands-length away from the steering wheel, making it feel like the driver-focused performance car that it is rather than a simple commuter commodity that's been hastily repurposed for speed.

Hyundai

The Elantra N's turbo'd-up 2.0-liter helps it hit 60 mph in five seconds flat when equipped with the DCT and using launch control. By four-cylinder standards, the motor sounds quite good and features a turbo that's more audible than most other engines of this caliber. It's less boomy than the Veloster N's exhaust, puts out a better voice than both the competing Golf and Civic, and I just love the crackles, pops, and occasional bangs that happen. 

Also improved over the previous Hyundai N-car is road-holding. Riding on a chassis that's one generation newer than the Veloster's, the Elantra N feels more balanced and, despite being bigger in size, just about as tossable around bendy streets. The adequately supple ride and decently direct steering, both adjustable in aggression, provide just the right amount of feedback for a sporty car intended to be used every day. The brakes—14.2 inches up front, 12.4 inches in the rear, and running track-ready, high-performance DOT 4 fluid from the factory—are controlled by a pedal that's entertainingly short but still progressive.

Hyundai

The Elantra N may be noticeably more refined for road use than its always-on Veloster sibling, but that's not to say it can't light a fire under your ass when you want it to. Quite the opposite, actually, because on track, the first high-po Elantra is playfully composed and extremely good fun. With the ace e-LSD set in maximum attack mode, understeer is non-existent unless you recklessly go looking for it. 

The brakes perform solidly and so do the steering and the chassis. Pretty much all of the Elantra N's hardware feels pleasantly weighted, moves with a taut fluidity, and feels about just as at home doing circuit work as the Subaru BRZ, a dedicated, two-door, rear-drive sports car. The Hyundai may be front-wheel-drive, but provoke it through a twisting, undulating corner with enough speed and the rear will step out on you. 

Chris Tsui

Even at a more responsible pace, however, the Elantra N is still a delight and a half to drive. Partly thanks to some immensely customizable drive modes, it can be civilized or a proper firecracking track star when you want it to be and is just an extremely competent collection of high-quality components, whether you're talking engine, transmission, chassis, or suspension. 

Practical Considerations

On the subject of "quality components," the Elantra N's interior is a reasonably nice place to spend time but some of the plastics are noticeably lower-rent than those found in, say, the rival Volkswagens. You'll forgive it for its usability, though, because while the aforementioned Golfs have now knee-capped themselves with a seriously challenging, touch-based UX, the Elantra's cabin actually boasts a similarly minimalist, dash-spanning-vent visual style. It, thank the Lord, keeps buttons and knobs intact, clearly labeled, and intuitively placed. 

Chris Tsui

Even the parking brake is of the manual, instant-tray-drift variety—even with the DCT—and you gotta love it for that. 

Dual 10.25-inch screens are standard, as are heated seats featuring livable, sporty bolstering and an N logo that illuminates in tandem with the dome light. The rear seats, which boast lots of legroom and a decent amount of headroom, fold down as one piece but the passthrough is partially obstructed by a red-painted brace. That brace undoubtedly contributes to the Elantra N's impressive rigidity but does impede on this car's ability to haul bigger items from Ikea. Other than that, though, Hyundai's hot Elantra is really very daily-able. Driven with care in Normal mode, it doesn't feel all that different from a regular, albeit extremely well-sorted, compact car. Really, the only driving-related complaint I can muster is that highway road noise can be a little loud but, all in all, the Elantra N is a goddamn winner. 

As of this writing, Hyundai is staying mum when it comes to pricing. Given the fact that the smaller and older Veloster N starts at $32,500, though, we're expecting the Elantra N to be priced somewhere in the mid-to-high $30,000 range. What we do know, however, is that the price will be fairly all-inclusive, with no options packages available to jack up the price. Pick a color, pick a transmission, and you're done. 

Early Verdict

Surging past Sonoma Raceway's start/finish straight at full-tilt in an Elantra N, slamming the marvelous manual gearbox into fourth, and feeling the frame and springs work their magic while absolutely booking it up the long uphill left-hander that follows is, without a doubt, one of the most fun things I've done all year. On track and off, the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N is a seriously competent piece of hardware. It's fast, it's fun, the ergonomics are great, and the way it flows and changes direction is top-notch, no asterisks needed. 

Chris Tsui
Chris Tsui

It's also a clear improvement over the Veloster N in both livability and technical proficiency which transitively places it firmly in the upper echelon of sport compacts. It may not blip very often on most enthusiasts' radars, but the regular, non-performance Hyundai Elantra is actually quite a decent base. Until an even rowdier Elantra comes along, this N version's bigger engine and red hot running gear take the platform to its full performance potential, saddles it right up next to the best in the segment, and finally brings some genuine excitement to the Elantra name. 

At the end of the day, I think I'd still take the mighty Honda Civic Type R over this but, truthfully, that decision was mostly rooted in personal preference and I absolutely would not fault anyone who'd choose differently. The Elantra N is that good. If Hyundai can manage to undercut the Honda on price (and I have a feeling it probably will), it'll be one of the greatest practical-fun-car values on the market... that is, as long as the dealers don't wise up to what they've got and get all markup-happy.

(On second thought, if you are indeed in the business of selling Hyundais, please note that everything you've read up to this point is Fake News. The Elantra N is a terrible car and you should sell me one for $10,000 under sticker because that is what it's worth. kthxbai.)

Chris Tsui
Chris Tsui

Got a question for the author about the Elantra N? You can reach them here: chris.tsui@thedrive.com.