Hyundai’s Elantra N
It’s the way that I move, the things that I do – Ike and Tina Turner
In taking a weekly look at what’s new – or, at a minimum, some of what’s new – in today’s showrooms, I can still be surprised. Recently, VW’s Jetta GLI with a manual trans impressed with its easy in-town maneuverability, while Toyota’s GR86 automatic delighted with its point-and-shoot handling and immediate response. In both instances the car’s specification wasn’t what I’d personally select (I’d probably opt for a GLI automatic – and would much prefer the GR86 manual), but VW and Toyota build them, so presumably there remains a market for ‘em. Hyundai’s Elantra N successfully fills the 4-door niche sparsely occupied by Honda’s Civic Type R, VW’s GTI and Subaru’s WRX, but does it – I believe successfully – for a more adult-specific audience.
Following on the heels of Hyundai’s earlier forays into the performance uNiverse with its Veloster N (since discontinued) and Kona N, the Elantra N (think Hyundai’s Namyang test center – or Germany’s Nürburgring) builds on the well-established menu of small 4-door sedans with an extra serving of horsepower.
In the walk-up you’ll see that the platform, sitting on a 107-inch wheelbase and stretching 184 inches in length, is almost midsize in its footprint. Hyundai’s product team took an aggressive shape shared with the balance of the Elantra lineup (which begins in base SE form at $21K) and – to their credit – have added little more than subtle aero tweaks, along with some orange accents along the side skirts and front air dam. With both concave and convex treatments the sheetmetal can look overwrought, but the design is aggressive in a fully contemporary way – and in no way seems alien.
If there’s a visual disconnect it’s with the in-your-face front fascia, which looks to have been contracted to Rubbermaid. I like big rubber, but prefer it on the road to in my face. A darker exterior color would have perhaps minimized it, but then, hipsters will like our test car’s Cyber Gray.
To the design team’s credit there’s plenty of greenhouse for you to see out, and the constables to see you! Once you step in (if accustomed to crossovers, watch your head!) you’ll face a dash composed of two 10.25-inch displays. The one fronting the driver supplies an analog look to what is obviously a digitized format, but I prefer the functionality of the more traditional layout than the alternative, which invariably looks like it came from Radio Shack’s catalog. On the right side, in the center of the dash, is the infotainment display, which is both clear and (thankfully) more intuitive than it might have been.
The buckets are aggressively bolstered to cope with your track attacks, while still wide enough to handle those love handles. The Elantra’s bigger footprint allows for more shoulder room in front, as well as more shoulder and legroom in the rear. And since you can’t obtain a sunroof on the manual trans model (which seems like a dumb oversight), you won’t have it compromising rear seat headroom.
And worth a mention is the precision of the 6-speed manual, in company with the smooth, progressive action of the Elantra’s clutch. At one time a Korean 6-speed had essentially no precision, and the chance to order a DCT was a huge win. If opting for the Elantra N I’d get the manual trans – even without the sunroof.
The majority of the moNey, of course, has been spent under the hood, where the Elantra N’s 2.0 liter DOHC four is boosted to the tune of 276 horsepower in manual models and 286 horsepower when equipped with the available dual-clutch automatic. That DCT drivetrain delivers, according to Car and Driver, a 0-60 of under five seconds, and will navigate a ¼ mile in just 13.4 seconds with a trap speed of 106 miles per hour. In short, you can merge safely – even on a California freeway. (But you can’t outrun the helicopters…)
Of course, despite your performance preference you’re still concerned about your carbon footprint, and while it consumes more gas than the Elantra Hybrid, that same Car and Driver testing achieved 32 miles per gallon in the magazine’s 75 mph driving, which equates to a 390-mile range. But then, that same testing delivered just 21 miles-per-gallon around town.
Even better, I think, than the Elantra N’s straight line speed is its tossability in day-in/day-out driving. Its on-road dynamic is far closer to that of a compact coupe than a spacious 4-door, and with the electronically controlled damping the ride motions are both composed and comfortable. Surprisingly, the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sports don’t diminish that ride comfort significantly, although any tire with a 35-section sideway will, invariably, meet a premature end when navigating this country’s declining roadways.
At the end of the day Hyundai’s Elantra N is a compelling alternative to the more established players in the sport sedan (or hot hatch) segment. At $35K it isn’t cheap (Acura’s Integra A-Spec would be just a small step per monthly), but it supplies uncommon – and uncompromised – performance with a great warranty and predictable costs associated with its maintenance. From my perspective I’d take fewer styling tweaks, but then, taking the path of BMW with its M2 – flaring the fenders to accommodate wider rubber – might prove more formidable…and more profitable.
For a great many Hyundai customers the Elantra N Line, at well under $30,000, might be the more rational choice. But it’s hard to argue with the Elantra N content and fun factor. It’s always your money – always your choice.