Ann Arbor, Mich. — The Hyundai Elantra N is a neat little thing. It’s a firecracker of a sedan, its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. That power is put to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual transmission or, in the case of this tester, an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. People take notice of it, especially in the lighter exterior colors that make the sporty red accents really pop. And if they don’t see you coming, they’ll hear you — the valved exhaust is capable of quite a racket.
We’ve already given the Elantra N our First Drive treatment, certifying its worthiness as a successor to the dearly departed Veloster N. I spent a week with the car, doing normal things with it, all while it goaded me to do naughty things with it. So, in addition to the one question that kept popping into my head as I drove it — “This is an Elantra?!” — here are nine thoughts about the 2023 Hyundai Elantra N.
The DCT is excellent.
This thing shifts mighty quickly. Not quite synaptically fast, but we’re talking about a mere sliver of a second here. Considering the quickness, what’s even more impressive is just how smoothly it trades gears. Even under full throttle, you get seamless transitions until you’re shifting high in the rev range. Then you’ll get just a tender shove.
Left to its own devices, the shift logic is excellent, regardless of drive mode. The shift paddles on the back of the steering wheel, though, are all too inviting, and the Elantra N rewards you for taking matters into your own hands. The slickly executed instant feedback is addicting.
It’s still not as involving as a proper manual transmission, but this auto really makes a strong case for itself.
The exhaust sound is wild and crackly.
This ties into the last one. Tickle those paddles just right, and massage the accelerator in just the right way, and you can elicit a soundtrack of crackles and pops like a bowl of Rice Krispies with a megaphone.
And it doesn’t just give it to you. You gotta work it out a little bit, like that important, belt-loosening belch after Thanksgiving dinner. The NGS button (more on that later) gives you a free, 20-second ticket to easy cracklin’s. Don’t want to piss off your neighbors? You can put it in a quiet mode, and it’ll behave itself a bit. Still, an Elantra has no business sounding so boisterous and exciting, but I’m glad it does.
NGS is an underwhelming gimmick.
“N Grin Shift.” What does that even mean? The NGS button on the steering wheel is just an overboost mode, giving you an extra 10 horsepower for 20 seconds. That’s not enough to really make a difference. I don’t really ever feel like I need any sort of push-to-pass type of feature in in the Elantra N. It also shifts it down to the lowest possible gear for those 20 seconds. But if I needed it, I could just downshift myself or just lay down the accelerator, confident in the N’s ability to shift appropriately on its own. I don’t want an overboost button unless it’s going to blow me away or give me an actual advantage.
I do like the programmable N buttons on the steering wheel, though, which you can use to pick and choose individual features from various drive modes, much like BMW’s M buttons. Those I’ll use.
The brakes on the Elantra N are well up to the task. It uses 14.2-inch ventilated rotors up front, with 12.4-inch ventilated rears. They bring the car’s 3,296 pounds to a stop with gusto. I was impressed with the ease and stability with which I able to make a quick stop when someone in front of me slammed on their brakes. What could have been a harrowing moment was no sweat. That translates to excellent car control in spirited driving on tight roads.
It has a mechanical parking brake.
Oh, hello, old friend! A hand-lever e-brake is rare thing to find in a new car anymore. Sure, you’re not likely to use it while you’re driving. And if you did, it would be better suited to a rear-drive (on pavement) or all-wheel-drive car (in the dirt or snow — oh how I miss my WRX). Still, I just like having it there. And there’s something reassuring about habitually pulling that lever when you park compared to pushing or pulling a little electronic toggle and wondering whether you’re setting the parking brake or releasing it.
Look out for potholes and their little brothers.
On smooth pavement, the suspension is great, and helps give the spritely Elantra its sporty handling. But it can be pretty punishing on the inevitable broken pavement that plagues states like Michigan. Depending on the trousers I wore on any given day, the Elantra N had the habit of shaking items out of my pockets and down the side of the seat. And it could get a little skittish hitting a frost heave on the curve of a highway on-ramp.
It doesn’t seem right to complain about, though, as in the tradeoff you get a good feel of the road, and the chassis responds adeptly to steering input. I’d rather put up with the chop than sacrifice it for slop, if you catch my drift. It’s just something to keep in mind if you have delicate passengers and rough roads on your daily commute. It could get old … or you could get used to it.
People try to race you.
I’d just be driving my kid to school, minding my own business, and the odd Tesla or lifted pickup would do the thing where they creep up next to you then blow past you in challenge. I don’t like to draw that kind of attention when I’m driving. I don’t mind the thumbs up or friendly wave from someone in a Civic Si or Mini Cooper JCW, or even questions from the curious in a parking lot. But I’m not going to drag race you down Plymouth Road, and not just because I’m afraid to lose.
But you very well might lose.
The Elantra N is no slouch with 276 hp, but it doesn’t have a ton of staying power as you reach the upper end of the rev range. It starts to lose its breath around 4,500 rpm or so, right when you want it to hold out a little longer before your next shift. Again, not a complaint, just an observation. At least you’ve got eight gears to pick from, and a really slick way to trade one for another.
It’s a bargain.
The Elantra N starts at $34,015 including $1,115 in destination. The DCT adds $1,500 should you choose to go that route. Basically the only other decision you get to make, beyond some accessories, is the exterior paint color. Black, grey and dark blue are no cost. White or that delicious Performance Blue add $450. Everything else is standard: that sweet power and energetic exhaust, those big brakes, electronically controlled suspension, 10.25-inch touchscreen and digital instrument panel, heated front seats, LED lighting, variable valve exhaust, illuminated seat logos, Bose audio, wireless charging, digital key capability, those tender leather and Alcantara seats. Plus, it looks cool. Not too shabby.