The Hyundai Elantra N Line Cuts Costs Better Than It Carves Corners
Contending with the Civic Si, can this Hyundai really compete?
Remember when small, fun cars were all the rage, back in the days crossovers didn't exist? As a former subscriber to Sport Compact Car--which easily just dated me--I loved fun affordable cars, and owned several small coupes, sedans, and hatchbacks from the time I got my license through my 20s. Hyundai is still trying to capture that driver, introducing more N Line models across its lineup. Putting itself on the hot hatch map with the Veloster N a few years back, Hyundai then added the i30 (outside the U.S), Kona, and Sonata--which I reviewed recently--to it's N Line selection.
The challenge is that the marketplace for sporty affordable cars is dwindling, and the competition is not filled with options. When I gave the 2020 Civic Si a go about two years ago, I said it was the best way to spend $26,000 on a new car. With its new 2022 model coming in the next couple months, the Hyundai Elantra N Line is going to face off with one serious rival. How does it hold up in its own right? The good people at Hyundai sent one to my home for a week-long test to find out.
The Useful Specs
Powering the Hyundai Elantra N is a 1.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected inline-four that produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Hooked up to either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, my tester went the two-pedal DCT route to drive the front wheels. The Elantra's power figures are on-par with the Civic Si, which comes with a 6-speed manual as the only transmission. To tweak the powertrain to your liking, Hyundai equips the Elantra N Line with three drive modes.
The base Elantra SE has a starting MSRP of $19,850, and with four total trim levels, the N Line lands just below the Limited. In N Line guise, this Hyundai Elantra has an MSRP of $26,360. Versus its rivals, the Elantra's price point is nearly identical to the Civic Si, and slightly less than the starting price of the more powerful Volkswagen GTI (that I tested not long ago). Fortunately Hyundai gives all its new cars a more new vehicle comprehensive warranty, covering 5 years or 60,000 miles, 5 years of roadside assistance, 3-years or 36,000 miles of complimentary maintenance, and a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
As A Daily Driving Sedan
Getting around town is pretty basic in the Hyundai Elantra N Line. The engine is tame, its steering is a bit simple, and the suspension isn't too firm nor soft. If you're making your daily commute or running some errands, the Elantra isn't going to excite you, and might bore you instead. Even making runs up a freeway on-ramp is a chore, with an underwhelming turbocharged powerplant installed. If I didn't already know the Elantra N Line was intended to be a fun variant, I wouldn't have had a clue provided by any impressions gathered from the driver's seat.
Tech features are reasonable, with all the goodies you've grown accustomed to in most new cars, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio run through an 8-inch touchscreen, and wireless mobile device charging in a storage cubby ahead of the shifter. Hyundai also equips the Elantra N Line with a full slate of safety systems and driver aids to help keep you out of harm's way.
The Elantra N Line's heated cloth front seats have some good bolstering and lateral support, and the rear ones provide decent space for a taller adult, but with little in the way of cushioning to keep your passengers in place. Total cabin volume in the Elantra is bigger than all of its competitors too. Trunk space is plentiful, albeit pretty simple when it comes to storage options, and I wish Hyundai gave the Elantra some sort of storage pockets and nets along the sides rather than simply equipping it with a vast space for all your items to slide around inside.
Road noise is a bit high, partially because of the slightly sporty Hankook tires fitted, but I'm convinced Hyundai forgot to install any insulation within the door panels and dash. Squeaks and rattles are frequent too. Up against the Civic and VW GTI, the Elantra is definitely not great to ride inside. EPA fuel economy estimates are 28/36/31 (city/highway/combined), but I only managed to achieve 26 combined during my week with the Elantra N Line.
Fun Factor Is Lacking
Carrying the N torch, Hyundai's Elantra variant isn't up to snuff. With sportier wheels, sharp lines, and a dual-tipped exhaust, it's trying to look the part. Cool looking bucket seats give the interior the nod, as does giving the Elantra N Line a sportier drive mode setting. The challenges it has keeping up with its sport compact rivals are quickly revealed when you try to exercise the Elantra N Line along a twisty road.
Under the hood, Hyundai's claimed 201 horsepower feels more like 150, with acceleration that's slow at best. Pair that powerplant with a dual-clutch transmission that is about as smooth as a restricted CVT, constantly chasing the correct gear in the slowest shift manner possible, and you've met a driving experience that's less than optimal. Even taking control by using the steering wheel-mounted shifters exhibited a serious lag between paddle pull and shift change, which was disheartening.
I had hoped the engagement level in the Hyundai Elantra N Line would have been higher, with a spec sheet that should add up nicely, but it was truly underwhelming. The engine note was pretty meh too, with a droning sound coming from its dual-tipped exhaust. Hyundai says the Elantra N gets a sport-tuned multilink suspension, larger front rotors, revised steering, and stronger engine mounts, but its handling isn't anything special. Cornering grip was filled with understeer, attributed to the "performance" all-season Hankook Vents S1 tires and front axles that struggled to apply power without torque steering me around a bend.
A limited-slip differential would do the Elantra N Line some favors. As would more available power from its 201 horsepower claim, to give it more punch on demand. Better refinement and responsive suspension tuning would be a welcome addition too, as its Civic Si and GTI rivals have great adaptive systems installed. Another big deduction for the Elantra N line is its steering, that feels numb and rubbery. If it's going to call itself a sporty sedan, there's work to one done.
A Couple Positive Points
I appreciate that Hyundai gave the Elantra N Line some unique styling cues to make it stand out next to its more conventional trim levels. The hard edges around its exterior aren't my brand of bourbon, but I'm guessing The Youths will like the looks. LED headlights are a nice addition to the Elantra N Line, giving the sedan great visibility at night.
Hyundai is smart to equip the Elantra with easy to use buttons and knobs for the major touch points, as many other OEMs are switching to touchscreens to handle all the functions. While I griped about the steering dynamics of the Elantra, I like the perfect diameter of its steering wheel, met with a just-thick-enough leather wrapped wheel in your hands.
Plenty Of Complaints
I don't like to write hit pieces, but the Hyundai Elantra N Line is fairly getting a lot of points deducted. The cloth material Hyundai decided to use for the Elantra N Line's seats possesses a texture that resembles bargain patio furniture. I wouldn't eat snacks nor fizzy drinks inside the Elantra N Line, after chatting with a detailer friend who had no idea what they'd use to clean potential spills off the seats.
Cabin materials are low-rent, with an unpleasant feeling no matter which surface you touch. Plastic runs rampant inside the Elantra, giving it a cheap look. The door cards feel thin and are covered with a plastic-lined fabric that resembles a poorly executed attempt to repurpose recycled water bottles. The handle for the passenger along the center console has a massive panel gap, and feels wobbly if you try to stabilize yourself with it.
As other manufacturers are stepping up gauge pod screens and interactions, the Elantra N Line is plain. Sure, the red markings scream "sporty" at first glance, but the dials are small, the fonts are tiny, and the digital screen doesn't show up clearly in your line of sight, so using it as a digital speedometer isn't helpful.
This Sporty Sedan Disappoints
As a fellow enthusiast driver, I can't give you all my recommendation of the Hyundai Elantra N Line. It's unrefined, not pleasing behind the wheel, and doesn't offer any of the quality and appeal of its competitors. If you want great bang for your fun sedan buck, I suggest getting the Honda Civic Si. Especially when considering a new faster, more agile one is hitting showrooms very soon. Should you find a 2021 VW GTI on a dealer's lot, that's another good option.
Hyundai is trying to get buyers who want a fun, inexpensive car to drive its models home, but sadly the Elantra N Line doesn't get my vote. Thankfully there's a new Elantra with the proper N badge, offering 276 HP and 289 lb-ft of torque, and likely loads of upgrades that add up in the handling department for around $30,000. Maybe that will be a hit.