INDIA EXCLUSIVE: Hyundai Elantra N – First Drive Review

Abhay Verma
An exclusive review of Hyundai’s feisty performance sedan!

Hyundai launching the i20 N Line in India was a portrayal of the carmaker having more in its arsenal than just mass market cars. The i20 and Venue N Line have done really well, bearing testimony to Indian buyers’ want for cars that are fun to drive and do not cost a bomb. And while both are just mildly sportier than the regular versions, they’re also a little peek into Hyundai’s N world, which includes serious artillery. I’d driven the previous generation i20 N in South Korea earlier (the full-blown N and not the N Line) which was a 200PS i20 and didn’t share a lot with the regular hatchback. And boy, I was blown away. Fact is, despite being less than a decade old, Hyundai’s N division has been churning out cars that hit the nail on the head in terms of driver engagement.

They’ve obviously been doing a lot on the global platform for the matter, winning the WRC title multiple times with the i20, besides creating brilliant driver’s cars – like the Elantra N on these pages. The executive sedan segment’s slow death in India meant we had to bid adieu to the Elantra, a name popular with chauffeur-driven buyers. It may have been discontinued here but the Elantra continues to do well abroad. Heck, the Elantra is so popular, especially in America, that Hyundai launched the full-blown Elantra N in the USA in 2021! Coincidentally, my trip to the USA was just a couple of weeks after I drove the IONIQ 5 N in South Korea (read my review on page 58). Having driven the IONIQ 5 N, the first electric and most powerful N car, I couldn’t resist also driving the second most powerful N car, the Elantra N.

The good folk at Hyundai India hooked me up with their counterparts in the USA and I found myself looking at this stunning looking Elantra N in Los Angeles in no time. I found the design striking enough to first walk around the car and soak it all in before unlocking it and getting inside! Like you’ll see me talk about Hyundai’s varied design languages in my review of the new Santa Fe (head to page 64), the Elantra N bears no resemblance to the IONIQ5 N or new Santa Fe or even the new Verna! But that doesn’t take away the fact that it looks sharp, sporty and conveys its intent of being a go-faster, performance sedan in heaps. The grille looks polarising but the low slung stance and gorgeous looking 19-inch alloys that show off the red N brake calipers scream raciness.

The sportier bumpers and side skirtings with the trademark N red accents add to the stance, though it’s the rear three-quarter that’s my favourite angle to look at the Elantra N. The wavy spoiler and sharp tail lamps connected by an LED strip help it look striking, but the piece-de-resistance are the dual round exhausts and rear splitter. The spoiler and splitter aren’t merely ornamental though and actually aid aerodynamics. The star inside the cabin is the Alcantara-wrapped N steering wheel with the red ‘rev’ button and two N buttons, while the large glass slab housing the twin screens is the same as the current Verna. The grab handle next to the passenger seat is confusing as it isn’t something you’d expect in a performance sedan, but I guess it will help a co-passenger not used to performance cars stay put.

The heated bucket seats are finished in leather and Alcantara and get an illuminated N logo, while rear legroom and kneeroom are excellent, given the wheelbase. You also get dual zone climate control and an 8-speaker Bose audio system, but these aren’t what we’re here to talk about, right? Under the hood is a 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine putting out 276PS and 392Nm. I drove the manual with a six-speed gearbox, though the Elantra N is also available with an 8-speed DCT. Initial moments were awkward, having to use my right hand to change gears, not something we Indians are used to! But I’m glad I drove the manual as I thoroughly enjoyed giving the gearbox a workout. That’s the beauty – the Elantra N isn’t overly complicated and reminds of times when cars were mechanical and fun!

With nearly 300PS on tap, this Hyundai is capable of clocking 0-100kmph in under 5 seconds and that’s bloody quick. It isn’t a car to merely boast about numbers though – there’s feel, feedback and aural delight. Hit the ‘rev’ or N button and the display transforms into a sportier one with a large centrally placed tachometer and large digital readouts for oil and engine temperature. Exhaust baffles open up to offer a more sonorous note, and you’re instantly transported to a zone every petrolhead will enjoy. Throttle responses are sharp given the crisp fueling, while clutch action is light and gears slot in beautifully, besides which, you also have an auto-blip function – for a manual! Out on the freeway the Elantra N delivers the high speed stability you’d expect thanks to the well-tuned suspension. Give it an open stretch, drop a gear and the car shoots forth ballistically, tachometer needle racing to the redline.

It makes you feed cog after cog furiously, while torque delivery is so strong that you’re sure to end up grinning like an idiot. This is something I found myself doing as I drove up and down the coast at Malibu, even getting stared at a couple of times by guys driving Porsches and the like. But while highly satiating to drive fast in a straight line and excellent at covering distances quickly, this is a car best enjoyed around corners. Hyundai calls the Elantra N a ‘Corner Rascal’ and with an electronically controlled LSD, brilliantly feedback-y steering and adaptive dampers, the car just comes alive around turns. Go fast around bends and the front MacPherson struts and rear semi-trailing arm suspension make you want to corner harder and ignore the traction control light flickering furiously. You just know the car will hold its line!

It’s addictive enough to keep you going the same way corner after corner. At the same time the steering is communicating everything, feeling almost as good as a hydraulically assisted steering and not an electrically assisted one. I can imagine how much fun the Elantra N would be at a racetrack, even with the road-biased but N-specific Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres! You can customise various settings from N mode in the infotainment screen including steering, dampers, engine and more. The suspension would feel stiff on our roads, but the smooth Californian roads meant I was able to enjoy the car without getting jolted around, despite the sports seats. Admittedly, I’d only heard good things about N cars and getting to cane and properly drive the Elantra N confirmed what I’d heard. Its powertrain and chassis-suspension have been engineered to deliver a sensational driving experience. The Elantra hasn’t really been seen as an enthusiast’s choice, but the Elantra N turns all preconceived notions about the sedan on their head.

It’s got a heady mix of performance and handling, yes, but more importantly the car lets you feel it all. There’s a tangible, mechanical feel to the driving experience that most new-age go-faster cars fail to deliver and that’s what sets the Elantra N apart. Hyundai has gone all out with this one, leaving no stone unturned to impress enthusiasts. In fact, the Elantra N made me wonder why can’t we have more cars that don’t cost a bomb and deliver the kind of pleasures we seek as petrolheads. As an automotive journalist with over 16 years of testing experience, I’ve got to say, I miss the old times when cars were pure and the Elantra N teleported me right back to the era when cars weren’t blisteringly quick without letting you feel a thing. Now to hope this one will somehow make its way to our shores, at least as a limited run model!

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