This may be the era of the SUV, but there’s still great news for those who like cars – especially affordable performance cars. Within the last year or so, we’ve seen an all-new Civic Si and Type R, Toyota GR Corolla and VW GTI. Oh, and the latest player, the 2023 Hyundai Elantra N.
Did we say Hyundai? You bet. The N moniker is somewhat recent, having appeared first on the quirky Veloster hatchback and the Kona small crossover. But the real meat of the enthusiast market is going to be sedans and hatchbacks, so we’re happy to welcome the Elantra N. So, is it up to the challenge of some of the most legendary performance cars that can still haul around a family too? Let’s take a look.
It’s a Looker
First impressions are outstanding – this is a great looking vehicle! The standard Elantra is a handsome, modern sedan, but the N takes it to a new level.
Up front, Hyundai builds on the Elantra’s “Sensuous Sportiness” theme, with a serious track worthy look. The grille that borders on being oversize on other models gets the full black-out treatment that actually makes for a more cohesive look, while the mesh treatment looks extra sporty. Slim LED headlights and signature lights give a serious frown, while the lower intakes wrap around creating an added sense of width. A lower lip spoiler with an N-exclusive red strip finishes off the front.
The profile may be the best angle, with a deep contour line that cuts just below the door handles and follows to the taillights. A second cutline at the bottom of the door adds to the muscular looks. The wheels are drop-dead gorgeous, 19-inch multi-spokes wrapped by meaty 245/35 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S summer tires. Sitting on a low-slung suspension the N looks ready to tackle the track!
The rear is just as exciting, with an N-exclusive rear wing spoiler that’s prominent, but thoughtfully does not block your view from inside. Wraparound rear LED’s span the width of the tail, while a sharp cut-in on the trunk door echoes the sharp lines on the sides. Adding some added menace, a blacked-out rear fascia with a red trim line sits above two very large round exhaust pipes.
Our tester was finished in a soft tone they call Performance Blue, and it is an absolutely stunning color, a kind of French Blue, that is just perfect for setting off the black trim and red accent lines. Everyone, and we mean everyone, commented on the looks of our Elantra and the comments were all positive. Strangely a few people asked us if our car was electric – a quick blip out of that big exhaust straightened that out!
Inside is as much of a treat as the outside.
Open the door and you’re greeted by sport bucket seats that could easily be made by Recaro or other high-end aftermarket supplier. With deep bolsters they really do hold you in place but are still reasonably easy to get in and out of. Along with cut outs for a racing harness, the N logo in the seats light up for a very cool look. In case you forget where you sit, you’ll also find N-branding on the steering wheel, shifter, seats, door scuff panels and metal pedals.
On the more practical side, the sport seats are 10 mm lower than stock Elantra seats and are also two inches thinner reinforcing the little Hyundai’s best in class rear seat room. Sporty and practical, too.
Well sort of. While the rear seat can be folded down – it’s a single piece, unusual since most cars now have a split-fold design, letting you carry a passenger and extra gear. No such luck here. Also, there’s a large cross brace to add structural rigidity the robs you of the ability to carry larger loads. It’s a fair compromise for an all-out performance machine.
Enough back seat driving. Drop into the driver’s seat, and you’re greeted by dual 10.3-inch digital displays that remind us of the latest from BMW. The gauges are all sorts of fun, changing colors from econ, normal and sport mode (that would be the red ones…). There’s also a dedicated sport gauge cluster when you hit the N button on the steering wheel, and that gives a single large tachometer in the center – it turns burning red hot as the rpm’s go up – with key performance readouts on the sides that would be handy when on track.
The info-tainment display is canted towards the driver, and you get the full expected connectivity, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Navigation and wireless charging. But there’s a whole lot more available on N, including a series of performance N displays and controls, including individual control of key performance features, launch control, and you can even swipe the screen and get lap timers for select racetracks!
Pacer or Poser?
OK, the Elantra N talks the talk. But can it walk the walk?
It starts off with a real powerhouse. Under the hood is 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder pumping our 276 horsepower and a ground swell of torque – 289 lb.-ft starting at 2100. If you opt for the automatic (our tester was the 6-speed manual) you get a cool overboost feature that gives you a quick blast up to 286 horsepower. We figure 0-60 in the mid 5’s. Very quick!
This a wonderful engine, starting with a deep burble from the exhaust and pulling hard to the redline. We love that you actually have a choice of exhaust notes – a quiet, everyday mode, a deep throaty sport mode and a bonkers N mode that is loud and includes plenty of snaps crackles and pops from the exhaust on upshift or down. That mode definitely turns heads, so we’d be careful when you want to be that loud.
Speaking of sound, the N adds a virtual engine sound into the cabin that not only simulates sounds from Hyundai Motorsports, such as TCR race cars, but also has an equalizer function that allows adjustment of details for each range (whine, throat, bass) to personal preference. Crazy!
That 6-speed manual is wonderful too, direct, light and a little notchy – no slop here. The clutch pedal has great positive engagement but remains light enough that the daily stop n go is no sweat. To maximize your acceleration, there’s even launch control.
Hyundai makes it an easy stick to love, too…push the red REV button on the steering wheel and you downshift rev matching for perfectly-smooth shifts – something you see mostly on high-end sports cars. Something you won’t find, you have a choice of 3 modes of aggressiveness with the feature. The N even has a hill-holder, so you don’t roll backwards when pulling away from an incline.
The handling is equally impressive. Turn-in is right now, and the Elantra dives into corners like an exuberant puppy. The steering is precise and full of feel. The only downside is in Sport mode the steering weight gets ramped up – great for track work where you don’t really move the wheel that much, but for the regular drive and the occasional autocross, way too heavy. Luckily you can go to the Individual setting and get the lighter, easier steering while still enjoying the other Sport settings.
And you’ll want to be twirling that wheel – you’ve got an excellent Corner Carving Differential that reduces torque steer – a big deal on a high-power front-wheel-drive car like the N. The ride is surprisingly supple and quiet in ECO and Normal modes but tightens up in Sport. Even in the most aggressive setting the ride is never harsh, making this an excellent sport sedan that can easily double as a family car. Win-win.
Priced to the Nth Degree?
Hey this is Hyundai; they still appreciate value. The well-equipped Elantra N starts at $32,900. The handsome Performance Blue added $450, and with $1,115 for Destination, we rang the bell at $34,465.
Direct competitors would include the VW Jetta GLI at $33,480 and the Honda Civic Si at $31,180. The Jetta is a great drive but is far more conservatively styled. The Civic is fun and excellent value but the Elantra easily outperforms it. (The Civic Type R starts at over $43,000 so not really a competitor.) In a performance shootout we’d also look at the Subaru WRX at $34,125 a fantastic drive, but the style is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Great looks, awesome performance and tremendous value – the 2023 Hyundai Elantra N is our favorite affordable sport sedan!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.