If you had told us ten years ago that a Hyundai Elantra would make a great sports car, we would called you crazy. But here we are in 2022, and the Elantra N is one our favorite cars of the year. The compact sedan has a great, energetic drivetrain, crisp handling, an awesome exhaust note, and an available manual transmission.
Part of Hyundai's N performance series of vehicles, the Elantra N features bold and aggressive styling throughout. While the dramatic black grille is more aesthetic than functional, most other body changes are designed to improve aerodynamics. There's a large front splitter, side sills, a trunk lid spoiler, and a ridged rear diffuser, all of which enhance airflow over and around the car. Red accents on these black trim pieces add to the sporty look and tie back to the red paint on the brake caliper covers.
What really makes the N go zoom is Hyundai's 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI 4-cylinder engine. It produces 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft. of torque. It comes on fast, launching the Elantra N from a dead stop to 60 mph in about 6 seconds with the manual transmission and just North of 5 seconds with the quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch automatic. Power is sent exclusively to the front wheels, but torque steer is well-controlled, and we couldn't detect the slightest turbo lag.
While the DCT automatic is the zippier choice, there's nothing quite like driving a sports car with three pedals and a stick shift. The 6-speed manual has a nice feel, and the clutch pedal is easy to work and won't tire out your left leg. That big red button on the steering wheel engages rev-matched downshifting, which ensures smooth and satisfying downshifts even if you're no heel-toe expert. Multiple drive modes are available, including a track-friendly N mode, which tightens up the steering, stiffens up the suspension, and lets the exhaust truly sing.
Speaking of exhaust, the N is no quiet little family sedan. In its Sport and N modes, its variable exhaust valve system cranks up the airflow and produces a fantastic exhaust note to go with. As you head towards the top of the lower gears, it lets out quite the delightful ear candy, with just the right mix of snarl and burbly crackles and pops.
We dig the angular cutouts on the 19-inch alloy wheels, which complement the sharply-sculpted lines on the Elantra's body. Those wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performance tires, some of the best summer tires on the market - even when the road is a little damp or cool. We were duly impressed with the way that the Elantra N handles in the corners, owing just as much to its electronic limited-slip differential as it does to its excellent choice of tires. Those 14.2" front discs and performance brake pads also help the N stop on a dime.
Hyundai offers up a duo of 10.25" digital displays for gearheads to monitor performance, including a linear tachometer with shift point indicators, throttle and brake input monitors, a lap timer, G-force, and oil and engine temperature readouts. The circular tach and speedo on the instrument panel are the ones you'll be looking at while driving, while your passengers can enjoy the readouts on the center touchscreen. This interface also allows you to dial in custom drive modes with adjustable settings for the engine, steering, suspension, eLSD, electronic stability control, and exhaust sound. The automatic model also lets you adjust the transmission to shift closer to the redline.
The inside of the Elantra N is a delight. It's sleek, sporty, and timeless in design. Controls are where you would expect them, and there's a good complement of tactile controls to go with the touchscreen. The aluminum pedals and stitched leather steering wheel look great, too, though we wouldn't have minded a D-shaped wheel. Also, we were perplexed by the circular graphic on the dashboard to the left of the instrument panel, which doesn't seem to serve any purpose.
The body-hugging, leather-trimmed sport seats are great and are covered with microsuede to keep you from sliding. That lovely suede repeats on the door trim and ceiling gives the car a premium look. We dig how the N badges in the seatbacks light up at night.
A big bonus with the Elantra N is that it's one of those rare sports cars that's comfortable for backseat passengers. The cabin of the Elantra is shockingly spacious, offering exceptional legroom and headroom for everyone in the car. We were also surprised to find that the rear seat of the Elantra N can still fold down to accommodate longer cargo, even with the added bracing which helps stiffen the chassis. For those wondering about trunk space, you'll find a reasonable 14.2 cubic feet back there, though the trunk opening is a little on the narrow side.
The Elantra N is one of the most fun-to-drive cars we've had the pleasure to test out this year, and it's well worth consideration by anyone looking for a well-priced sports sedan that they can still use to take the kids around and pick up groceries. Every feature we mentioned comes standard on the Elantra N, which is priced at $32,150 for the manual and just $1500 more for the automatic. If you ask us, that's a steal. Plus, every Hyundai comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, giving buyers added confidence in their purchase. Hyundai has been crushing it with its N performance models, and we're excited to test out other models like the Kona N and the forthcoming Ionic 5 N.