The Hyundai Elantra N is one of the most exciting cars to hit the road this year. Feisty and furious, this angry-looking sedan barks and pops and blats and farts, torque-steering its way out of corners, kicking you in the back with every upshift. It's visceral. It's hilarious. And yet it's not so rowdy that it'd be a chore to live with day-to-day.
Power comes from the same 2.0-liter turbo I4 you'll find in the Veloster N hatchback, making 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. This engine's a little firecracker, delivering immediate thrust at all times, matched to a sport exhaust that's an absolute delight, popping and crackling on overrun. On the other hand, I kind of hate the N Sound Equalizer that pumps in engine noise and "simulates sounds from Hyundai Motorsports," though you can at least adjust the characteristics to make it sound less fake.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and while it pains me to say this, it's not the transmission I'd pick. Yeah, Hyundai's automatic rev-matching feature is nice, but the clutch is a little spongy, the shifter's throws are a little long and the Elantra N has a problem I've experienced in other Hyundai and Genesis products, where the transmission feels like it cuts torque when you engage each gear, making it hard to shift smoothly.
On the other hand, the optional eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is a joy. It shifts smoothly when you're driving around in Normal mode, yet it really turns up the drama when you put the Elantra N into Sport. The transmission has ultra-quick reflexes and you can feel a satisfying slap through the car with each upshift -- like you're banging the gears in a rally car. Even the paddle shifters are great to use, although I wish they weren't small and mounted to the steering wheel. It's amazing how few car companies.
Speaking of the steering wheel, you'll notice a couple of buttons you won't find in other Elantras. The blue N buttons on each side are where you can store individual N1 and N2 drive modes, after you've tuned the throttle response, steering weight, suspension stiffness and traction control to your liking. The custom drive settings also let you tune the intensity of the exhaust sound and the action of the electronic limited-slip differential, too. It seems like overkill at first blush, but Hyundai says people love being able to fiddle with various car settings on the go.
If you're in the DCT-equipped Elantra, there's another button to note. The bright red one on the right side of the steering wheel is labeled NGS, for N Grin Shift, and though the name is silly, I have to admit, it's accurate. NGS works like Porsche's Sport Response button, where it puts the transmission into a lower gear to crank the engine up to full boil. In the Elantra, N Grin Shift also unlocks an extra 10 hp for these 20-second bursts. It's a nifty little push-to-pass feature, and one I find myself using over and over -- even if it's just for the giggles.
Compared to a standard Elantra, the N has a stiffer body, tauter suspension, larger brakes, tighter steering ratio, new front axle setup and 19-inch wheels, among other minor tweaks. It all works together beautifully; the Elantra N drives with a level of poise and precision that easily let it stand toe to toe with front-wheel-drive hotties like the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The steering is direct and accurate, the chassis is playful without being uncomfortable and the 245/35-series Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires are nice and grippy without killing the Elantra's ride quality.
The real star of the show is the electronic limited-slip differential, which instantly and seamlessly shuffles torque between the front wheels. Throw the Elantra N into a corner and there's no understeer -- just a whole world of grip as you charge forward. Some torque steer rears its head as you dig into the throttle while exiting a turn, but Hyundai says this is a feature, not a flaw. Albert Biermann, head of research and development for Hyundai Motor Group, says he wants the Elantra N to come alive in your hands without feeling like it's getting away from you.
Around Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, the Elantra N sure does feel full of life. It has all the traits of the best hot hatches: It's flickable and fun, and just the right amount of unhinged. Hyundai's sport compact sedan is more entertaining than a Golf GTI, even if it isn't quite as precise.
The downside to the Elantra N package? At least to my eyes, this is one seriously ugly car. The standard Elantra is the right amount of polarizing, all angular and weird. But the N treatment takes things way, way, way too far -- especially up front. The black grille and body panels hide so much of the fascia's design, and those red accents down low don't work with every body color (especially blue). From the profile, the Elantra N is fine, and the 19-inch wheels look great. The rear is mostly OK, too, but that spoiler is way too "Pep Boys add-on" for a car this serious about performance. It's all just... a lot. I love driving this car, but I couldn't look at one in my driveway every day.
Thankfully, make your way inside, and the N is as nice as any other new Elantra. The cabin has plenty of space for four adults -- maybe five in a pinch -- and comes with every creature comfort you could want. A wireless charging pad, heated seats, Bose audio system and Hyundai's Digital Key are all here, in addition to N-specific goodies like generously bolstered sport seats, a thick-rimmed steering wheel, aluminum pedals and, of course, N badges galore.
The Elantra N comes with Hyundai's full tech suite, including a 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The latter supportsand -- not wirelessly, womp womp -- but thankfully Hyundai's proprietary software is colorful and easy to use, so don't freak out if you forget to bring a USB cable. Hyundai doesn't skimp on the active safety tech, either, packing every Elantra N with forward-collision warning, lane-following assistance, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and more.
How much does all this goodness cost? That part remains to be seen, and should be announced closer to the 2022 Elantra N's on-sale date later this year. The one-step-downcomes in at $26,625 including $1,025 for destination, and it's safe to assume the full-zoot N will cost several grand more than that.
Even if it winds up being $35,000 to start, the 2022 Elantra N is a ton of car for the money. It's an absolute thrill that's packed with amenities, and one of the most interesting new entries in the sport compact segment in years.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.