What do the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R have in common? They're the most performance-focused specimens in their respective lineups and undoubtedly what car enthusiasts would want in the garage if shopping those nameplates. Sadly, not all bank accounts can handle a near-$40,000 wallop, which is where cars like the Civic Si and Golf GTI come in.
The Si and GTI are sporty cars with more manageable price tags, sitting between civilized base models and the most potent range-topping performers. Going forward, however, you'll have to remember to include the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line among the list of go-to sporty compacts. The Elantra GT gets a performance nudge for 2019 and it's very, very good.
Hyundai has recently been making major strides in raising its performance game. The Veloster N was the first vehicle sold in the US with the full-fledged . The Korean automaker is planning to roll out more N products, a halo car and N Line offerings acting as gateway entries to the performance sub-brand. The 2019 Elantra GT is the first to debut with the N Line makeover, offering mild styling and performance tweaks over the outgoing .
Visually, the N Line gains more aggressive front and rear fascias, a new grille, LED headlights, a redesigned lip spoiler, black side mirrors and really slick, 18-inch aluminum wheels with gray-painted insets. Along with the subtle body creases, the Hyundai strikes a clean and interesting stance.
Things take on a sportier vibe inside the as well, with supportive leather sport seats embossed with the N logo, an N steering wheel wrapped in exceptionally soft leather, metal pedals and with red trim and stitching. There's also some surprising premium equipment on offer in the Elantra GT N Line like a heated and cooled front seats, panoramic sunroof and power lumbar support for the driver's seat.
Everything is put together with materials that are par for the class with soft-touch surfaces covering major touch points on the dash and door panels. Hard plastics are also prominent, but feel sturdy and feature a nice finish and graining. The GT is also functional, with serviceable space for passengers, large door compartments to stash things and lots of cargo carrying real estate. Behind the rear seats there's 24.9 cubic feet available, which grows to 55.1 with the rear seats folded.
Overseeing infotainment duties inside of the N Line is Hyundai's user-friendly AVN 5.0 interface displayed on vibrant and responsive 8-inch touchscreen. The embedded navigation system calculates routes in rapid fashion and the seven-speaker Infinity audio equipment sounds... all right. Satellite radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are part of the package, too.
Anyone needing to charge a dying phone can opt to use a wireless charge pad, USB port, or 12-volt outlet in the cubby at the base of the center console. An additional 12-volt power source is mounted in the center console armrest. Unfortunately, people in the back seat do not have any outlets within easy reach.
For safety, all Elantra GT N Line models get a rearview camera with passable resolution and dynamic parking guidelines. Adaptive cruise control with stop-start capability, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams and driver attention alert are available as part of a $3,850 Tech Package.
A surprising performer
The performance part of the Elantra GT N Line's equation begins with a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 engine pumping out 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The latter is available from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm for forceful midrange pull. Manual transmission fans will be ecstatic as a six-speed is standard, but my test car packs an optional seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic that helps return an estimated 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.
Off the line, the N Line's engine is lively and pulls hard past 6,000 rpm before losing some huff approaching the 7,000-rpm redline. Hyundai's in-house-built dual-clutch transmission is excellent with well-timed gear changes when left on its own, and immediately responds to manual shift commands. It's not quite as well-sorted as VW's dual-clutch gearbox, but it's darn close.
Dynamic improvements come courtesy of stiffer engine and transmission mounts, new springs, massaged shocks, larger antiroll bars and a new steering calibration. Manual-transmission cars ride on 225/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires, while dual-clutch models rock Hankook Ventus S1 Nobles.
The N Line's steering is heftier in Sport mode and quickly gets the car turned in for corners with a little lean. When pushing hard around expressway interchange ramps, the N Line hangs on tight and grip levels are clearly communicated through the steering wheel. Overall, it's a nimble, responsive and surprisingly entertaining ride, but maybe not quite as good as a Golf GTI.
The Elantra is also competent for normal commutes. Leaving things in the Normal drive mode setting returns earlier gear changes with almost no lag at throttle tip-in -- something that plagues some dual-clutch transmissions. The Normal mode's lighter steering effort also complements this more relaxed behavior. The stiffer suspension and low-profile tires do create a choppier ride quality over potholes and ruts, but it's not jarring and more than manageable.
How I'd spec it
As much as I enjoy having options like the cooled front seats for hot summer days, a wireless charge pad, panoramic roof and onboard navigation, I would have to live without them. Those, along with all of the active driving technology features, are part of the aforementioned Tech Package that's only available on dual-clutch-equipped Elantra GT N Lines. As good as the $1,100 dual-clutch is, I'm a three-pedal guy, meaning my car starts at $23,300, not including $930 for destination.
I would spec out an Intense Blue paint job and black leather interior just like the car pictured here, which don't add anything to the bottom line. The only cost item I do want are a set of carpeted floor mats that tack on $125. That bringing my car's price tag to a completely reasonable $24,355, undercutting my $29,305 tester by a healthy amount.
A real contender
After spending a week puttering around town and romping through slithering back roads, I can honestly say the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line is a pleasant surprise. It's easy on the eyes and armed with a nice interior, not to mention a strong list of features and technology. Anyone mulling over the Civic Si and Golf GTI should absolutely check out the Hyundai, because not doing so would mean missing out on truly compelling sport compact.