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2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line review: Affordable fun

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't get a fun little car.

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2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
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2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

This is one sharp sedan.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Everyone likes an affordable car with some underhood chutzpah and striking design -- and such is the case with the new Hyundai Elantra N Line. No, this isn't the full-bore Elantra N we recently tested, but the N Line strikes a great balance between that ultra-hot compact and Hyundai's run-of-the-mill Elantra sedan.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
8.3

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

MSRP

Like

  • Zippy powertrain
  • Unique design
  • Affordable price

Don't like

  • Needs a limited-slip diff
  • Missing some tech features

Visually, there isn't too much to distinguish the N Line from the standard Elantra, save for tweaked bumpers, red accents and 18-inch wheels. The look is definitely more refined and toned down than the crazy Elantra N, nicely wearing Hyundai's new "parametric dynamics" design language -- even if black doesn't really show it off.

While the standard Elantra's 2.0-liter engine packs a modest 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, the N Line has a 1.6-liter turbo I4 that makes a healthy 201 hp and 195 lb-ft. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but my test car has the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. When we first tested the N Line last year, we weren't too impressed with the manual transmission. Meanwhile, the DCT does a fine job managing power delivery.

There's more to the N Line than its upgraded powertrain. This sportier Elantra has an independent rear suspension instead of the base car's standard torsion beam, as well as larger front brakes, stiffer roll bars and revised shock tuning with stiffer springs. The Elantra N Line can definitely hold its own on curvy backroads, but there's no clever limited-slip differential like you get in a Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Push the Elantra into a corner and you'll quickly notice understeer.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line: Sharp and sporty

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The N Line's steering is nicely tuned and you feel plenty of feedback through the wheel. The steering ratio is quick and there's nice weight to the wheel. Adding to the Elantra's on-road verve, the 1.6-liter engine sounds pretty great and there's a surprisingly throaty exhaust note.

At the end of a week of testing, my Elantra N Line is returning an impressive 36.9 mpg -- much more than the EPA-estimated combined rating of 31 mpg. Go for the manual transmission and the EPA says you'll only see 28 mpg combined.

There are plenty of driving aids standard, like forward-collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist and a driver attention warning. But you can't get adaptive cruise control or Hyundai's awesome Highway Driving Assist feature that combines ACC with lane-keeping.

You also can't get the N Line with the Elantra's upmarket 10.2-inch infotainment screen or digital gauge cluster. Instead, you're stuck with the smaller 8-inch multimedia display, though at least it offers wireless Apple CarPlay. Android Auto, however, is only available through a USB cord. But if you do use an Android phone, you can use its NFC capabilities to unlock your car with Hyundai's Digital Key tech. Wireless phone charging is standard, too.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
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2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

The N Line has the Elantra's smaller touchscreen, but at least Apple CarPlay can connect wirelessly.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The N Line's cabin has a different steering wheel, more heavily bolstered seats, a new shifter and plenty of red contrast stitching. The front seats come standard with heating and they're pretty darn comfy. Soft-touch materials are on the most frequently used surfaces but you'll notice a lot of hard plastics in here, too.

But that's the case with pretty much every other car in this class. The Honda Civic Si is the Elantra N Line's closest rival and the new one looks to be awesome. Kia makes a turbocharged Forte GT, too, which has the same powertrain as the Elantra N Line but with a toned-down design.

A few flaws aside, the Hyundai Elantra N is a solid little car -- especially when you look at the price. It only costs $25,275 including $1,025 for destination, and the only available option is the $1,000 DCT. That's a lot of car for not a lot of money, and while it won't thrill you like the top-dog Elantra N, the N Line should more than satisfy those who have a need for speed but fairly shallow pockets.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
8.3

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

MSRP

Score Breakdown

Performance 8.5Features 8Design 8.5Media 8

Specs

See full specs Engine 4 Cylinder Engine, TurbochargedDrivetrain Front Wheel DriveMPG 31 MPGPassenger Capacity 5Body Type Sedans