The Hyundai Elantra N Is Legit (2024)

The Hyundai Veloster N was our 2020 Performance Car of the Year. A hatchback from a brand known for good prices and a killer warranty beat out cars from Lotus, Porsche, McLaren, and even the new C8 Corvette. Even we were shocked, and we're the ones who gave it the award.

Not that we should have been surprised. Hyundai isn't known for performance, but the people who made the Veloster N certainly are. That team is led by Albert Biermann, the former head of BMW M who was poached by Hyundai in 2015. He was responsible for the Kia Stinger and the Genesis G70, both brilliant cars. The Veloster N was his first front-wheel drive project, and he knocked it out of the park. And now there's the larger Elantra N. It's even better.

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The first N-model on Hyundai's next-generation front-drive platform that underpins sedans and crossovers, this Elantra N uses a lot of the same ingredients as the Veloster N. The 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder is still here, now making 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. That goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic linked to a torque-vectoring front differential. DCT-equipped cars also get a button that activates a 20 second overboost, good for an extra 10 horsepower. The new platform allowed for wider tires than what's on the Veloster N and Kona N, so the hot Elantra gets 245-series 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, one of our current favorites. The car has launch control, adjustable drive modes, adjustable suspension, and a stiffened platform, plus great seats and an aggressively revised exterior.

And it's a riot. A day on a tight autocross as well as laps at Sonoma Raceway showed that Hyundai's N team focused the right stuff. They didn't just make a stopwatch car. Refreshing.

Between the six-speed manual and the eight-speed DCT, you can't really go wrong. The six-speed is a delight. The shift action might not be the crispest you can buy, but it's well weighted and direct. The gearing isn't overly tall, either, which is welcome. The DCT's eight ratios are tighter, which means it accelerates quicker, and the gearbox has that mechanical feel we love in a good DCT. On track, left in auto, Hyundai's dual-clutch is as intuitive as similar transmissions from automakers that charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for their wares, shifting at the right moment and putting you in the right gear for each corner. However, Hyundai's DCT launch control seems more like a gimmick than a useful addition, requiring multiple steps to activate—and even then, it might not work. The manual can be tough to get off the line quickly, with a hard launch bringing axle tramp and some truly unhappy noises from the front end.

While this is essentially the same engine as the Veloster N, it has five more horsepower and 29 more lb-ft of torque, which you really notice. It makes the engine feel more refined, with noticeably less lag at lower RPMs. I did the autocross entirely in second gear, and even the slowest, tightest turn didn't make a change to first feel necessary.

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The overarching theme here is balance. Yes, drive it like a moron and you'll make the Elantra N plow. Even if it starts to push slightly in a corner, a lift will bring the rear around and into line. The torque-vectoring front diff works well too, noticeable in the autocross's faster turns as well as on track, particularly in Sonoma's fearsome downhill carousel. On power, the front end starts to track in instead of pushing, which lets you unwind steering lock ever so slightly, resulting in a quicker corner exit.

It's a shockingly easy car to get up to speed. Before the Elantra N media event, I'd never been to Sonoma Raceway, but after just a few laps behind Hyundai's TCR driver (and series champ) Michael Lewis, I felt comfortable pushing through faster corners, knowing that the differential was working and the front end was communicating what the car needed to go quickly. On track, the engine isn't necessarily the most exciting thing in the world—this isn't a 911 GT3 or even a high-revving four like Honda used to build—but it's capable and tractable.

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The brakes are strong, with larger 14.2-inch front rotors that won't fade after repeated heavy stops. Biermann was proud that the company got great braking performance in the Elantra N without going to high-dollar equipment from a big-name brake supplier, making a more accessible brake setup work on the N. He's right, the brakes are great, good for dozens of laps without the pedal getting long or any disconcerting behavior—though they work best when rolled into. A heavy application deep into a braking zone will result in a momentary lock as the ABS figures out what the hell you're up to.

Hyundai believes that the natural competitors for the Elantra N are the Civic Type R, the Subaru WRX, and VW's GTI. That's a pretty wide spread of cars, each with its own fanbase. The Elantra makes a case for itself against all of them in terms of track capability. While we have yet to try it on the road, it's likely to be a blast there as well.

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Hyundai is treating the Elantra N like BMW used to treat M cars. M didn't always build cars with the most horsepower or the quickest 0-to-60 times. It built cars that were fun to drive, that communicated with the driver. The Elantra N takes that mantra and runs with it. Now let's hope plenty of people buy it so Hyundai can keep making more performance cars that follow the same blueprint.

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Travis Okulski


Travis was an editor at Road & Track. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of

The Hyundai Elantra N Is Legit (2024)


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