2022 Hyundai Elantra N First Drive Review: Looney Tuned

Do you remember the joy of Saturday morning cartoons? You woke up at 6:00 am, poured a big bowl of Cocoa Puffs or Trix, turned on the TV, and laughed yourself into a sugar-fueled fit at Elmer Fudd failing yet again to hunt down that wascally wabbit, Bugs Bunny. Eventually, you grew up and grew out of cartoons, but not out of Saturday morning giggles. Only now, they’re powered by gasoline instead of Golden Grahams.

If that sounds familiar, have I got a vehicle for you. The 2022 Hyundai Elantra N is sure to be one of the silliest symphonies of your adult life, bundling a snarling exhaust note and responsive handling with surprising levels of poise and control. Without one hint of irony, Hyundai calls all of its N-branded vehicles “corner rascals,” and we couldn’t help but think of Bugs’ quick wits and sense of humor in outsmarting poor old Elmer each time we introduced the Elantra N to a tricky corner. Alongside the likewise-new Kona N, the hot compact sedan offers nearly as much finesse as it does fun, involving the driver in the speed.

Gallery: 2022 Hyundai Elantra N: First Drive








Acme-Brand Performance

Under the hood of the Elantra N is a version of the Veloster N’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. The Elantra makes 276 horsepower in normal circumstances, 5 more than the hatch, but a temporary overboost function improves throttle response and increases power to 286 for short bursts of speed. The sedan’s 289 pound-feet is also an improvement over the Veloster’s 271, available from 2,100 to 4,700 rpm. A six-speed manual with automatic rev matching is standard, and an eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission is optional. Hyundai estimates the 60 mile-per-hour sprint to happen in 5.0 seconds with the latter.

As impressive as those numbers are (especially for a four-door sedan with a target starting price of around $30,000), Hyundai N doesn’t refer to its vehicles as straight-line rascals. The sportiest Elantra really comes into its own when there’s some lock in the steering, thanks to an electronically controlled suspension that uses G-sensors and solenoid valves on both front and rear dampers. Set to Eco or Normal modes, the shock absorbers provide a reasonably smooth ride, but in Sport and Sport Plus, they’re tuned for maximum attack, reducing roll and pitch while still allowing for some comfort over minor pavement blemishes.

The Elantra also comes with its Veloster sibling’s so-called N Corner Carving Differential. This electronic limited-slip diff helps transform the front-drive economy car by routing power to the outside wheel in a turn, palpably reducing understeer when powering out of a corner. It’s not totally transparent – carelessly chuck the Elantra into a corner and you’ll feel the differential’s clutches at work – but it does a lot to instill confidence in veterans and novices alike. Added body reinforcements and a new rear strut bar (that admittedly reduces the usefulness of the one-piece folding rear seat) also improve responses.

The Elantra N’s styling certainly draws lots of attention (some of it negative), but there’s no denying its presence. The gaping maw of gloss black on the front fascia is our least favorite design element, hiding the Elantra’s funky grilles and headlights, but the rest of the vehicle is done up in brilliant Fast and Furious style. An angular wing on the trunklid mates with revised side skirts and a front splitter to improve aerodynamics, with N-brand signature red accents peppered throughout the exterior. Lacy 19-inch wheels give the Elantra a planted stance, and it arguably looks best in the trim-exclusive Performance Blue.

The Road Runner

Our first stint behind the wheel of the 2022 Elantra N was over a 45-minute street route that encompassed two-lane highways, a bit of freeway driving, and (most importantly) a dense collection of curves and elevation changes. In the first two situations, the Elantra was mostly unremarkable. Even with the suspension in its softest setting, the ride is a bit smoother than the Veloster’s but undeniably firmer than the Volkswagen GTI’s, and it doesn’t have quite as much polish as the German. But the Elantra N would still be an acceptable commuter vehicle for most folks since it’s never truly punishing, even over gritty, pockmarked pavement.

Things get a bit more dramatic when using Sport, Sport Plus, and N driving modes, which firm up the steering, sharpen the throttle, and stiffen the dampers for a more connected, direct driving experience. In normal city driving, Sport felt appropriate for folks willing to trade a little suspension cushiness for quicker throttle response. However, on those aforementioned curvy roads, Sport Plus was noticeably more aggressive, requiring a bit more finesse on the steering wheel and throttle pedal but rewarding smooth inputs with snappy reflexes and excellent composure.

We took our drive loop in a manual-transmission Elantra N, and it’s amazing how much improved the six-speed stick is over the lesser unit in the Elantra N Line. That vehicle’s vague clutch takeup, imprecise shift lever, and aggravating rev hang made smooth driving in either city or canyon impossible – we tempered our expectations of the manually shifted N thus. We needn’t have been worried, because the hot Elantra’s gearbox is much more accurate and crisp, and the clutch feels more consistent and easy to operate. There’s still some rev hang, but the Elantra N’s manual trans was almost good enough on the road to make us forget about the DCT.

That is, until we got to the track.

Gone In A Cloud Of Dust

Sonoma Raceway is a tricky place to learn how to drive a new vehicle. The front straight empties into a wide sweeper, for example, which means you might be entering Turn 2 – a blind, off-camber right-hander – with a worrying amount of speed. Adding to the fear factor, your author hadn’t ever driven the 2.5-mile circuit before. In spite of that unfamiliarity, Hyundai reps had zero concerns with tossing the keys our way and requesting we keep it shiny-side-up.

After a couple sighting laps, we started to quicken the pace, and the Elantra N responded to our demands appropriately. Its crisp and sharp steering made for accurate corner entry, and the low seating position – 10 millimeters lower than the Veloster’s – transmitted more information about the car’s behavior directly to our backsides. The 2022 Hyundai Elantra N is more neutrally balanced than we’d have expected, thanks to grippy standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. That said, the hot sedan would hang its tail out if we provoked it with some trail braking, helping compensate for the occasional ham-fisted input.

As much as we loved the manual out on the road, there was no denying the eight-speed DCT was much faster on the track. We left shifting duties to the computer, and it doled out sharp, quick upshifts and hyperactive downshifts that seemed telepathically linked with the driver’s intentions. The gearbox was most thrilling over Sonoma’s steep downhill back sweeper, kicking down gears to keep the engine right in the middle of the power band without upsetting chassis balance in the slightest.

Adding to the fun is the Elantra N’s hyperactive exhaust. The pops and burbles that made the Veloster N so endearing to enthusiasts carries over to the four-door sedan, igniting the car in a cacophony of crackles when lifting off the throttle at high rpm. Hyundai was frank in admitting that the noises could have been engineered out, as they’re not an intrinsic byproduct of the performance enhancements. But customer demand prevailed, and so now we have two overt, vocal Hyundai performance cars instead of just one – three if you count the Kona N crossover.

Bugs Has His Day

The 2022 Hyundai Elantra N is everything the marketing says it is, a wascally wabbit of a thing that’s eager to put a grin on your face. Try as we might, we couldn’t come up with many complaints that don’t also apply to the standard (Motor1 Star Award-winning) Elantra – a plasticky interior prevails, though admittedly dressed up with supportive N bucket seats, a thick-rimmed steering wheel, and microfiber suede inserts on the door panels.

Our biggest dynamic concern is some unpleasant front axle hop when launching the manual-transmission Elantra from a dead stop, a move that many prospective owners will undoubtedly replicate when trying to impress their friends. In just about every other way, the Elantra N is a wonderful, addicting sport sedan. It serves as a harder-edged, more powerful, and giggle-inducing foil to the somewhat sterile Volkswagen GTI, and it gives the sterling Honda Civic Type R a run for its track-rat money with polished handling and a torque-rich powerband.

The low-rent interior is a disappointment, but on the other hand, Hyundai promises a starting price of around $30,000 when the Elantra goes on sale at the end of the year. That’s a helluva deal given the performance on offer, and we’d find it hard to choose anything else in the category. With the 2022 Elantra N, childish joy need no longer be confined to Saturday mornings.

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