2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line first drive review: A sprightly sport compact

Hyundai has big plans to grow its N performance portfolio in the US. The company will soon offer a spicy little Elantra N sedan, but in the meantime, this softcore N Line version should be more than enough to whet your appetite.

The N Line effectively replaces the old Elantra Sport, packing turbo power, upgraded suspension hardware and lots of active safety tech, all for around $25,000. The brand-new 2021 Elantra is already a great foundation on which to build, and these N Line enhancements only make Hyundai’s compact sedan more appealing.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line is an affordable, tech-rich sport sedan
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Without question the most striking thing about this car is its design. The new Elantra stands out, all geometric and weird. The N Line builds on that character with a slightly more menacing front end, black side moldings and 18-inch wheels. There’s definitely a lot going on, but I think the new Elantra wears these sporty tweaks well. It’s a little more in-your-face than a Honda Civic Si, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

The Elantra is decidedly less polarizing inside, where N Line models get comfy sport seats with leather bolsters, a thicker-rimmed steering wheel, a wireless charging pad, alloy pedals and some red accent stitching. Just like the standard Elantra, the N Line’s cabin is quiet and nicely appointed; everything you touch is covered in above-average materials, with the not-so-great stuff reserved for less-noticeable places like the transmission tunnel and steering column.

Weirdly, you can’t get the N Line with the Elantra’s digital gauge cluster, nor can you opt for the 10.2-inch infotainment display, meaning embedded navigation is a no-go, as well. That’s not to say the 8-inch multimedia system is bad or anything, it just looks kind of cheap surrounded by large shortcut buttons and a bunch of black plastic. On the other hand, the 8-inch screen offers something the larger system doesn’t: wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Combined with the aforementioned charging pad, this is an A-OK setup.

Bad news: The N Line only comes with the Elantra’s smaller, 8-inch screen. Good news: Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Drew Phillips

Of course, the main reason you buy an N Line is for its sprightly performance. This hotter Elantra uses Hyundai’s 1.6-liter turbo I4 engine, producing 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. That’s more than enough grunt for this 2,943-pound sedan, especially considering all that torque is delivered way down low.

The Elantra N Line comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but you can get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic for an extra $1,100. I’m normally all about that stick-shift life, especially in plucky little turbo cars like this Elantra N Line. Problem is, the manual gearbox… kind of sucks. It reminds me a lot of the Genesis G70: The transmission seems to actively remove power when you engage each gear, meaning you feel the clutch grab but then the acceleration doesn’t match the motion as you dig deeper into the throttle. Combine that with long throws between gears and a generally vague-feeling clutch pedal, and this is one of the few times where I think I’d rather have the DCT. (Yeah, I know…)

Once you are off and running, the 1.6-liter engine is a peach. There’s plenty of midrange power in each gear, so you thankfully don’t have to do much in the way of shifting on winding roads. A raspy little exhaust note accompanies the whole experience, largely fading into the background at higher speeds.

I’m all about manual transmissions, just not this manual transmission. 

Drew Phillips

Compared to a base Elantra, the N Line has stiffer springs and engine mounts, and larger front and rear stabilizer bars. If you get the manual transmission, the N Line rolls on Goodyear Eagle F1 235/40-series summer tires, but strangely, DCT cars use Hankook Ventus all-season rubber. Summer tires aren’t an option for automatic-equipped models, either, so you’re on your own for gripper shoes. (I’m sure your dealer could switch ’em out for a few extra bucks.)

The manual Elantra N Line doesn’t have any drive modes or adaptive settings; you just get in and go. I kind of like that refreshing simplicity in an inexpensive sports car like this, and there isn’t all that much to gripe about with the N Line’s standard tune. The steering is light but accurate and the chassis strikes a great balance between comfort and agility. The Elantra N Line is a lot like the Civic Si: It’s a fun little sport sedan you really could drive every day. Unfortunately, the Elantra N Line lacks some of the active safety features Honda offers, namely adaptive cruise control. At least you get other niceties such as a driver attention monitor, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning.

So many angles.

Drew Phillips

At $25,095 including $995 for destination, the 2021 Elantra N Line is a pretty compelling little package. It’s priced right on top of the Civic Si, and while the Honda offers a little more tech and a better manual gearbox, I love the Elantra’s turbo power. The fact that it offers an automatic transmission opens it up to a broader swath of potential buyers, too.

Stoked as I am for the full-zoot Elantra N, I know that high-strung little firecracker won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But this N Line version doesn’t feel like a watered-down sport sedan by comparison. Especially with its super-attractive price point, it might be just the thing for folks who want a little more pep in their step.


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