Auto review: The N-spired Hyundai Elantra N is a tattooed terror

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

HELL, Michigan — Hell has frozen over, but the roads are clear.

So I took my 2023 Hyundai Elantra N tester out for exercise on my favorite Michigan curves. On summer tires. In the middle of February. Hyundai’s hellion is more proof that pocket rockets are the best all-around cars in autodom. Though I may, ahem, put all-seasons on the N were this my own car — and save the terrific soft-rubber, barely-treaded Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s for summer autocrosses. February blue skies don’t last long.

The N is the latest tattooed terror from the Korean brand — replacing the gonzo three-door Veloster N. It brings big personality to the pocket rocket segment as well as a lot bigger backseat than Veloster offered.

Like a Corvette Z06 wannabe, the N’s steering wheel bristles with features to encourage performance bedlam: Drive Mode paddle, N-Mode paddle and a sort of nuclear red button for stick-shift rev-matching. Yes, unlike the ‘Vette, the Elantra N comes standard with a glorious short-throw, six-speed manual so you can row the sedan’s gearbox to your heart’s content.

After a pleasant, smooth ride west to Hell on I-96, I poked the N-mode paddle to awaken the beast within. The engine’s voice got deeper, the steering wheel firmed and the compact chassis noticeably stiffened, its suspension following the asphalt’s every contour.

C’mon , Payne, what are you waiting for?


The roads were empty on a college basketball Saturday afternoon, and the N was eager to show me its own open-court athleticism. Hustling west on Doyle Road, I flung the N into a 90-degree left onto Unadilla, the chassis flat as a pancake. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires scrambled for grip across the cold asphalt, but grip they did. Visions came to mind of King Civic, Honda’s handling benchmark for the sedan segment. Unlike Elantra Sport pocket-rocket pretenders of the past, the N is fully engineered for back-roads mayhem with limited-slip differential and sticky tires.

And it has plenty of grunt to back it up. While Civic Si has resolutely stuck to its 200-horsepower formula for the last two decades, N comes with a major upgrade over Elantra’s standard equipment with a punchy 276-horse, 289-torque turbo-4. Where the Si leaves you yearning for more, N delivers with a wave of torque.

Heading south, Unadilla turns into Hadley Road, opening up into fast, undulating sweepers like the epic Nurburgring race track from which the N takes its name. Though the four-banger has half the cylinders of ferocious Corvettes and Mustang GT350s that I’ve tested in these hills, I still ran out of road before I ran out of power. Learning from those V-8 monsters, Elantra N-mode delivers a soundtrack for its action sequences (it’s not AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” but it’s pretty good).

In N mode, the digital instrument display placed the tachometer at the center of my vision. The turbo-4 is free-revving, and the tac’s rim illuminated in orange — then red — as I approached redline so that I didn’t need to take my eye off the road. Like the dash of a modern race car, the colored lights — not a harder-to-read RPM number — told me it was time to shift. I recommend the stick, but buyers who prefer the dual-clutch automatic (a $1,500 upcharge) also get a cool toy: Hyundai’s Grin Shift feature, which, like a Porsche sports car, will give you 20 seconds of engine over-boost to, say, blow by slower traffic on Hadley Road.


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