2022 Hyundai Elantra N Preview Drive: It’s Looking Damn Good

2022 Hyundai Elantra N Preview Drive: It’s Looking Damn Good

WEST HOLLYWOOD, California—During the press preview for the new 2021 Hyundai Elantra and Sonata N-Line models, Hyundai also had a couple of 2022 Elantra N prototypes available for brief, mile-long drives. But somehow, I got to drive the 2022 Elantra N for more than 70 miles over some of my favorite curvy roads. Hyundai’s PR people never said, “Please be careful, this is only one of two prototypes we have;”instead they said, “We need this at the lunch stop, so hustle, would you?”

The 2022 Hyundai Elantra N: Work in Progress

Before I dive into the details, a little disclaimer: Hyundai didn’t have much in the way of technical specifics to share, and the car I drove was a prototype just at the beginning of its final-tuning stages. The Elantra N you will be able to buy next year is likely to be somewhat different, perhaps even in response to what I write here. That said, having bogarted our Four Seasons Veloster N for the bulk of the pandemic, I’m very familiar with the hardware. And it’s pretty obvious Hyundai simply ported most of it over to the Elantra bodyshell.

My first impression was that this is a much nicer car than the Veloster. The 2022 Elantra N adopts many of the nice-to-haves from the 2021 Elantra, which has a distinct baby-Sonata vibe. The instrument panel is now all digital, as seen in higher-end Elantras, and the gauges change to arrest-me red in any of the Sport modes. The interior is classier, with a widescreen infotainment system that looks great (though it’s a bit harder to operate). I particularly loved the blue stitching on the door panels. That said, all these amenities do make me concerned that one of our favorite Veloster N features—its hyper-affordable price—could be sacrificed on the Altar of Finer Things.

Pressing the Start button, I was greeted with the same roar-and-burble I’m used to hearing from the Veloster N. The Elantra N is powered by more-or-less the same 2.0-liter engine, though it’s now rated at 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, up 1 and 29 from the current Veloster N. The car I drove had a six-speed stick, though the Elantra N will also be available with the 8-speed “wet” dual-clutch automatic as now offered in the Veloster N and Sonata N-Line. Other (expected) improvements over the second-best Elantra N-Line echo the Veloster N: Bigger brakes, an electronically controlled suspension, and the snap-crackle-pop dual-mode exhaust that is one of the Veloster N’s highlights.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N: It Feels a Little Less Intense, and That’s Alright

Cruising down Sunset Blvd., I started playing with the different drive modes. The ride in the Normal mode feels a bit more relaxed than in the Veloster N, and Sport + mode is still rock-hard but a little bit less edgy. The Elantra’s longer wheelbase might play a part in the change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all abhor the wholesale softening of any performance car, but I think all of us on the Automobile staff agree that the Veloster N’s stiffest suspension mode is too rough for anything but a glass-smooth racetrack. (Editors note: We do. )

Sport, the middle mode, seems closer to Sport + than it does in the Veloster N. Same with the three different steering modes. Personally, I’d like to see both dialed back closer to the midpoint. One of the aspects we all like best about the Veloster N is the “Custom N” mode, which allows us to fine-tune the drive experience to our liking, and it’d be a shame to have to use the softest suspension and steering settings for a softer ride.

Speaking of Custom N, the new widescreen display now uses a polar chart to show where the various modes are set, versus the two-tab display on the Veloster N. It’s a slicker-looking setup, but in practice not quite as easy to use. One nice cabin upgrade is the new Rev button on the steering wheel, which lets the driver turn on downshift rev-matching when driving in one of the non-N (Eco, Normal, Sport) modes.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N: Ripping It

I finally worked my way free of city traffic and into the curves, taking a slight deviation from Hyundai’s prescribed route to run through one of my favorite canyon loops. I alternated between full-on N Mode and a custom mode I set with steering, suspension, and rev-matching dialed back one notch. As with the Veloster N, I think the latter is better, particularly given how heavy the steering can get (and as our ed-in-chief Mac Morrison notes about the Veloster, heavy steering doesn’t make the car or it’s driver any better). Regardless of how it was set, the Elantra N was an animal, with claws that pierced the pavement and powerful haunches that launched it in any direction I wanted.

Was it my imagination, or did the Elantra N feel a tad slower than the Veloster N? It’s possible; the new car probably weighs a bit more, though it does have more torque to compensate. I’ve never felt like I was running out of power in the Veloster N, but I did feel like I could just touch the edge of the envelope in the Elantra N prototype. I can’t help but wonder what this car would be like if Hyundai dropped in the 290-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter engine from the Sonata N-Line—now that would be something!

I was happy to see one of my few complaints about the Veloster N has been addressed: The shift mechanism isn’t as refined as that of the lesser Veloster R-Spec. That’s been fixed—the Elantra N’s gear lever is still stiffer than that of the new-for-2021 Elantra N-Line, but the action is smoother.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N: Running Silent … But Not for Long

After my unauthorized loop, I rejoined the route for a 10-mile cruise up the Pacific Coast Hwy., setting the Elantra N to Normal mode and running the tunes from my phone through the Bose stereo. The Elantra N is a more refined car than the Veloster N, and with the exhaust, suspension, and steering all in their gentlest settings, the Elantra N was a completely different car, one that (like our Veloster N, and unlike our Four Seasons Honda Civic Type R) I could have happily driven all the way up to Washington State.

But Hyundai had other plans: Decker Canyon Rd., a steep, narrow climb with sharp switchback curves. It’s a road I know well, and one I regard with equal parts affection and fear: Besides all of the blind-corner surprises (rocks dribbling down from the hills, slow-moving bicycles), it has several surprise curves that can set you understeering into oncoming traffic. It’s also the very road where I turned our long-term Veloster N past 1,000 miles.

This time, I drove it as hard as sightlines, nerves, and limits of adhesion would allow me, and cheese-o-pizza, did the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N respond in kind. It changed direction quickly and accurately, and it screamed out of the corners without any inside-tire-spinning hysterics. The super-sized brakes meant I could charge right up to blind corners, then jump on the binders and instantly scrub speed. We killed that road, the Elantra N and I, and I’ve rarely enjoyed a drive on Decker Canyon so much. (It was a reminder that I need to get out and play with the Veloster N more often.)

Yes, We Can Live With a Four-Door Hyundai N

Was there anything I didn’t like? The front seats weren’t great—short bottom cushion, not enough thigh support—but I was pleased when a Hyundai staffer told me the production model will get a seat more like the one in the Veloster N. I thought the stereo and infotainment controls had gotten a bit too complex, with a lot of screen-fiddling required to access some basic functions. That’s important in a car like the Elantra N, where you need to keep your eyes on the road and concentrate on your driving. That said, Hyundai has improved its voice-recognition system, so much of what was done by dial can now be done by speaking.

Overall, I loved the damn thing, nearly every bit as much as I love the Veloster N.

I made it to our destination just as early as Hyundai wanted, arriving exhausted and exhilarated (and glad no one from Hyundai asked me how a well-known slowpoke like me made it there so quickly). It was only when I got out and looked back at the car that it really hit me—this is a family-friendly four-door sedan. We don’t know where the pricing will fall, but seeing as Hyundai was intent on the 201-hp Elantra N-Line undercutting Honda’s Civic Si, it’s likely the Elantra N will undercut the Civic Type R, which has now crept up to nearly $39,000. If Hyundai can bring this car to market for, say, 35 or 36 grand, it may well be the best thing to happen to family-oriented enthusiasts since Volkswagen launched the GTI. Whatever the price, one thing is clear: Life for Hyundai N fans—especially those with offspring—is going to get a whole lot better when the 2022 Elantra N goes on sale next year.

2022 Hyundai Elantra N Highlights

  • Future highest-performance version of the compact Elantra sedan
  • Has many of the same improvements as the Veloster N, with a nicer cabin
  • Should arrive in production form in late 2021

2022 Hyundai Elantra N Pros

  • Everything we love about the Veloster N in a family-friendly package
  • Fantastic exhaust sound
  • Absolutely explodes when driven fast on a curvy road

2022 Hyundai Elantra N Cons

  • Might be a tad slower than the Veloster N
  • More complicated infotainment interface
  • Nice as it is, will it be as much of a bargain as the Veloster N?
2022 Hyundai Elantra N Specifications
ON SALELate 2021
PRICE$36,000 (est) (we hope)
ENGINE2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/276 hp, 289 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION6-speed manual or 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGETBD
L x W x HTBD
WHEELBASE107.1 in
WEIGHT3,000 lb (est)
0-60 MPH6.0 sec (est)
TOP SPEED155 mph (est)