- What’s Good: Looks, exhaust note, affordable performance
- What’s Bad: Engine struggles under stress, transmission could be quicker
While so much of the news surrounding fast Hyundai hatches these days surrounds the recently-released Veloster N, what can get lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Veloster N is just one element of an all-new performance line – N Line – created by Hyundai. The Veloster is kind of the “halo” vehicle of the line – that is to say the car they’ll feature in all their marketing et cetera – but the Elantra GT N Line seen here is the more mass-market window into N Line. It does get its own spot on Hyundai’s web page, though, so you can see they’re trying to differentiate it from the standard Elantra GT.
N Line spec adds a whole pile of styling adds that once again show that Hyundai gets it when it comes to designing compact hatches and sedans. 18” wheels, unique front and rear bumpers, black wing mirrors, LED head- and taillights and unique grille all combine to make this particular Elantra just that much more special.
Inside, the transition to N Line adds synthetic leather seating with carbon-esque inserts, as well as cool red trim around the vents to match the seatbelts and the stitching found on the seats and gear lever knob, and boot. Material-wise, it’s still on the dark side overall but the big 8” infotainment screen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support) does brighten things up a little. The gauge cluster is of the traditional two-dial analogue variety, but the fonts are clear and the lighting found within is good. You can easily read the instruments out of the corner of your eye – which is good when you start tackling your favorite country road.
Other N Line adds include heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, and panoramic sunroof. That last thing also helps brighten up that dark interior, but it does infringe on headroom, especially for back seat occupants. Overall, the driving position is a good one, with the wheel falling easily into your hands, as well as the gearshift.
Which, in this case, I wasn’t as concerned about because I had the DCT Ultimate trim, meaning the existence of a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox instead of the manual that comes as standard. Since there’s also a pair of paddle shifters, the lever itself is only used for the most banal PRND stuff.
Power from the 1.6L turbo four is rated at 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, about equal to what’s made by the Honda Civic Si but down on the perennial segment leader, the Volkswagen GTI. Both are established entries in the segment, so the N Line has its work cut out for it if it’s going o be able to match up. The looks are a good start; let’s see how the drive matches up.
Peak power comes on at 6,000 rpm, but peak torque arrives at 1,500 rpm so it will do most of the heavy lifting from start. On a level road, the Elantra is more than zippy, easily leaving the line with only just a hint of turbo lag. Since I wanted to get the most manual experience possible I kept it in manual mode for much of my time, as I much preferred shifting gears on my own. Dual clutch or no, the transmission’s shift times don’t quite match up with the sporty attitude the N Line professes to have, and I found the best way to reduce those effects was to handle the shifting myself.
Once up to speed, however, the shift times aren’t quite as noticeable as the horsepower joins with the torque to propel you forward at properly sporting rates. Such is the joy of a turbocharged ‘plant. It also sounds cool, too, as if Hyundai was doing their best to have the Elantra mimic the king of exhaust notes when it comes to the subcompact and compact world: the Abarth 500. The Elantra does a mighty fine job of it, all warbly and angry.
While the power may be down a little on the competition, the handling more than makes up for it. While the N Line doesn’t get the ultra-specific drive mode tuning the Veloster N gets, it does have a more performance-oriented suspension tuning and steering. Even the engine mounts have been made a little stiffer, so that the N Line moves through turns more “as one” than previous.
I knew all of this going in to the test, but I reserved my judgement; what it says in the brochure is one thing, but can you really feel it? Well, in the GT N Line you sure can, thanks to ultra-quick steering response and a communicative chassis that does well to keep things in check even though this is a FWD platform, as FWD platforms are inherent to understeer. Not here, though; you’ll detect a bit, but only in the most severe circumstances. Would I take it to an autocross course? Yeah, I probably would, actually, and while I’d miss the lack of any form of front limited slip diff, the rest of the chassis bits more than make up for it. It’s a vehicle that loves to be hustled through your favorite windy road – as long as your road isn’t too mountainous.
I say that because in addition to the way it starts from stop, the other time I really felt like I could have used more power was on climbs. Here, you can sense the engine struggling to keep up with your inputs, and no matter how much I “rowed” the gearbox, I had to stay patient.
There are a couple of other small niggles; the door close is a little tinny, though the ride itself is well-insulated and confident thanks to the stiffening done to the chassis. I talked about the headroom thanks to that moonroof, and while the exhaust note is good, the engine intake noise is a little buzzy.
Those are small complaints, however; with the Elantra N Line, Hyundai set out in somewhat uncharted waters – it’s not everyday a manufacturer releases a performance line, especially in the non-luxury world – and the Elantra GT N Line is a good start, to the point it had me wondering just how far they’re going to go with the brand.