So, the Elantra is all-new for 2021 and you might be thinking, ‘Hey, wasn’t that car just all-new or refreshed recently?’
In case you’re wondering, the answers are yes and yes. The previous generation Elantra was all-new in 2016 (2017 model year) and refreshed in 2018 (2019 model year). And it is true we are now on the third Elantra generation since 2010. Time flies.
Which brings us to the 2021 Elantra, a car that is about as far removed from its predecessor as it gets. The seventh gen car is built on Hyundai’s new K3 platform which has produced a longer wheelbase, a wider stance and a lower roofline compared to the outgoing model. As for how it stacks up to that car specifically, the new model is 55 mm longer, 25 mm wider, 20 mm lower and rides on a wheelbase that’s 20 mm longer.
In terms of Elantra models, there are essentially three – regular, gas hybrid and N-Line. While the first two are fitted with powertrains built for efficiency, the latter is firmly in the performance camp. It’s not Veloster N or upcoming Kona N territory, but in the world of Elantra the N-Line is as close to as fire-breather as we’re likely to get: a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (201 hp / 195 lb-ft) paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.
Other performance/appearance kit bolted onto the N-Line include 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust outlets, rear lip spoiler and loads of other blacked-out trim bits (side mirrors, grille, window surrounds) and N-Line badging.
Before diving in further, it’s worth mentioning that the previous generation Elantra included a performance-oriented version known as the Elantra Sport. Like the current N-Line, it was powered by the same 1.6-litre turbo four, but on the transmission front it was also offered with a six-speed manual in addition to the seven-speed DCT.
For the purposes of this review, I recently spent a week behind the wheel of an N-Line tester finished in fiery red with a grey cloth interior, with no options that carries a $27,799 MSRP before freight and taxes.
When I first saw the 2021 Elantra at its reveal event last spring, I thought it to be a significant upgrade over the existing model. Its longer, wider and lower stance evinced a strong concept feel that ditched the odd ‘Angry Birds’ front end of its predecessor in favour of a much sleeker aesthetic. I was never a fan of the former’s look, which arrived with the 2019 Elantra update, and said so at the time.
Happily, Hyundai threw those design cues into the woodchipper and replaced them with an angular, sophisticated signature that feels upmarket. Some have said the grille is too big and that, more broadly, some of Hyundai’s newer models are ‘over-styled’ but I’m not sure I agree.
I mean, have you seen what Elantras used to look like? Go back a decade or a decade and a half. Point being Hyundai shouldn’t be concerned with those that attack it for taking chances and pushing the edge of the envelope on the design front. Are they all winners? No, but the Elantra mostly succeeds in my eyes.
The N-Line’s bigger wheels, blacked-out trim and LED lighting signatures, particularly at the rear where the taillights stretch across the width of the car, give it a bold and commanding presence. Let others retrace the same well-travelled ground with so-called ‘all-new’ models, but that’s not Hyundai’s game. Greatness isn’t achieved by sitting around waiting for inspiration to arrive.
On the inside, the Elantra N-Line feels sporty with the usual sports-model upgrades one might expect for a car of this type. This means unique grippier sport seats, a motorcycle-style instrument cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter and yards of red stitching accents.
Much like the exterior, I think Hyundai has really nailed it here. The grippy seats grip nicely and although the material feels a bit hard and scratchy, the buckets are comfortable and heated. The leather-wrapped touch points are pleasing to interact with, and in Hyundai’s finest tradition, its many features are intuitively placed and easy to operate. On the downside, there’s more cheap-looking hard plastic in the dash, centre console and door panels than I’d prefer, but it doesn’t overwhelm.
In sum, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, with good visibility and an ideal driving position that can be dialled up in seconds. And kudos to Hyundai for making wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a wireless charge pad, standard on the N-Line. I used them often during my test and they worked flawlessly.
As for the drive, the N-Line reminds me of the old Elantra Sport, minus the manual transmission. The 1.6 turbo is at its most engaging in sport mode, where the revs climb, and the transmission allows them to build before upshifting. I noticed a bit of intermittent turbo lag, but I think it can be offset by altering the throttle application.
Off the line and at speed, the N-Line feels quick and the DCT is snappy, especially with the paddle shifters engaged. The low-level raspy exhaust note in sport mode sounds good and doesn’t fill the cabin with an excessive amount of noise.
Some caveats: one, to get the most out of the engine, this car really needs a manual transmission. The old model came with one and I can only assume a slow take-up rate kept it from returning. That’s a shame because I think N-Line would really benefit from a three-pedal setup. Secondly, I didn’t track my tester, so there’s only so much that can be said about its chassis dynamics. I drove it on public roads on winter tires, so my impressions of its ride quality (fairly quiet and composed) and handling (secure and planted), should be taken with a grain of salt.
After a week of driving, I come away from my Elantra N-Line experience impressed. It’s a handsome, well-equipped, practical and fun car to dart around in. I wish it had a manual transmission and that there was less plastic in the cabin, but I like the sharp design and loads of content for the money. I suspect there will be plenty of takers.
But as much as I like the N-Line, here’s the real question: will Hyundai bring out an Elantra N? I’m talking full zoot – 275 hp 2.0-litre turbo engine, manual transmission option, and loaded with as much trick chassis tuning as the company can throw at it.
Would it ever happen? Who knows. But this is Hyundai we’re talking about. Bold moves are in its DNA.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.