LOS ANGLES, Calif – Do you have that thing that always makes you smile? That thing that has you doing the happy dance? Me too. It’s a manual transmission in a sporty car. Thus, when I opened the door of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line, I might have skipped in place a little bit.
I know the manual is on the decline with only 12.5% of vehicles being offered with this transmission these days. And I know people often find driving a drudgery rather than a joy. Shifting through gears has become a lost art, a chore — but my heart beats faster every time I open a door and see a manual. Every damn time.
So, I’m going to issue a spoiler alert: This is going to be a completely positive review. I pretty much loved everything about the Elantra N Line.
A manual can be an everyday driver
While I’m clearly biased, one of the best things about the Elantra N Line was actually the manual transmission. It was very smooth and easy to shift. Plus, the clutch didn’t have a high shift point nor was it cramp-your-calf stiff.
Quite simply, it would be easy to drive every day. And I mean every day in stop-go-traffic.
If you are one of the 99% who don’t want a manual (bite your tongue), there is a 7-speed double clutch transmission, with paddle shifters and a manual shift mode. It’ll add $1,200 to the bottom line.
More than just a pretty face
There are several visual cues that differentiate the N Line from the regular Elantra. The obvious difference is the N Line badging on the grille and side of the vehicle as well as at key points on the interior – including the seats. You’ll also notice black accents on the grille, rear lip spoiler and mirror caps. The N Line also has a chrome twin exhaust.
Inside, the big difference will be the analog gauge cluster. While I thought this was a bit weird considering it’s a more up-level trim, Hyundai execs said this was done to help keep costs down. I can’t disagree with this decision.
More subtle differences can be found inside with red stitching, wireless charging, alloy pedals and black headliner.
But the N Line isn’t just a design package.
The Elantra N Line has more stiffness, N Line tuned shocks, 12-inch rotors and 18-inch Hankook Ventus S1 tires.
That’s in addition to the 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Doing the math, that’s 54 more horsepower and 63 more pound-feet of torque than the gasoline-only Elantra with the 2.0-liter engine.
Smiles for miles
While the Elantra N Line can’t be termed a sports car, it’s definitely a sporty one. With the stiffer chassis and extra horsepower, it’s just the right amount of fun.
Our drive took us on short straightaways and a few twisty bits, and the Elantra N Line did exactly what I wanted it to do every time.
Its small size lends itself to tight maneuvers, and it did really well in hairpin turns as I drove up and down mountain passes. It was nimble and light, and even with the most aggressive of driving, it didn’t feel overextended.
Plus, with the sport bolstering on the seats, provided just the right level of support and comfort.
The end result was a 2-hour drive I would have loved to extend.
Affordable yet feature laden
The best thing about the Elantra N Line is it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. With a price tag around $25K, you get a lot of standard amenities on par with top trims – but you’re not paying top price.
One of the ways Hyundai does that is by making the 8-inch info screen the only option. Plus the behind-the-wheel gauges are analog. So, it’s definitely a little low-techy compared to the 2021 Elantra. It also doesn’t get cooled seats, adaptive cruise control or automatic reverse braking.
But I say: Who cares? It has the performance features that matter as well as up-level features such as up-level leather-and-cloth seating surfaces, heated seats, 18-inch wheels, wireless charging, leather-wrapped steering wheel, full LED taillights, heated outside mirrors and sunroof.
One of the best things about the N Line is because of the 8-inch display, it is the only Elantra model that has both wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. There’s a weird conundrum in the other Elantra models whereby you either get wireless CarPlay/Auto and wired-in charging or wired-in CarPlay/Auto and wireless charging.
And then there was N
During the press preview, we had the unique opportunity to do a quick drive the Elantra N – in full camouflage – as well. It was just a one-mile loop, but it was enough to have my heart skip a beat and evoke images of the Subaru WRX STI.
I was able to get a sense of the stiff suspension, high clutch release point and quick off-the-line start, but there’s not much more a single one-mile loop will tell me. Other than it will be really fun on a racetrack, and I can’t wait to drive it again.
The Elantra N is going to be Hyundai’s stab at vehicles like the Honda Civic Type R and the WRX STI. It’ll come equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. It will have either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed N wet dual clutch transmission.
Other notable equipment includes a limited slip differential with electronic control, 13.6-inch front rotors, 12.4-inch rear rotors, an electronically controlled suspension, large bore exhaust outlets, variable valve exhaust and sunroof.
There is no word on when the N will go on sale, but with the N Line hitting dealers before the end of 2020 and a pre-production model in good enough shape for journalists to drive, I’m going to assume it’ll hit dealers before the end of 2021.
The bottom line on the Elantra N Line
Someone recently asked me what car I’d get if I gave up the VW GTI my husband and I currently own. I replied that a lot of the cars I’d want to buy are starting to go away. For me and my husband, a manual is a must-have — as is some level of sportiness. While vehicles like the WRX STI and Type R are brilliant fun, they can get a bit old in stop-and-go traffic – which we experience daily in Chicago.
But the Elantra N Line hits the sweet spot of fun-to-drive nimbleness with an easy-to-shift manual. So, I think I have a new vehicle to add to my I-could-own-this-car list.
In fact, the Elantra N Line might just head to the top of the list.