Driven: 2021 Hyundai Elantra N-Line, the Economy Sedan That Frightens Giants

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line 17 photos
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
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Sedans are a dying breed in America. They're not as practical as SUVs or crossovers. They're not as fast or nimble as sports cars. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra N-Line reminds us why they're so special though.
Consider the place that the Elantra resides in for its parent company. Traditionally, it rests where something like the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class would be. It's the mid-sized, four-door sedan that Hyundai offers.

It's also the most flexible sedan in their lineup. Starting in 2022, buyers can get anything from the fuel-sipping Elantra Hybrid, which gets 56 mpg on the highway, to the bonkers Elantra N with 276-horsepower.

Today, Hyundai has provided us with a bright Lava Orange Elantra N-Line, the middle trim of this mid-sized sedan. Over the course of a week, we found that it is so good that it should terrify the rest of the industry.


Under the hood of the Elantra N-Line is a 201-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. That might not sound like a lot. It's not. But it isn't just about the engine in the Elantra. It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Power is fed only to the front wheels. The combination isn't particularly noteworthy on the page. We'll come back to it though.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
The N-Line gets up to 43 mpg on the highway. We observed around 29 mpg during our week with the car. Most of our time was spent passionately climbing hills or in the city so it's impressive that the Elantra did that well.

It also gets 18-inch wheels, a special multi-link sports suspension in the rear of the car, N-Line sport seats, and a special feature called Hyundai Digital key. It gives owners the chance to control cars locks and other features remotely. This whole package starts at $24,250. Our car was listed at $26,360.

Driving Impressions

A surprising "braaaap" is the way the Elantra N-Line greets you each time it wakes up. It's throaty and full of character, especially for a 1.6-liter engine. The seats are well-bolstered and supportive for almost all driving. It's easy to get comfortable even for tall folks like myself.

Put the N-Line in drive and drive down a normal road at a normal pace and the Elantra is as good as anything. It's comfortable, it's pretty quiet, and it's easy to use. Visibility is great too.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
Smack the Elantra into the manual mode and this whole car seems to wake up. No, 201-horsepower isn't much... but keep this in mind. This same exact powertrain is the one in the Hyundai i20N, the car that just won Top Gear's Speedweek 2021.

The dual-clutch transmission is fast and responsive. It does exactly what you ask of it. That quickness wrings every bit of performance out of the engine that it possibly can. The turbocharger takes a little while to build up speed off of the line but once it's moving, it's brilliant.

If there's anything to complain about it's that the shift logic has it shift up too quickly. Regardless of the mode you're in, the Elantra will short shift into the next gear if you keep your foot planted.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
For the most part, that's easy to overlook because everything else about how it drives is very engaging. Around corners, it's shockingly balanced and planted. It's shocking not because it's so cheap and easy to get, but because it feels like it's as good as most sedans that cost twice as much.

The suspension loads up gradually and stamps out body roll almost entirely. The only time I could even get the tires to lose traction required sincere effort to find the limit of grip. Quite frankly, the Elantra N-Line is a much better driver than any Honda Civic Si or VW Jetta GLI.

Interior Quality and Comfort

There's no getting around the economy-focused nature of the Elantra. Inside, buyers will find a number of cheaper feeling and looking plastics including some piano black finished plastic that picks up fingerprints better than anyone on a crime show could ever hope to.

Still, there's a lot to be said for how things are finished in here. For example, the steering wheel has excellent features. The buttons and switches provide very satisfying feedback and multiple functions. The contrast stitching could've been done more cheaply but it isn't and it feels special. Even the little N badge reminds you that you're in a unique ride.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: RiversCars
The driver information display is good too. Different themes are available and a multitude of menus allow for a touch of personalization. The climate control is quick to respond and frankly, the seat heaters might be a bit aggressive for some folks. Thankfully, we drove the car in Colorado in -10-degree weather so they were a welcome reprieve.

Rear headroom is a bit sparse for taller folks but beyond that, it's impressive. Legroom is above average and comfort is good too. Buyers who prefer a soft ride might look elsewhere though as the N-Line uses a sporty and somewhat stiff suspension.

Tech and Features

The Elantra is packed with features throughout the cabin. Our car had the smaller 8-inch infotainment system but that was plenty big enough. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included on every Elantra and work very well. It's fast, easy to use, and responsive. If there's anything to complain about, it's that we struggled to get the timing right with our voice commands.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
We love the inclusion of multiple physical buttons. That keeps you from having to dig through a touchscreen menu when it comes to the main functions drivers will use most often. Having a wireless charging pad was nice too and allowed us to keep devices topped up even when we weren't thinking about them.

The safety package on the Elantra is outstanding as well. We didn't get the available adaptive cruise control but we did have lane-keep assist, driver attention monitoring, and automated emergency braking. The lane-keep assist was very impressive and made longer trips less taxing.

Final Thoughts

It's hard to think of another car in this price bracket that's even close to the Elantra N-Line in terms of value for the dollar. It's a great driver's car. It's easy to drive in traffic. It's comfortable and economical.

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line
Photo: @GingerlyCaptured
Then there's the X-factor... the warranty. Every Hyundai gets a 5-year 60,000-mile limited warranty and a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty from the factory. They also get up to three years of complimentary maintenance.

Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen have seemingly dominated this space for a long while. From the driver's seat of the Hyundai Elantra N it becomes clear that those brands have been resting on their laurels to some degree. Now they have a new challenger that, to our eyes, is already ahead of them on and off the track.
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