With the introduction of Hyundai’s high-performance Elantra N Line, the Korean car company has set its sights on the likes of the Honda Civic Si, VW Jetta GLI, and our entry in today’s battle: the Mazda3. All these vehicles start as basic, affordable transportation. Then, through tweaks to their engines, transmissions, suspensions, brakes, and styling they become commuter cars with serious sports car ambitions. Best yet, they over deliver on performance, fuel-economy, creature comforts and value. Anyone shopping for a crossover or SUV will squirm with envy.
Elantra N Line – Killer Value
The Elantra has come a long way, and the N Line version is the best yet. Power comes from a turbo 4-cylinder good for 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. From there, Hyundai added bigger brakes, a stiffer, more sporty suspension tune, bigger tires and tasteful interior and exterior touches. These include a new front end, side skirts, rear diffuser, a satisfying leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift leather. And you can get it in a 6-speed manual for around $25,000. The 7-speed dual clutch auto is a $900 option.
As a commuter car, Hyundai didn’t turn everything over to high-performance, though. The rear seats can hold actual adults. It features a spacious trunk. The engine delivers an EPA rated 31 MPG combined via front-wheel drive. That’s not to say, the N Line equals luxury. For $25K the dash and door panels are a sea of hard plastic. Compared to the Mazda, the infotainment and climate controls leave much to be desired. But that’s okay, this Elantra makes driving fun and for not a lot of money.
Mazda3 – A class benchmark
We set the Elantra N Line up against the 2021 Mazda3 because so many aspects of the Mazda3 represents the best allrounder in this segment. It nearly matches the N Line for grunt, with 186 horsepower with 186 ft-lb. torque. This one is front-wheel drive, and sports a comfortable ride with just enough sporting mojo to make any drive fun. Why not bring the turbo? That knocks the on-paper balance a bit off-kilter, as the Mazda3 Turbo kicks out 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. It’s also more expensive.
The big winner for Mazda is quality of design and materials. The Mazda3 looks, feels, and drives like something much more expensive. That’s not to say it’s perfect. While the Elantra specs a manual on the base model, Mazda forces stick-shifters to pay for the $28,000 Premium trim of the Mazda3. It is a more enthusiast-focused package, and enthusiasts largely want some options — but it’s still going to cost you. And the turbo four and all-wheel drive? Forget it. That’s only available to buyers of the automatic transmission.
Still, sit down in the cockpit and you can see and feel the $3,000 difference between the Elantra N Line and Mazda3 and why the Mazda3 will be much easier to live with over tens of thousands of miles.
So who wins?
We all do. Thank God, manufacturers out there are still pumping out fun-to-drive cars that are cheap to buy and cheap to own. The Elantra N Line will appeal to those who want more sports car, especially in the manual version. While not as good as the Mazda3’s stick-shift, the Hyundai’s will still bring a smile to your face. The Mazda appeals to those who enjoy a more premium feel with their visceral driving experience. To see for yourself, check out Nathan’s side-by-side comparison video below: