The Hyundai Elantra N is fantastic. A faster version of the company’s small sedan, it manages to check all of the enthusiast boxes at a reasonable price. The engine is shouty and full of grunt, the seating position is perfect, and the way it takes corners puts any new hot hatch to shame—including Hyundai’s own Veloster N, our 2020 Performance Car of the Year. But I could never own one. Not because of how it looks or how it drives, but because of the clutch. Let me explain.
I’d like to preface this by saying Hyundai makes a wonderful manual transmission. The six-speed unit found in the Elantra N and its sibling, the Veloster N is a joy to use, with a light yet satisfying throw. It’s tough to miss a shift, and the pedals are placed perfectly for heel-toeing. It’s right up there with shifters from Honda. Praise indeed.
My problem lies with the clutch itself, and how the car is programmed to feed revs as you lift the pedal to leave from a stop. Once you begin to bring the pedal up from the floor, the ECU starts to give you a little bit of throttle so you can set off without having to touch the gas pedal. This isn’t a new thing. We’ve seen it on a lot of new cars with manual transmissions, including the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX, and a handful of newer BMWs. It’s weird at first, but you get used to it.
It’s not programmed well in the Elantra N. The clutch has a high bite point which, by itself, wouldn’t be much of an issue. But the revs the ECU feeds you from a stop have an abrupt cut-off point once the car actually gets moving. And that cut-off is before the clutch is fully engaged. The revs drop instantly and you have to time where to start adding throttle to keep the car from stalling. This weird software choice, combined with the revs and the weightlessness of the pedal, means the Elantra N is particularly annoying to get going from a stop.
Weirdly, after you stall—which you will—the ECU won’t always feed throttle when you let off the clutch after you restart the car. So you lift off the clutch expecting the car to give you a bit of gas and... it just doesn’t. So you stall again. And again. And embarrass yourself in front of everybody. In a multi-day test of the Elantra N, no less than five R&T staffers admitted they’d stalled the car at least twice. We suspect the clutch on our tester may not have been broken in, but with 1200 miles on the clock, chances are slim it wasn’t as the factory intended.
Could you get used to this clutch after spending a few weeks behind the wheel? Maybe. But prospective buyers might not make it past the test drive without becoming frustrated enough to walk away. Some staffers were quick to overlook the quirky clutch action, enamored with how the Elantra N drives. Of course, it’s easy to look past stuff like this when you don’t actually own the car. As magnificent as this punchy sedan is, the clutch would stop me from spending my own money on one.