Hyundai is one of just a few automakers that offer sporty performance-oriented versions of its small cars, and one of its newest is the 2022 Elantra N. Based on the redesigned and sharply styled Elantra small sedan, the N has a high-output engine, a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and other enhancements. It’s a bona fide sport sedan priced under $35,000.
Volkswagen, for its part, has the similar-in-concept Jetta GLI. But it’s the long-running Golf GTI that’s the traditional bench mark for compact car performance. The redesigned 2022 GTI is actually the base version of the Golf now because VW has discontinued the regular Golf. But it still has the expected upgrades such as a strong turbocharged engine and buttoned-down handling. Both cars could be a good fit if you’re looking for a compact vehicle that gets you where you’re going with gusto. Which one should you buy? Edmunds’ experts compared them to find out.
Power and performance
Powering the Elantra N is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine good for 276 horsepower. Cleverly, Hyundai also gives drivers the ability to increase power up to 286 horsepower for short periods. This turbo engine drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic.
The Golf GTI’s powertrain is similar: It’s also a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that powers the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic. On paper, the VW is less powerful: it makes 241 horsepower, and there’s no temporary power boost.
But in real-world driving, these two cars post near identical acceleration. At Edmunds’ test track, a manual-equipped Elantra N went from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds; a manual GTI was right beside it at 6.5 seconds.
Edmunds also pitched these two cars in its exclusive U-Drag race that combines drag racing with maximum braking and handling. This was also very close, though the GTI performed just a bit better.
This could go either way. The Elantra is a little sharper to drive, but the Golf feels a little more refined.
Interior and technology
The Elantra N is among the most spacious in the small sedan class, and up front you’ll find a sharp-looking 10.25-inch center touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Hyundai also equips the Elantra N with driver assist features such as lane centering, blind-spot collision-avoidance assistance and driver attention warning.
Volkswagen’s Golf GTI doesn’t have as big of a touch screen but it lets you connect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. You have to use a USB cord in the Elantra. The GTI also comes with traffic-adaptive cruise control, which Hyundai doesn’t equip to the N version of the Elantra. Then there’s the extra cargo-carrying versatility afforded by the GTI’s hatchback body style.
Some of the GTI’s touch-sensitive controls are frustrating to use, but the extra features and cargo space keep it in the lead here.
On paper, the Volkswagen GTI seems to be the most fuel-efficient option here, with an EPA rating of 28 mpg combined in either the manual or automatic configuration. In Edmunds’ testing, it achieved a slightly better figure at 30.8 mpg with the automatic.
The Elantra N with the six-speed manual gets an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in mixed driving, and as an automatic, that estimate drops to 23 mpg. This would seem like a loss for the Elantra N, but in Edmunds’ testing, it posted an impressive 33.1 mpg on our mixed-driving evaluation route, plus reasonably good fuel economy during the rest of our test. It has the potential to be a pretty frugal car — provided that you avoid the temptation to be a lead foot.
Winner: Elantra N
Pricing and value
Let’s just put it out there: The GTI will take a bigger bite out of your wallet than the Elantra N. The base model GTI S starts at $30,975 and jumps up to nearly $40,000 in the Autobahn trim, which includes summer performance tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels and an upgraded suspension. For $33,245, the Elantra N offers similar features and a nicely appointed cabin, all in one fully loaded trim level.
Inside, the GTI’s cockpit looks and feels premium although somewhat cold. With its blue N button and jaunty stripe down the gear shifter, the Elantra N makes up for some hard plastics with personality.
Along with attractive pricing, the Elantra N also comes with a superior warranty: five years/60,000 miles of limited warranty coverage, 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain and free maintenance for three years/36,000 miles.
Winner: Elantra N
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI will delight fans with its Germanic poise and utility, but the value of the 2022 Hyundai Elantra N can’t be denied. It earns Edmunds’ vote for the superior sport compact.
Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer at Edmunds. Twitter: @KristinVShaw.