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Robs E92 BMW M3 review cover
Used Car Reviews

The BMW E92 M3 is a modern classic immortalized by a fervent V8

The BMW M3 has been synonymous with performance since its inception in the 1980s. It was born from the company’s need to homologate a new car for Group A touring car racing. It went on to be the most successful touring car in history and has gone on for six generations over the past thirty-six years. And even though BMW has made changes along the way, it mostly stuck to the same formula that made it so successful. As much as I’d like to sit and ramble about the different generations, for the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on the fourth-generation BMW E92 M3. It could be said that it was the peak of M3 production, a type of car that BMW simply can’t make today because of regulations. And I think they knew then they built it, a kind of swan song, paying homage to all the M3s that came before it. But let’s dive in and see if it’s worth snagging that E92 M3 for sale from your friendly neighborhood car-buying sites.

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BMW E92 M3
Image credit: Rob Crespo

Prices and specs

The majority of fourth-generation M3s sold were well-optioned. So, a lot of cars are going to have leather seats, iDrive with navigation, and other fancy luxury items you might find in the mid-aughts, like heated seats and those cool power folding mirrors. Remember, it’s an older car, so there is no CarPlay or Android Auto without aftermarket modification. Electronic damping control (EDC) was also common. The coupes came standard with a carbon fiber roof unless they were ordered with a sunroof. In 2010, BMW released the Competition Package. It featured a 10mm lower ride height, a different set of parameters for the electronic damping control, and a set of wheels specific to the Competition Package. 

New prices (2008 to 2013):$56,500 to $62,845
Approximate used prices:$25,000 to $45,000
Engines choices:4.0-liter DOHC V8
Transmission choices: 6-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drivetrain choices:Rear-wheel drive
Power:414 horsepower
Torque:295 pound-feet
Weight:3,704 pounds
0-to-60 mph:4.3 to 4.7 seconds 
1/4-mile:12.6 seconds
MPG:14 city, 20 highway, 16 combined 
Fuel capacity:16.6 gallons

The V8 engine, dubbed S65, was based on the S85 V10 used in the 2004 to 2010 E60 M5, with minor changes to improve reliability and reduce weight. It spewed out 414 horsepower at a dizzyingly high 8,400 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at a still-kind-of-high 3,900 rpm. It also weighed 33 pounds less than the inline-six it replaced. It has eight individual throttle bodies controlled by two electronic actuators with a massive air plenum perched atop and a set of equal-length, four-to-one headers for the exhaust. You could have the car with your choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or BMW’s then-new seven-speed DCT, which were both equipped with a transmission cooler. A limited-slip differential was standard, christened “M variable differential lock.” 

The price of a used M3 from this generation has been on the rise lately, even before it made Hargety’s Bull Market list this year. Depending on condition, mileage, maintenance records, and options, they can run anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000. Generally, cars with fewer options demand a higher price, especially “single hump” cars without navigation, referring to the dashboard construction. The lack-of-a-sunroof “slick top” will also cost you extra, especially for E90 sedans. And if you’re the kind of person who wants a unique color, that’s also going to add a few dollars to the price. But if you don’t mind cars that have 100,000 miles or more and are a common color, a well-maintained example will set you back $25,000 to $30,000 in today’s market. 

Oh yeah. There were technically three members of the E9x family. There is the popular E92 coupe and the far less common and arguably less sought-after E93 Cabrio and E90 sedan.

What’s hot?– Bonkers V8 engine 
– Balanced chassis 
– Rewarding drive
– Resilient on and off the track
– Shockingly versatile for everyday use
– Abundant aftermarket support

Review round-up

I’ve always been a fan of history, and taking a look back to see what the professional opinion havers (auto journalists) and consumers thought of the M3 was entertaining. Unbeknownst to me, the car was met with extremely high praise from everyone who reviewed it—finding only a handful of small issues. Fuel economy, which I can attest to, is nothing to write home about. The addicting sounds bellowing from the engine certainly don’t help keep your foot off the throttle.

BMW E92 M3
Image credit: Rob Crespo

“Our M3 was a sedate and luxurious sedan as well as a supremely rewarding driving machine. Docile in inclement weather and smooth enough to transport your grandparents (if you can resist temptation), the M3 was equally primed for backcountry road-smash mode, where it would fire every synapse in your brain related to driving pleasure. And then you’d find the M Drive button, which holds your preferred throttle, traction, and damping settings. With one press, everything somehow managed to get better. This is the M3’s genius. There are faster cars, yes, and there are a few that are more rewarding to drive. But of those, we challenge you to find one that combines speed, thrill, and daily driving duties as deftly as the M3.”

Carlos Lago, Motor Trend 2009 BMW M3 verdict

“With the M3’s many buttons, you can make of it what you want: loafing commuter, track animal, high-speed touring express. But no matter how you set it, the M3 astounds. There’s more front-end grip than most people have the guts to exploit, the steering wheel able to carve perfectly elliptical arcs up a winding road at foolish speeds. Where the 911 battles each corner, sometimes in a nerve-jangling sine wave of alternating grip and push, the M3 is dead calm.”

Aaron Robinson, Car and Driver 2009 Porsche 911 Vs. 2009 BMW M3

“Not exactly a lightweight at an estimated 3650 lb., needs more than just a carbon-fiber roof panel to be race ready — although from the performance numbers and driver’s seat it would be hard to tell the M3 is heavy. It feels light and agile. Getting the car to its limits feels smooth and progressive. Few cars combine this level of performance with such docile behavior.”

Shaun Bailey, Road and Track 2008 BMW M3 road test

“A car has got to be pretty spectacular to win over the curmudgeons here at 1585 Eisenhower Place, especially when familiarity sets in over the course of 40,000 miles. But our Sparkling Graphite Metallic M3 did indeed win us over. For less than $70,000, the M3 bolts from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and turns the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at 113 mph. It pulls an exceptional 0.96 g on the skidpad, stops in 147 feet from 70 mph, and reaches a governor-restricted 161 mph. On a racetrack or a back road, it’s a beautifully balanced and hugely entertaining machine.”

Mark Gilles, Car and Driver 2008 M3 long-term wrap up

“I am a proud owner of a BMW M3 and I enjoy driving my vehicle whenever I have the chance. Starting off with the exterior of the M3. My M3 is white, and I absolutely love looking at it from a distance and also when I walk away… kinda creeps some people off, haha. Moving on to the interior cabin. Very nice black leather with the signature BMW stitching on the steering wheel. The navigation systems could use some work. First-time users such as myself would have a difficult time unless you are technology savvy. This is my first BMW, and I am very impressed with the styling, detail of the vehicle, and the way it drives. It truly is the ultimate driving machine. The description of my driving experience isn’t included in my review simply because you have to drive it to experience it yourself. Go test drive an M3 now what are you waiting for!?”

Consumer review of a 2013 M3 Kelley Blue Book

“I purchased this car used in August of 2014 with 16,000 original miles. I have owned a 2004 M3 and a 2008 M3. This is by far one of the most exciting cars to drive that I have ever owned. The car is bulletproof. This is the last naturally aspirated V-8 made on the M3 platform. BMW changing (in my opinion) back to the straight six-cylinder was a huge mistake. This car is a 13-point Dinan-equipped car. Nothing but positive comments about the looks, engine sounds, and overall styling. Do yourself a favor if you are considering this car… Just drive one. Not cheap to maintain or fix, but worth every penny!”

Consumer review of a 2009 M3 Kelley Blue Book

“Handles great, love the engine sound and performance. Spent a lot of time in the shop, though. Dual-clutch broke, navigation broke, blue tooth broke, passenger seat controls broke, rear differential fluid needed to be replaced, etc. My nav has been broken for almost a year and says, ‘please wait,’ indefinitely every time I try to use it. The service deparment claims that their tests show that it is working fine! Not worth the hassle in my opinion.”

Consumer review of a 2011 M3 Kelley Blue Book

“Meets all expectations . Sporty and classy. Definitely a head turner. I receive compliments from total strangers. People are still impressed with the retractable roof. I feel this car is undervalued. Purchased used for 30k with only 40k miles. Great price. I will get years out of this car. Very impressed with the handling and pick-up.”

Consumer review of a 2013 M3 Kelley Blue Book

The other slap on the wrist was the early and somewhat clunky iDrive unit in the  2008 models. This was replaced in 2009 when the car underwent one of BMW’s famous LCI (facelift) updates, making the system much more user-friendly. Even the average consumer gave the car stellar reviews. They loved it for its style, performance, and overall usability for a sedan that keeps up with outright sports cars. However, as I’m sure you could see in a couple of those consumer reviews, there were reports of this German car doing stereotypical German car things. No one is perfect, I suppose.

BMW E92 M3
Image credit: Rob Crespo

Driving and ownership impressions

The commute

Working as an automotive technician has given me the opportunity to drive a plethora of different cars, including different generations of M3. But it wasn’t until I bought my own 2009 E92 M3 two years ago that I really got to know what it was like to own one. 

As a daily driver, I found it better than expected. Plenty of useable space for dogs, kids, groceries, or whatever homeowner crap I bought from Home Depot. It deals with my twenty-mile commute without a problem. With the suspension set in comfort mode, it soaked up most of the cracks, divots, and expansion joints that pepper the 57 and 91 freeways. Everything about the interior was well thought out. The controls are intuitive and have a solid feel to them. The seats, even with the obvious bolstering, are comfortable on long trips. Of course, it’s helpful that they have adjustable bolsters and power lumbar support.

If it weren’t for the outdated iDrive system, you wouldn’t think you were sitting in a car that debuted in 2008. However, despite its inability to link to a newer iPhone, the infotainment system still does the job. You just have to plug into the auxiliary port if you want to stream from your phone unless it’s a 2011, and then you can just stream using Bluetooth. Even the cup holders provide a perfectly adequate place to put your morning coffee. And by adequate, I mean I’ve never inadvertently spilled anything. Plus, on those rare mornings when the freeway is wide open, you can get to work really fast. Really fast.

While the M3 functions just fine as a commuter, there are better cars for that, which is why it’s been replaced with a Nissan Leaf. This car was purchased for two reasons: Explore the vast and wonderful canyons and backroads of Southern California and turn laps at the track. 

In the canyons and at the track

This car is the last of the old guard. An M3 powered by a high-strung naturally aspirated engine backed by a manual transmission. Driving it over the undulating ribbons of asphalt cutting through the mountains behind Los Angeles is one of the rare events everyone needs to experience.

The V8 fills your ears with the abundant sound of induction and exhaust as you push into third gear headed toward a fast-approaching corner. The talkative hydraulic power steering lets you know what the front end is up to as you turn in after a dab of braking. You can feel the tires grabbing hold of the asphalt, and even mid-corner adjustments are effortless. The brakes are responsive without being overly grabby, and you’ll be hard-pressed to overheat them on the street. The whole car feels composed and, despite its weight, agile. Visceral sensations abound, even at what one might call reasonable speeds in a canyon setting. It’s part of what makes the car so special. You don’t need to push it to enjoy it. The character that comes from the drivetrain makes the car feel alive regardless of your pace. 

BMW E92 M3
Image credit: Rob Crespo

In my mind, having a car like an M3 and not taking it to the track doesn’t make much sense. So, I took mine to the track as often as I could. As impressive as the car was in the canyons, it was even better on track. After a simple change to high-temperature brake pads and fluid, even with an amateur driver like myself behind the wheel, the car filled me with enough confidence to attack every corner with the ferocity of an angry badger. The chassis is balanced enough so that even when I overcooked a corner, there’s only a touch of understeer that was easily overcome. Heel-toe downshifts were handled easily, thanks to the on-point pedal spacing.

Even with 148,000 miles on the original suspension, it still held things together in the corners. Of course, with the weight of the car, there was some body roll when I pitched the car into a turn. The engine pulls and then pulls some more, and then it bounces off the rev limiter because I forgot to shift. But even after a day at the track, having pushed the car as close to its limits as I could, everything held together with no overheating, no brake fade, no matter how hard I sent it. 

Keeping it running

 Maintenance and repairs are the one thing everyone fears when they’re considering buying a used high-performance German car, so this section is a must. And I’m going to be straight with you here: it’s not the easiest car to work on, and parts certainly aren’t the cheapest. And yes, the rod bearings should be replaced. Mine certainly were. It’s a classic “better safe than sorry” situation because if you do spin a bearing, it takes down the whole engine. Mind you, the cost of a new engine outweighs the cost of replacing the rod bearings by a vast number of dollars.  

That being said, I haven’t experienced any world-ending failures. Repairs have consisted of replacing gaskets to take care of oil leaks and replacing service items like spark plugs, drive belts, and air filters. Standard old car affairs. The most shocking bill came when I had to replace the brake rotors. Those massive 14-inch front and rear two-piece rotors were far from cheap. The parts cost me well over $1,000, including pads and fluid. And when it comes time for an oil change, don’t think you can just grab engine oil at any run-of-the-mill parts store. The S65 V8 uses a special 10W-60 synthetic oil that you either have to order from your chosen online European parts supplier or the dealership.

The good news is that just about anyone handy with a wrench will have no trouble taking care of one of these cars in their own garage. After all, it is based on an everyday 3-Series. Just set aside some extra time when dealing with the engine bay, as it’s a bit cramped. And if you’re into modifying your car, the aftermarket support is phenomenal. Whether it’s improving the suspension, the endless search for more power, or cosmetic changes you’re after. You better believe it exists. 

What’s not?– Atrocious fuel mileage
– High cost of maintenance 
– Low front end likes to scrape on everything 
– Be wary of throttle body actuators and rod bearings in high-mile cars
– Older platform means no CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity without mods

Should you buy a used E92 M3?

The 2008 to 2013 BMW E92 M3 is not for the faint of heart. So that question really depends on what you’re after in a car. If you’re looking for something that gets great gas mileage, is cheap to maintain, and will simply function as a large, wheeled appliance, then no, you absolutely shouldn’t buy one. However, if you want a car that stirs your soul every time you get behind the wheel and you don’t mind putting up with the extra cost and effort to keep it going, then yes, you absolutely should. But you’d better hurry because they’ve already started to catch the eyes of collectors, and you don’t want to get priced out of the market. 

BMW E92 M3
Image credit: Rob Crespo

Keep Reading
2024 Genesis G70 first drive
FeaturesNew Car Reviews

2024 Genesis G70 first drive review: A proper sports sedan made even better

It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. Korea is on a roll with turning its automotive image around in a full one-eighty defined by legitimate quality, performance, and design. And there’s arguably no better practitioner of this newfound efficacy than the Genesis brand, which has now revamped the G70 sports sedan for the second time in its current generation. So, even though it feels like the car had just launched yesterday, extend a warm welcome to the newly-refreshed 2024 Genesis G70, now loaded with more tech, more style, and, ahem, more power, baby!

Queue lightning sound effects and loud James Pumphrey noises, please. Thank you.

Price and specs

Yes, you can still get a cushy, reasonably well-equipped G70 for well under the average American new car sales price, with the base model rear-driver selling for $41,500 before the $1,195 destination fee. All-wheel drive is a $2,100 upgrade to all models, while the top-shelf Sport Prestige pack with diamond-stitched Nappa leather, a heads-up display, and extra tidbits of safety and performance tech fetches a $4,200 premium on base engines and $4,400 on the 3.3T.

Fun fact: If you mosey on over to their online configurator, you’ll notice the outgoing, pre-revision G70 started at $39,400. The gap between the old base car and the current base car is the same in cost as the upgrade to all-wheel drive. Neat.

Base prices:$41,500 (2.5T Standard RWD), $43,600 (2.5T Standard AWD), $49,950 (3.3T Sport Advanced RWD), $52,050 (3.3T Sport Advanced AWD)
Engine choices:2.5-liter turbocharged I4, 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6
Transmission choices:8-speed automatic 
Drivetrain choices:rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive
Power:300 horsepower (2.5T), 365 horsepower (3.3T)
Torque:311 pound-feet (2.5T), 376 pound-feet (3.3T)
Weight:approx. 3,700 pounds (2.5T), approx. 3,900 pounds (3.3T)
Zero-to-60 mph:approx. 5.5 seconds (2.5T), approx 4.5 seconds (3.3T)
¼-mile:approx. 13.5 seconds @ 105 mph (2.5T), approx. 13.0 seconds @ 110 mph (3.3T)
MPG:21 city, 29 highway, 24 combined (2.5T RWD), 20 city, 28 highway, 23 combined (2.5T AWD), 18 city, 27 highway, 21 combined (3.3T RWD), 17 city, 26 highway, 20 combined (3.3T AWD)
Fuel capacity:15.8 gallons
(Acceleration estimates based on instrumented testing figures for previous 3.3T models and adjusted from former 2.0T.)

What’s new?

A goodie bag of smaller details

On the surface, it looks like much hasn’t changed from this generation’s first revision, and you’d be mostly correct. Genesis admits the biggest addition to this generation of G70 is a new base engine, which we’ll dabble in just a sec. But for now, it’s also worth diving into all the subtle performance and tech changes made to keep this compact luxury sports sedan relevant in an age of increasing competition from EVs and fellow sports sedans alike.

The former half is headlines by the standardization of 19″ wheels across all G70s, part of Genesis’ bid to further lean into the car’s inherent athleticism. Multiple new designs better in keeping with the Genesis design language are available, and all are 19-inchers wrapped in Michelin Primacy all-seasons or Pilot Sport 4 summers, depending on powertrain configurations. There are also four new color options: Bond Silver, Cavendish Red, Vatna Gray, and Kawah Blue. The interior also gets a new two-tone Fog Gray and Obsidian Black upholstery option.

The latter half is where the more substantial details rear their heads, such as improved iOS support for using your phone as a digital key, as well as cloud-connected support for over-the-air updates, customizable driver profiles, and routing.

More accessible go-fast goods

As an added bone to throw at prospective G70 buyers, go-fast goods once exclusive to the 3.3T are now standard across the board. Most notable are the enlarged Brembos, with its 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers chomping down on 13.8-inch front and 13.4-inch rear rotors. Standard 2.5T cars get white/silver-painted calipers, while Sport Prestige and Sport Advanced 2.5T and 3.3T cars come red-painted. 3.3T cars get variable-ratio steering as standard, while speccing the Sport Prestige pack adds electronically-controlled suspension tied to the adjustable drive modes and a mechanical limited-slip diff.

Oh. And if you can believe it, all-wheel-drive G70s will continue to feature a hidden “Drift” mode. Because that’s exactly what you need on the way to the grocery store.

2024 Genesis G70 first drive
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

An all-new base engine

Bazinga! The real big-ticket to the G70’s continued relevance. Enter the new base engine, a 2.5-liter turbo inline-four now pushing an even 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Those are gains of half a liter in displacement, 48 ponies, and 51 pound-feet. Interestingly, despite the added size and grunt, fuel economy versus the outgoing base engine is roughly unchanged, meaning this new engine closes that gap between it and the top-dog V6 with little sacrifice in the process. And as we journos found out during a day behind the wheel, the new engine is certainly a bottom-rung option worth considering.

What is it like to drive?

On Phoenix’s open roads

What can I say? The enhanced G70 drives like a compelling product. A very compelling product. An instant fan favorite among journos and engineers when the car was first launched, the G70 continues to remind us of Korea’s exponential upscaling of quality and refinement. Although our press drive across Phoenix, Arizona was formulated to primarily showcase the new 2.5-liter engine and remind us of the G70’s performance credibility, we still received an ample glimpse of just how nice of a place the G70 is to commute in, from the plush leather seating that never leaves you fatigued after hours to the attractive and logically-laid out interior controls.

The 10.25-inch infotainment screen proved as crisp and quick to the touch as ever and appreciably remains at an arm’s reach. The all-new digital climate controls are equally as intuitive, with haptic feedback to boot. And old-fashioned types fret not, as the most important controls, such as temperature, Off, and Auto, still exist as hard physical switches flanking the display. And speaking of physical switches, all hard controls in the car carry a sense of heft and density not always found in other luxury vehicles. Plastic buttons feel properly tactile and without the usual plasticky hollowness or looseness, and even the climate vents move with a bit of weight as though they were dampened.

You’d figure this to just be the norm for this class of car, but I’ve been proven wrong on a few occasions. I’ve been in current Mercedes products that didn’t feel this tightly screwed together nor had this likable of an infotainment system.

Whether behind the wheel of a four-banger or a V6, the powertrains and sole 8-speed transmission all proved buttery smooth and more than capable of wafting you along in traffic. Even the itty-bitty 2.5T had no issues with on-ramps or stoplight drags, feeling every bit as strong as a base model pony car or some higher-tier hot hatches. Both powertrains were fairly inoffensive, although the four-banger does make the typical droney groan, made nonissue by the G70’s commendable sound insulation.

2024 Genesis G70 first drive
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Just as refined was the G70’s ride over the admittedly terrible and potholed-to-hell Arizona roads. The Sport Prestige’s electronic suspension was as serene as can be for a shorter-wheelbase luxury sedan with sporting intentions. You can still feel the occasional rock or expansion joint, but it never jostles you nor sends any impacts up your tush. You’ll probably hear the bumps more than feel them, but you’ll know they’re there. Even so, the G70 remains composed and compliant over such harsh tarmac. Impressive, considering the Michelin’s thin sidewalls on the 19-inch rollers, and one can wonder how a set of 18s could be even better.

Color me impressed overall, especially with the ride quality. Your average Scottsdale retiree wouldn’t mind rocking one to ferry them to and from the country club.

2024 Genesis G70 first drive
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Smashing apexes (and cones)

Saved the best section for last. Even though no sensible G70 owner is ever going to track theirs, they totally should because the G70 totally can. It’s not perfect, and even the engineers know there’s room on the table for a real BMW M or Lexus F fighter, alluring prey for a car graced by ex-M engineer, Albert Biermann, who spearheaded the development of Hyundai’s acclaimed N lineup. But as it sits as just the bread-and-butter sedan, I can confidently the G70 earns its place as a formidable foe to those long-standing titans from beyond its borders.

On track, the Pilot Sport 4 tires and electronically-controlled dampers on our rear-drive 3.3T track testers easily dispatched the tight corners of APEX Motor Club, with our lead driver quickly encouraging us to push harder and harder to keep pace. The variable-ratio steering was nowhere near as aloof or unpredictable as I thought it’d be and proved to be wonderfully precise for reigning in those little drifts you can get on corner exit. Body control was rock solid, with a noticeable but buttoned-down lean that never incited fear, whether on track or out in the twisties of Tortilla Flats. With a 225-wide front tire and 255 rear, understeer is the dominant trait, but it’s nothing a little extra throttle and steering input can’t quell.

While our track and canyon runs were in Sport Prestige variants of the 3.3T, we did get the chance to sample the 2.5T on a tight autocross course, where the estimated 200 to 300-pound weight difference became immediately apparent. Yes, the 3.3T is where it’s at for performance junkies. And again, no, no one’s really going to track or autocross any Genesis G70 except for us weirdo journalists. But if they should dare, there’s a lot to love with the lighter, more responsive nose of the four-banger. And even without the oomph of the V6, 311 pound-feet plus shorter gearing for the 8-speed gearbox and final drive prove to be plenty for lighting up the rear tires and hanging slides left and right. Ask us how we know.

Yeah. It’s, first and foremost, a cushy luxury car for 21st-century yuppies to haul themselves and perhaps a guest or two around downtown en route to the nearest North Italia. But it still puts the “sport” in sports sedan.

2024 Genesis G70 first drive
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

A proper sports sedan made better

We’re happy to report the G70 remains a fantastic, playful, fun-to-drive offering in a segment often criticized for distancing themselves from their old driver’s car mantras in favor of solely tech advancements. And if one of the Genesis team member’s warning that we “haven’t heard the last of G70” is anything to heed, we’re certain there’ll be even hotter versions in the near future.

Thankfully, the G70’s added performance chops across its entire lineup didn’t dent its luxury car cred. In fact, I’d argue this is the best balance of the two halves of its identity to date, and we can’t wait to score one for a few days of testing to see what’s really hot and what’s actually not. So, stay tuned! Or, if you’d rather not wait and prefer to see for yourself as you should, you can check out the updated G70 when it hits U.S. showrooms in a matter of weeks.

Genesis G70
Image credit: Genesis

Now, Genesis. Please allow the Hyundai N team to work their magic. Korean M3 fighter, anyone?

Keep Reading
2023 Hyundai Elantra N parked in the desert
New Car Reviews

2023 Hyundai Elantra N review: shattering Korean sports sedan stereotypes

Stop! Shut up for a sec. About this Hyundai Elantra N, you’re telling me the same company that made shitpile Sonatas back in the day is now selling a near-300-horsepower rocket sled with a stick or dual-clutch, handling to shame a 3 Series, and over 30 mpg on the freeway for under thirty-five grand?


But such is the 2023 Hyundai Elantra N. Once again, we receive yet another wonderfully unexpected gift from South Korea, like spa-grade skin care products and squid ink corndogs. We know it’s going to be good. Downright grand, even, especially given the now-defunct Veloster N, whose heart plus some bones were transplanted here. But just how good are we talking? Because in this segment, it doesn’t just pay to be merely good. 

For some time now, the sport compact breed has been an endangered species, a category of driver’s cars occupied by pan flashes of greatness and slivers of hope for the blue-collar enthusiast. Hyundai’s continued participation is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. But it takes serious performance cred to make an impact nowadays, something the Elantra N’s forebearer had no issue with doing. With the Veloster gone, the Elantra carries the torch as Hyundai’s champion in the category and all the expectations that go with it.

Thankfully, the Elantra N, with all that weight on its shoulders, was eager to show its true colors during three days of SoCal adventuring. This Hyundai had a lot to prove. And boy, were there some things to show for it.

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Jeric Jaleco

2023 Elantra N price and specs

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Lo and behold! The Elantra N does indeed boasts fairly admirable numbers. To summarize in one sentence, the N occupies a niche directly beneath Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, GR Corolla, and the deceased Focus RS, but its stats are within a breath, if not on par, with all of them. 

  • Base price: $32,900
  • As-tested price: $34,465
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
  • Transmission: 8-speed DCT (as-tested) // 6-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive
  • HP: 276 horsepower (286 with overboost) @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 289 pound-feet @ 2,100 rpm
  • Redline: 6,700 rpm
  • Weight: approx. 3,300 pounds (8DCT) //  approx. 3,200 pounds (6MT)
  • 0 – 60 mph: 4.8 seconds (8DCT) //  5.1 seconds (6MT)
  • ¼-mile: 13.4 seconds @ 106 mph (8DCT) // 13.8 seconds @ 103 mph (6MT)
  • MPG: 20 city, 30 highway, 23 combined (8DCT) // 22 city, 31 highway, 25 combined (6MT)
  • Observed MPG: 30.4 mpg
  • Fuel Capacity: 12.4 gallons

(Author’s Note: Performance numbers were pulled from Car and Driver, recorded in its review from July 2023)

2023 Hyundai Elantra N design

Yes, yes, yes, I get it. It’s a little ugly. It’d be a Catfish Camaro if witches hexed the Alpha-platform cars into being compact sports sedans. The Legend of Zorro body lines are love-it-or-hate-it. Oh, and the ZL1 called and asked for its pedestal spoiler back. However, that face is quite pretty if you sit it next to, let’s say,  a G80 BMW M3

But I’ll give them this. It’s interesting.

Jeric Jaleco

The Elantra N and I suppose the Elantra, as a whole, is a more aggressive and eye-catching shape than most econoboxes, hotted-up or not. And I wouldn’t say it’s egregious either, just strange in an almost-concept car sort of way. The 2024 model does clean up the face and is right around the corner.

With the Hyundai N touches, including the red accents and sharp wheels that appear as though they were plucked right off an Audi S7, this Elantra does look at home on canyon roads or sitting pretty at a Donut Media pop-up meet.

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2023 Hyundai Elantra N colors

Right. Colors. Welp, you get a whopping five. Hyundai offered an extroverted shade of red but discontinued the color.

There aren’t any tasteless or gaudy hues, but they’re not exciting either. Although, it does match the mature and modern aesthetic of the Elantra N, especially when contrasting against the red on the badging, brake calipers, and side skirts. The white on my test car was the understated-yet-handsome choice, but Performance Blue is the definite power move.

The only choice for interior colors is a dreary black, which makes a slight but appreciable attempt at contrast via bright gauge colors in the digital display and an ambient light bar across the dash.

Exterior paint colors

  • White: $450
  • Performance Blue: $450
  • Intense Blue: $0
  • Cyber Gray: $0
  • Phantom Black: $0
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2023 Hyundai Elantra N price

If gushy first impressions and snazzy shots don’t ruffle your feathers, maybe the price tag will. Amidst Type Rs and Golf Rs deep in the $40K range and even kissing $50K before markup, the Elantra N stickers for an astonishing  $32,900, or a smidge over $34K with handling fees.

For reference, that’s within range of top-shelf trims of the less powerful Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins. It’s priced lower than a base Toyota GR Corolla Core but a few thousand more than a base Volkswagen Mk8 Golf GTI. Do with that as you will, but that’s one hell deal given the performance-to-practicality ratio this car delivers, which we’ll ramble about more in just a sec.

Trim levels (before taxes and fees)

  • 6-speed manual: $32,900
  • 8-speed DCT: $34,400

The cars come loaded and stunningly well-equipped for their class, with only minor accessories available, such as wheel locks and roadside safety kits. The only real option is a good old-fashioned stick or the $1,500 rapid-fire wet dual-clutch.

And if we want to bring the used market into the fray, know that this car directly butts heads with Focus RSs and FK8-generation Civic Type Rs of old.

2024 Hyundai Elantra N interior and tech

Fine decor

Auto journos have praised Korean automakers for some time for how much they’ve advanced themselves in the past decade or so, and the Elantra N has rightfully earned the hype. Seriously, let’s get subjective as hell right now. Look at the posh, modern elegance of Genesis luxo barges, Kia SUVs, or even Hyundai econoboxes, and tell me they can’t hold a candle to a Camry or Accord. The freshly-minted notion that Korea will rule the car market has substance behind it, and it starts with where your booty meets with the bolstering. 

The Elantra N rocks an attractive set of heated bucket seats, with holes for harness straps and an illuminated N badge as the cherry on top. Leather bolsters match the perforated leather on the wonderfully-contoured steering wheel and flank a suede bottom cushion and backrest. Physical dual-zone climate controls and a centrally-mounted radio power and volume knob sit beneath the BMW-esque digital gauge/infotainment screen combo.

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Of course, even for nearly $35K as tested, this is still a Hyundai-freaking-Elantra, the diminutive runt of Hyundai’s ranks, or at least not when compared to the Accent or Veloster (rest in peace, little Velo). The N is a compact sedan cut from the same cloth as a Civic, Corolla, or Focus, meaning plenty of hard black plastics, but the Elantra sets itself apart with soft-touch points and materials that at least look premium, even if they aren’t.

The trunk is cavernous enough to hold weekend luggage for a small family, although the red chassis brace means no converting the Elantra N into an awkwardly sleek cargo van. The backseats are plenty spacious with copious legroom, even with the front seats adjusted to accommodate my six-foot passenger. However, the lack of a center armrest and dedicated rear seat climate controls remind occupants of this car’s origins on the Enterprise rental lot. And the roofline and small back door opening raise mild concerns for those with longer torsos. Or bigass foreheads. 

Jeric Jaleco
Jeric Jaleco

Enough tech to quell the Silicon Valley nerds

Equally as useful is Hyundai’s expansive suite of safety aids. Parking cameras with moving guidance lines and sensors are always a godsend in any car, as are blind-spot monitors that illuminate in the mirrors and with a graphic on the gauge cluster screen.

Adaptive cruise control with lane following is present, although I admit I never quite learned how to enable it as easily as I have in other Hyundais. I blame the two hours of sleep I had the day I took delivery. If it works anything like the Santa Cruz I drove with the same feature, I’d say it’s a mostly intelligent and smooth-operating semi-autonomous system but still requires a watchful eye.

As the cherry on top, there’s even an audible chime and visual notification in the cluster when the lead car departs at an intersection. In case, you know, you’re on your phone reading Acceleramota articles or something. Very neat. Very useful. And very much a sign of our increasingly-inattentive society, and pretty soon, we’ll need a notification to check the notification. But I’ll take it!

How well does it do Elantra things?

A (mostly) premium commuting experience on a budget

As you can imagine, all that tech-ladden goodness in this nameplate from a repentant Korean marque experiencing the glow-up of the century equates to one hell of a 9-to-5 shuttle. And that’s the best compliment I can give to any econobox. 

Strip away the N badge and the sharp-colored accents. Take away the hot engine and the gobs of power and just drive this car for what it is at its core, an Elantra, and you’ll be amazed at how far Hyundai has matured. 

While the steering can be a tad hefty, even in its most sedate mode, it’s still well-acquainted with concrete jungles, and the quick ratio lets you dart between lanes and around parking garages with minimal inputs. The ride is mostly compliant in spite of its high-performance nature until you greet some of LA’s worst potholes. Then the firm dampers and thin tire sidewalls can send a frightening crash through the whole car. But that’s a seldom occasion on only the worst of ill-maintained roads, and the body exhibits no signs of quivers.

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Having experienced (and loved) the same tech in a Hyundai Santa Cruz, the tech in the Elantra N expectedly worked without a single hiccup. Wired CarPlay was as brainless as always, but the in-system navigation is no less a piece of cake and features destination searching. The sound system was a literal banger, with the equalizer able to crank out enough bass to earn it a spot at lowrider meets. All sensors and cameras worked flawlessly, and every function within the screen was as intuitive as can be and easy to switch between.

Hey, I said “mostly.”

One minor complaint was that the red illumination of the blind spot monitors in the mirrors was a bit easy to lose in the sun. Thankfully, the gauge cluster notifications more than made up for it and quickly dismissed the need to see the light in the mirrors. 

And not to be that guy, but I will be that guy. Because these bucket seats, as cool as they look and as laterally supportive as they are, kind of suck as a touring seat. I get it. The N is the performance version, but it’s still an Elantra, and its seat comfort is a big strike against its grand touring cred. My local LA friend who accompanied me quipped how he sat in lawn chairs that were more comfortable. Both of us cited the annoying lack of lumbar support or adjustment. 

A slightly nitpickier flop is fuel economy if you go DCT over the stick. You get marginally less fuel mileage despite having more gears. Then again, I’m seriously nitpicking here. And, while you can theoretically hit the EPA-rated 30 mpg, I averaged over 30 during mixed driving of mostly highways, with some city and a wee dash of balls-to-the-wall canyon driving thrown in. Even more fascinating, Car and Driver saw a jaw-dropping 37 during their highway loop. 

Jeric Jaleco

So basically, don’t drive like a total dickbag and then complain about gas mileage. Or better yet, opt for the purists’ stick shift and boost your miles per gallon and your smiles per mile. Your call. Either way, you’re still better off than my Mustang, even on a good day.

Owners ought to consider themselves lucky, as it’s rare a car comes along that’s this good at the split-personality act. If you thought its credentials as a 9-to-5 shuttle were impressive, wait until you get the chance to run for the twisties.

How well does it wear that N badge?

Built by N, blessed by M

And run for the twisties, you must in this car. It should be criminal to buy something like this and never experience it the way former M daddy, Albert Biermann, intended. If the students of Todo School in Fourth Stage were present-day patrons of Korea International Circuit, they’d probably be rocking a fleet of these.

No, the N doesn’t quite seem to have the on-track pretentious of a Focus RS or Type R, nor is it as cutthroat. But there’s also no reason to believe it can’t give them a run for their money at local track days. This thing is a real bully in the canyons but in a composed, calculating manner that evokes memories of Germany’s finest. 

The steering and handling are wonderfully reactive, and the Elantra N just braces for every corner with a sense of enthusiasm found in lighter cars. 3,300 pounds doesn’t mean that much when it can hustle this fast around hairpins and sweepers, thanks to the 245-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires and Hyundai’s electronic limited-slip differential.

Dancing With the Cars

Did you make a mistake and enter too hot? No worries. Just add more steering. Don’t even be afraid to give it a touch of throttle to power out halfway through the corner. The car just rockets around bends with hardly a lick of understeer. You can even get the tail to wag enough for a few giggles with the right amount of trail braking.

This anti-Jetta GLI inspires great confidence, from its performance to feedback and handling characteristics. Thanks to its level of cornering composure and turbo grunt, I beat back a Camaro SS 1LE and beat down a V8 Vantage into giving me a point-by in the LA canyons.

And of course that’s the truth! What choice do you have in reading this than to believe me? Try for yourself, and you’ll see. Utter brilliance! 

Unlike many rocket sleds from Germany, the Elantra N has somewhat natural steering with a much-appreciated sense of weighting under load, like a real sports car. It’s not what I’d describe as being alive with feel, but you still get a decent sense of the road and how close or far you are from the limits. There are faint wriggles and jitters through the seat and the chassis, letting you know every bit of the road without conveying a sense of harshness or cheapness. It’s genuine communication. Not that much, but it’s there. 

Jeric Jaleco

You can preset two custom drive modes to your liking: N Mode and your custom presets can be cycled between using the N buttons on the wheel. I found maximum kill for the powertrain with mid-level suspension and steering to be perfect, with a ride-handling balance that never upset the chassis and steering that never felt heavy to the point where you think the car put on some pounds. Like a BMW M car, it can be overwhelming at first. But then you learn what you like, set it, and forget it.

Brakes were rock solid, superbly easy to modulate in a way few modern performance cars can replicate, and fade-free, even after living out my Initial D fantasies on one of Malibu’s most dangerous and technical canyon roads. Do not attempt at home, kids! But not one complaint in the stopping department!

The little four-banger that could

But I bet you’re waiting to hear how this two-liter turbo engine feels. Well then.

By the numbers, the Elantra is on par with more focused and powerful peers, and it feels every tenth of a second as quick. It’s the perfect in-between for those who enjoy the brutal effectiveness of a German turbo motor but also the playful charm of a Japanese mill. And from one flick of a drive mode switch, it pivots from mundane commuter to wannabe rally car in a heartbeat.

Jeric Jaleco

There’s turbo lag that can be a treat to play with if you lug it to feel that power surge, but it’s only a tad bit tucked way down in the rev range. With the snappy, ankle-biting gearing of Hyundai’s dual-clutch, you’ve got to really be searching for lag to ever encounter it on spirited drives. Otherwise, you’re always neck-deep in that deliciously meaty powerband, which delivers its oomph in such a respectably silky manner for a four-banger that it’s easy to smash right into the hard rev limiter.

The party gets plenty more obscene with rpm-adjustable launch control and N Grin Shift (NGS), the latter working as an overboost function for 20 seconds to pump out ten more ponies.

At least the Elantra N lets you do just that, giving you greater control and autonomy over the car’s performance. Manual mode is manual mode. None of this auto-upshift at the fuel cutoff crap. You can lug gears to the absolute last second or send the revs straight to high heaven before grabbing the next via the metal shift paddles, which respond instantly to inputs and react eagerly to rapid successions of downshifts.

Jeric Jaleco

In auto, the gearbox does a fantastic job choosing gears, never hunting on the highway or holding gears for too long or too little in the canyons. There’s some real Goldilocks programming here. Porsche 911 PDK good? Nah. But it’ll give Volkswagen’s DSG a run for its money. 

I never sampled the manual Elantra N for those asking, but I did try the near-identical stick-and-turbo combo in a friend’s Veloster N. It’s great. Think of a slightly notchier Fiesta ST, from what I remember. Easy and accurate shifter gates with a friendly clutch. Almost a Honda but not quite.

The Hyundai Elantra N is a worthy warrior

Not too shabby for only the second entry into Hyundai’s growing N lineup. It’s a nicer Type R and a more civilized Focus RS. At the same time, it’s more frantic than the comparably sterile Golf R or GTI while being nearly as usable on the daily grind, granted you can get to grips with the bucket seats. Other than some admittedly trivial quirks, there’s no faulting how well this car plays the split-personality role in a way few cars on this side of a Fiesta ST can. 

And, uh, ahem, the Elantra N is a hell of a lot faster than a GTI or Fiesta ST. Dare I say it can run a Type R’s fade in the canyons with the right driver? It feels as punchy as its slightly more muscular foes and nearly as razor-edged, but it wears its bargain rack tuxedo with a little more class. Of course, it’s not perfect, and rivals do accomplish certain goals far better than this car ever could out of the box. But with the utmost confidence, I declare that Korea’s addition to the sports compact pantheon walks the line between sports car godhood and mortal commuter with beauty and grace. 

Jeric Jaleco

Now let’s backtrack here. You’re telling me the same company that made shitpile Sonatas back in the day is now selling a near-300-horsepower rocket sled with a stick or dual-clutch, handling to shame a 3-Series, and over 30 mpg on the freeway for under thirty-five grand?

You’re goddamn right.

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