Spotted at your favorite rental lot and often overlooked on the road, is this affordable sedan one you want?
In the past few years, Hyundai has reshaped its Kia and Genesis brands, but the mothership hasn’t done a lot with its core models. I’ve definitely enjoyed the Kia and Genesis models I’ve tested in recent years, but haven’t spent a lot of time in Hyundais. Focused on its great new EVs, crossovers, and SUVs that pad the balance sheet, the affordable sedans in Hyundai’s lineup aren’t getting a lot of attention.
Though compact sedans aren’t big sellers these days, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra still ship in decent numbers, so the Elantra should try to keep up. With that sort of competition getting more attractive, better equipped, and more enjoyable to drive, I wanted to see if the Hyundai Elantra’s nicely equipped trim level could sway my attention away from its Japanese rivals.
The Key Specs
Standard trim level Hyundai Elantra models are all powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, and are driven by what Hyundai calls its Smartstream® Intelligent Variable Transmission, which is basically a CVT. The enthusiast spec Elantra N Line upgrades to a 1.6-liter turbo that pumps out 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox.
Where the lower trim level Elantras get cloth interior, this Limited upgrades to leather while also adding dual-zone climate control, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and navigation screens, ambient interior lighting, Hyundai’s smart cruise control system, and a couple more safety systems than the more basic trim levels.
A base model Elantra SE starts at $20,950, and this Limited rim adds a lot more standard equipment to hit an MSRP of $27,655. If one wants a bit more fun out of their compact Hyundai sedan, the Elantra N Line is $27,500. Hyundai also provides massive warranty coverage including a 5-year / 60,000 mile new vehicle, 10 years / 100,000 miles for the powertrain, and 5 years and unlimited miles of 24/7 roadside assistance.
Simple As A Daily Driver
The Elantra Limited’s powertrain is definitely lackluster. Designed more to accommodate fuel economy (boasting EPA fuel economy estimates of 30/40/34 MPG) than driving enjoyment, I had a difficult time dealing with the off-the-line acceleration. Boasting just 147 horsepower, the Elantra is down on power to the base trim level Civic, and 33 down versus the comparable trim’s 180. The Elantra’s CVT is odd too, not keeping in sync with my right foot nor the engine’s powerband, and seemingly adjusting tension erratically when trying to merge onto or accelerate along the freeway.
Steering inputs are somewhat vague, but the weighting is decent. Suspension feel is a bit firm for a compact sedan, especially versus the N Line model I tested when it arrived a couple years ago. Brake pedal sensations are about what you’d expect from an affordable compact sedan, and the Kumho all-season rubber providing reasonable grip with a moderate dose of road noise. Hyundai supplied three drive modes–normal, sport, and smart–which give it a hint more personality, and either make it feel a tiny bit more fun or more eco conscious. The Elantra definitely feels more engaging than the Nissan Sentra, but the Civic and Corolla have a considerable advantage.
Cabin space is really good for a car in this segment, with the front seats looking a bit sportier while being more supportive than the rear ones. Leather coverings in the Elantra aren’t of the best quality, but don’t expect a lot in a car at this price. Hyundai gave the Elantra a massive trunk, but I wish there was some sort of organizational pockets or a more functional use of this cavernous void.
The Elantra’s front cupholders have a neat feature that allows you to flip over the divider to make the spots deeper, but there isn’t any sort of springy device within its edges to stabilize your tasty beverages, so I ended up spilling my coffee with the slightest bump or turn.
Big 10.25-inch displays make up the instrument cluster (that changes its look depending on the drive mode engaged) and infotainment system, which are becoming the industry standard. I do wish Hyundai used a bit more color in its iconography, because all of the buttons are blue, making you take your eyes off the road if you want to swap functions or apps.
The Highlights And Low Points
I will continue to praise manufacturers for using hard buttons rather than touchscreens for audio, climate control, and systems on the steering wheel, even if its by accident that the switchgear has been used in a car for several years. Hyundai gave the Elantra a nicely intuitive cabin, and all the buttons are big and simple.
Tech goodies include wireless mobile charging, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Android users can use their phone to engage Hyundai’s digital key. Apple iPhone users aren’t so lucky. The Bose audio system provides a quality experience, even if the speakers are fitted to hard plastic panels and limited insulation throughout the cabin which don’t love a bass-heavy track.
While I averaged 34 MPGs during my week-long test in the Elantra Limited, I couldn’t help but gripe about how underpowered it felt. I’d happily trade some fuel economy for more pep under the hood. Hyundai also has some strange styling cues throughout the Elantra, and it’s just too busy for no good reason. Angles everywhere! The exterior goes wild with sharp edges and fake vents, making it seem even lower grade than it already targets itself to be.
Once inside, the low-rent look continues, which is unfortunate, because the Elantra is a humble car that fits the budget of many buyers. Integrating slightly nicer materials would do this mid-level Hyundai a lot of favors, with a cabin that’s riddled with too much hard plastic. I also question the logic behind fitting a massive grab handle along the center console for the passenger. Did someone on the design team have plans to do some wild hooning in the Elantra?
There’s More To Consider At This Price Point
Hyundai is banging out some freakishly cool EVs that look stunning inside and out, yet the sedans in its lineup are getting left out in the cold. People still want affordable, reasonably-sized sedans, and this car shouldn’t just be experienced when it’s the option you and your coworkers got stuck with on a three-day trip to Omaha because you didn’t have a high enough status with Enterprise or Hertz. The Hyundai Elantra deserves to be better, and needs to become a car people want to buy.
Honda gave the new Civic some great looks, high quality fit and finish, solid driving impressions, and fantastic all-around value, and it’s definitely my pick in this class. Toyota continues to deliver a Corolla that ticks all sorts of boxes for compact sedan buyers, even if it’s a bit beige for my liking. At a price point that’s on-par with the competition, Hyundai needs to design and deliver more advantages than good warranty coverage and cash incentives to move the Elantra off dealer lots. Otherwise it’ll continue to lose market share to its rivals.