2021 Hyundai Elantra

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2021 Hyundai Elantra First Drive Review: Cutting Edge On A Budget

There's no question that Hyundai is pushing hard to become the new leader in several segments. The latest generation mid-size Hyundai Sonata sedan wowed us with its sophistication and style. Now, Hyundai seeks to do the same with the all-new seventh-generation Elantra compact sedan. It arrives with bold styling, an impressive list of technology features, and now it's available as a hybrid model as well as a traditional gas-only derivative. Hyundai aims to build an economical-minded and stylish compact sedan, but, like all of its vehicles, the automaker is pushing to make sure it can integrate with a modern lifestyle based around technology and connectivity. Starting at $19,650 for the base gasoline model and topping out at $28,100 for the Hybrid Limited, Hyundai is also continuing to push its policy of affordability and value with the new Elantra.

In order to try and wow us, Hyundai handed us a sanitized key and let us loose in both the 2.0-liter gas-powered Elantra (red car pictured) and the hybrid model (white car pictured) in coastal Southern California.

Is the 2021 Hyundai Elantra a good car?

  • Exterior Design 8 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 10 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 9 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 9 /10
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2021 Hyundai Elantra Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
Hybrid SEL
1.6L Inline-4 Hybrid
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
N Line
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior: Design With A Point

The Elantra's new look moves it a long way from its old image of no-frills transportation and uses Hyundai's design language called "Sensuous Sportiness." The designers know the styling will split opinions but believe people will get used to it and appreciate the boldness. The main ingredient to that boldness is the angular body surfacing with triangular lines and sharp points. According to Hyundai's designers, they gave the engineering department a colossal challenge in devising a method to create the sharp points in the body panels, but feel it was worth it.

Adding to the sophisticated new styling is a coupe-like roofline, a longer wheelbase, wider stance, and shorter overhangs. Up front is a version of Hyundai's new parametric jewel-pattern grille the integrates the turn signals, hiding them until they're activated. At the back, the lighting stretches all the way across and uses what the automaker calls its "H-Tail Lamp," so-called because of the flying H logo-like shape. New 15, 16, or 17-inch wheels with a bold and angular design complete the new aesthetic with aplomb.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Fuel Efficient Or Extremely Fuel Efficient

The Elantra SE, SEL, and Limited trims are available with Hyundai's 2.0-liter MPI Atkinson Cycle engine for maximum efficiency while delivering 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque to the front axle. According to Hyundai, combining the 2.0-liter engine with its Intelligent Variable Transmission nets the new Elantra 33/43/37 mpg city/highway/combined in its most efficient form.

If that's not miserly enough for you, the new Elantra Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter GDI Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine mated to a 32 kW electric motor powered by a 1.32 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery mounted under the rear seats. The system delivers 139 hp and up to 195 lb-ft of torque through, unusually for a hybrid, a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. The EPA has yet to publish figures for this, but Hyundai's claims suggest the SEL HEV will manage an astounding 53/56/54 mpg.

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Driving Impressions: A Consummate All-Rounder

We started our journey in the hybrid model first and made the return leg in the gas-only derivative. The biggest concern when it comes to affordable hybrids is always power. The good news is that the Elantra Hybrid is not at all sluggish, and the 195 lb-ft of torque gets it off the line quickly in busy traffic while the dual-clutch transmission is quick to shift and help get the Elantra up to speed. Both cars were noticeably quiet, with the Hybrid being the most relaxing to drive both in West Hollywood traffic and then out on the longer stretches of road through the countryside and along the coast. The new Elantra's steering is light and precise while the ride is supple, even on notoriously rough California freeways at cruising speed.

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Remarkably for a car at such an affordable price point, the Elantra doesn't have a real weak spot in its driving experience. When it comes to curvy roads, the standard Elantra models are direct and comfortable and offer some fun to push around. The chassis is well controlled and responsive and corners reasonably flatly, given its comfort-oriented tune. The Hybrid is surprisingly even more well-controlled thanks to its independent rear suspension setup. As a daily driver for work and family duties, there's absolutely nothing to complain about and everything to like in the way the Elantra drives. There's only an upside to driving the Hybrid with its bountiful torque, its ability to only sip on fuel, and its electric-only driving mode.

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Interior: Fighter Jet Inspired

According to Hyundai, the Elantra's dashboard layout was inspired by a fighter jet cockpit. There are certain lines in the design that evoke the sleek and pragmatic functionality of a cockpit; the slim full-width air vents fit the description, as do the center stack angled towards the driver and the digital gauge cluster on our test models. It's pulled off with subtlety, and the effect is a feeling of being wrapped in the car while having everything at your fingertips. Visibility is excellent and a lower seating position than the previous generation is welcome.

The Elantra has grown in size, and Hyundai has taken advantage of that. Despite being in the compact class, tall people won't complain much about the 40.6/37.3 inches of headroom front/rear, or the 42.3/38 inches of legroom, respectively. Regardless of powertrain, the 14.2 cubic-foot trunk is wholly respectable.

You can tell from the materials that Hyundai built the Elantra to keep it competitive in price, but nothing feels cheap. In the higher trim models, better and more interesting materials bring a touch of class to the interior, and our Limited test model brought its A-game with a mix of leather-trimmed seats with cloth used for the seatbacks and door trim.

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Technology: A Connected Car In A Connected World

Hyundai's not-so-secret weapon for the Elantra is its technology. It's all centered around the standard eight-inch or upgraded 10.25-inch infotainment screen, both of which are smooth and quick to respond to inputs. We spent time with the technology team members, who explained their mission to make the car seamlessly integrate with people's lives. That's evident in the segment-first wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality equipped as standard and the optional Digital Key technology, which allows the driver to use a smartphone to access the car or operate functions like the remote start. It also allows the vehicle to be remotely started and the climate control to be programmed using Amazon and Google smart home devices.

Other people can be given access and then limit that access if need be, all via a mobile device, so you can loan the car out to someone for a set amount of time or giving young family members access to just the trunk.

Safety-wise, there's a long list of tech to help the driver, including lane keep assist, forward collision avoidance, lane follow assist, and high beam assist. Unfortunately, blind-spot assist is on the list of optional features.

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Verdict: Throwing Down The Gauntlet

The Elantra would still be a great car, even at a higher price, but the competitive price tag makes it an excellent one. The real game-changing equation is in the feature-packed hybrid SEL, though. It's not just great value at $23,550 for a car that gets 54 mpg, but it's a great car that doesn't have any of the downsides that an inexpensive hybrid is usually saddled with. It truly is a shot fired in the compact segment.

Our one quibble is that the Digital Key, which is based around the concept of Hyundai vehicles integrating into people's lives, is lumped into the $2,100 Premium Package for the gas-only SEL, which requires the $950 Convenience Package be equipped as well. Considering this is the model we see most buyers driving, this seems like a bit of an oversight, and we'd rather see this as a standalone option rather than part of an 11% price premium. On the plus side, offering wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as a standard feature is something most owners will appreciate.

Don't let that gripe put you off too much if you're looking for a compact sedan that offers style, comfort, and fuel economy, though. The Elantra is something you should definitely be cross-shopping against any other compact sedan on the market.

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Price & Trims: Bang For The Buck

The Elantra's base SE model comes in at $19,650 and comes rolling on 15-inch alloy wheels and packed with Hyundai's healthy list of standard safety tech, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - which is the most impressive feature on a base model. The SEL trim adds features such as a proximity key, dual temperature climate control, satellite radio, BlueLink connected car services, 16-inch alloy wheels, and upgrades the sound system from four to six speakers at the cost of $20,900.

The Convenience and Premium packages at $950 and $2,200 add a lot of features. The former includes a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, wireless charging, heated front seats, and smart cruise control, amongst others. The latter adds a bounty of extra features, including 17-inch alloy wheels, dark chrome exterior accents, LED taillights, a Bose sound system, power driver's seat with lumbar, and the Digital Key technology, among others.

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Moving up to Limited trim costs $24,450. It includes everything in those packages or modifications, as well as LED headlights, leather-trimmed seats, extra safety tech, Dynamic Voice Recognition, and Navigation - which, curiously, deletes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Elantra Hybrid starts in SEL trim and at $23,550, adding a few features like heated front seats and LED taillights over its gas-only equivalent. The Elantra Limited HEV is the top of the line and costs $28,100, adding ventilated seats, memory seating, and full LED taillights.

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