2021 Hyundai Elantra first drive review: Standout style with plenty of substance

Hyundai is rolling out some new 2021 Elantra models right now, including the super efficient hybrid is zippy N Line. They’re all pretty cool, and that’s largely thanks to the fact that the standard Elantra is a solid foundation to build on. It drives well, looks great, and has loads of new technology – all the things you would want in a modern compact sedan.

It looks sharp

At first, I thought the design of the new Elantra was a little too much, but the more I see it, especially in the real world, the more consistent it feels. My favorite corner is actually the rear three-quarter, where you really get a feel for the fastback shape, which is cut in the middle by a horizontal light bar and pointed taillights. It’s like something out of an anime. I’m in.

Like most cars, the Elantra looks better when loaded with high-end finishes – in this case, that means the Limited model with its full LED lighting and larger 17-inch wheels (just the N Line gets 18). Base SE models roll over 15 seconds while the mid-range SEL comes standard with 16, but at least Hyundai offers alloy wheels across the board – no steelies and hubcaps here.

Dimensionally, the 2021 Elantra is 2.2 inches longer, 1 inch wider and 1 inch smaller than the outgoing sedan, so it still has a compact footprint. Interestingly, however, thanks to the increased head and leg room, the Elantra has 99.4 cubic feet of passenger space, which actually brings it to the EPA’s mid-sized rating as that by Hyundai Sonata. Neat.

Comfortable cabin with a focus on technology

From a design standpoint, the Elantra’s interior is far less odd than its exterior, with relatively simple styling and neatly organized controls. I love the knurled ends of the turn signals and the wiper stems, which are similar to what Hyundai offers in the Sonata. The Elantra Limited has soft leather on the steering wheel and seats, and the surfaces you touch the most are pleasantly grainy. There are some cheap bits, sure, but they’re mostly things like the transmission tunnel and steering column, so you won’t notice this regularly.

Compact footprint, medium-sized interior space.

Drew Phillips

There’s one weird thing worth mentioning: the backlit design element to the left of the instrument cluster – you know, the thing that looks like it should be an air vent. This is where you will find the drive mode selector on the DCT device Elantra N Line, but it doesn’t work here. In fact, the standard Elantra’s drive mode button is located on the center console next to the gearbox. Strange, right?

A 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster is optional on the Elantra SEL and standard on the Limited, and I highly recommend shooting for this update. The TFT-LCD screen is beautiful and sharp with colorful graphics and the dial design changes according to the driving mode selected. No other compact sedan offers such a flashy or configurable IP.

Most Elantras will ship with an 8-inch center touchscreen, flanked on either side by large shortcut buttons and some black plastic. Spring for an Elantra Limited and you get a 10.2-inch high-resolution screen with built-in navigation. Oddly and frustratingly, it’s the smallest 8-inch configuration you’ll get wireless in Apple CarPlay is Android Auto; this smartphone mirroring technology requires a wired connection with the larger screen.

The SEL and Limited models can be supplied with a 10.2-inch central touchscreen.

Drew Phillips

If you plan to use one of the cordless options with the 8-inch screen, make sure you get an Elantra SEL, as that’s the only way to get a wireless charging pad. The Limited has a standard, but since it has the largest display, you still need to plug in your phone if you want to access your apps. The Limited is also the only Elantra to receive dynamic voice recognition software, which is Hyundai-speak for natural language commands – kind of like the “Hey, Mercedes” feature built into the German automaker’s MBUX software. Hyundai’s Digital key for Android only it also makes its way on the Elantra, where it is optional on the SEL and standard on the Limited.

While on the subject of technology, let’s talk about Elantra’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Forward Collision Prevention, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keeping Assist, a Driver Attention Monitor and Hyundai Safe Exit Alert are all standard, l The latter prevents occupants from opening a door on a cyclist’s path when parked in parallel. Adaptive full-speed cruise control and automatic forward collision braking can be added to the SEL in an optional package, although both are standard on the Limited. Finally, there’s the Highway Drive Assist feature, which combines lane monitoring, lane centering and adaptive cruise technology for easy highway driving. You guessed it, it only comes on Elantra Limited.

Competent commuter

If you want the funniest Elantra, get a Line N. If it’s the fuel economy you’re looking for, the Elantra Hybrid it’s your jam. Every other version uses the same engine: a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated in-line four with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. This I4 is coupled with a continuously variable transmission, which helps the Elantra return respectable EPA fuel economy estimates of 33 city miles per gallon, 43 highway mpg and 37 mpg combined.

No other traditional compact car offers such interesting tools.

Drew Phillips

The Elantra isn’t exactly fast, but the 2.0-liter engine has enough power to lift the sedan and get it out of the way. Uphill sections of highway require a heavy right foot, although thankfully the CVT doesn’t hum or hum at higher revs when more power is needed. In addition to the Normal setting, you can choose Sport or Smart driving modes, the former adds a little more throttle response, the latter holds up your aggressive tendencies for better efficiency. Neither really changes the overall character of Elantra, so maybe leave them alone (unless you want to watch the digital indicator cluster animations when modes change, which is nifty).

The Elantra is a daily driver and errand runner, and it’s tuned as such. The steering is light and a little vague, but the ride is really comfortable. What is most impressive is the quietness inside the Elantra, even at highway speeds. This makes long distance driving less tiring. It’s just a pity that the seats are no longer comfortable; the Limited’s leather chairs are a bit flat and unsupportive.

Compared to other compacts, the Elantra is certainly not the most fun to drive, but it’s not necessarily a priority for most small car buyers. A Honda Civic it’s a little more agile and a Mazda3 is definitely sharper, but the Elantra is very nice on its own. It may not be the sportiest, but it is certainly one of the quietest and most high-tech offerings in its class.

The Elantra is no longer a sloppy little four-door.

Drew Phillips

Affordable and better than ever

The 2021 Elantra is affordable, starting at $ 20,645 for a SE base including $ 995 for the destination. The mid-tier SEL comes in at $ 21,895 and the fancy-shmancy Limited will set you back $ 26,445. This puts the Elantra on the lower side of average for the class, which is a great place to stay.

Hyundai originally made a name for itself by offering strong value propositions in highly competitive vehicle segments. The company still does this today, but the company’s cars are much more competitive and in many cases lead the pack. The 2021 Elantra isn’t necessarily a shoo-in for the best compact sedan available in the US; almost all the players in this segment bring a lot to the table. But offering tech features normally reserved for luxury cars and truly crisp, stunning styling, this seventh-generation Elantra is stronger than ever.

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