2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid first drive review: Effortlessly efficient
The newHe casts with a pretty strong hand, but this hybrid model is the trump card. It has the same great styling, comfortable accommodations, and a long list of tech as the standard Elantra, but ups the ante with better road manners and a true microphone drop detail – 54 miles per gallon combined.
This makes this Elantra more efficient than the Honda Insight e, and even surpasses some versions of the Toyota Prius. With the aforementioned accolades in support of that great efficiency, the Elantra Hybrid isn’t just the cheapest of the bunch, it’s also the most compelling.
The Hybrid’s transmission consists of a 1.6-liter I4 engine, a 1.3-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and a 34-kilowatt electric motor. All in all, 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque are sent to the Elantra’s front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The battery isn’t large enough to provide the Elantra with true electric range, but it can store enough energy to offer gas-free operation at parking speeds, and the engine can shut down when coasting. Sure, the Elantra Hybrid is a little slow and the petrol engine is a little buzzing when you land, but the six-speed DCT is great. And don’t forget, what’s key to the mission here is fuel economy.
In its most efficient SEL setup, the Elantra Hybrid is estimated to return that impressive combined figure of 54mpg, split into 53mpg in the city and 56mpg on the highway. Upgrade to the Limited trim and you’ll suffer a small penalty for that added luxury, with the city, highway, and combined figures dropping to 49, 52, and 50mpg, respectively.
That said, those assessments might be a bit conservative. Of course your mileage may vary, but at the end of a day of testing the Elantra Hybrid in Southern California, on a route that included climbing up and past Malibu Canyon, a lot of time spending 101 and 405 freeways and a few city miles to back to West Hollywood, I saw 54 mpg combined in my Limited tester – a 4 mpg improvement over Hyundai’s estimate, and without making any changes to my “I just want to go home” driving style.
Depending on the trim, the Hybrid is anywhere from 240 to 340 pounds heavier than the standard Elantra, but the larger battery and electric motors don’t hamper space for passengers or cargo. The battery is housed under the rear seats, and to fit the Hybrid avoids the gas-only rear torsion beam suspension of the Elantra in favor of a more sophisticated independent multi-link configuration. This actually gives the Hybrid better road handling capabilities than the base Elantra models, with greater composure and greater confidence when cornering. A slightly faster steering ratio (12.2: 1 instead of 12.9: 1) also makes the Hybrid more responsive.
Regenerative brakes can recover stopping energy and send it back to the battery, but the regeneration isn’t strong enough to make you feel really working. On downhill sections through the canyons, I can see the gauge needle completely in the regenerative part of the dial, but the Elantra just coasting normally. There is also no way to set higher regeneration levels.
The Hybrid is a quiet commuter, with very little wind or road noise entering the cabin. A range of active driving aids are standard, including front collision warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic warning and a driver attention monitor. If you want things like avoiding forward collision with pedestrian and cyclist detection, parking sensors or adaptive cruise control at full speed with Hyundaitech, you gotta pony up for Elantra Hybrid Limited.
Inside, the SEL has cloth seats while the Limited gets leather. The SEL also uses Hyundai’s 8-inch infotainment system, which is oddly the only way to get wirelessis . The Limited has the 10.2-inch touchscreen flasher with built-in navigation, but controlling the smartphone requires a wired connection, although this is the only version of the Hybrid that has a wireless charging pad. Opting for the Limited also gives you Elantra’s fantastic 10.2-inch digital cluster, which is only worth the effort for the fantastic animation that plays when switching between Normal, Sport and adaptive Smart driving modes.
On the outside, the only real way to spot a hybrid model is to check for a badge on the trunk. The petrol-electric version looks like any other Elantra (except the, natch), with the SEL driving on 16-inch wheels and the Limited getting some flashy 18s that match the sedan’s angular and geometric design.
The hybrid costs just $ 2,650 more than equivalent gas-powered models, with the SEL starting at $ 24,545 and the Limited topping the Elantra range at $ 29,095 (both prices include $ 995 per destination). That’s roughly what you’ll pay for a Corolla Hybrid or Insight equivalent, but none of these cars look that good or drive, and Hyundai seems to have them beaten on fuel economy as well.