2021 Hyundai Elantra review: A tech-filled, sharp-dressed looker

2021-hyundai-elantra-sel-3

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Like any good compact sedan, the seventh generation Hyundai Elantra offers something for everyone. If you are looking for a fuel aspirator, there is a hybrid model on sale. Those looking for a little more driving excitement can opt for an N Line turbo. And for everyone else, there are the standard versions, all of which come with a stunning look, loads of tech features and knowledgeable ways on the road that make it the most competitive Elantra sedan to date.

Like it

  • Distinct exterior design
  • Tons of technology
  • Spacious and quiet cab

I do not like

  • Frantic character
  • Missing rear feed points
  • Flat seats

Wild style

One thing is for sure, the Elantra isn’t just another disappointing face in the crowd. Hyundai’s entry is visually out of the ordinary with a mammoth grille, slim headlights, swift roofline and prominent sharp lines on the side and rear. The creases look particularly good on my Quartz White test car which drives on 17-inch wheels with black painted inserts that are as visually bold as the rest of the sedan. Is it all a little too much? Maybe for some, but it’s a different and cohesive overall design.

Things inside the Elantra aren’t that futuristic. The clean and intelligently organized layout features a center console angled towards the driver. The climate and infotainment controls are all large and clearly marked, making them easy to use while driving. That’s not to say there aren’t any efforts to visually spice things up, though. The four-spoke steering wheel reminds me of a Space Invaders monster, and a 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster – optional on the Elantra SEL and standard on the top-of-the-range Limited – is elegant with different design themes for each driving mode.

Then there is the dummy panel on the left side of the Elantra gauge cluster. There is a circular graphic with a horizontal line in the middle that makes it look like it should be an air vent. In the Elantra N Line this piece of real estate houses the drive mode dial, but in normal models it is a dead space that does nothing. Maybe it’s a good place to stick a post-it note?

As for space, there’s a healthy portion inside the Elantra: 99.4 cubic feet of passenger space to be precise, pushing it into the EPA’s mid-sized rating. Head and leg room is generous in front and back, while materials throughout are acceptable. The soft leather wraps around the steering wheel, the fabric on the comfortable seats is beautiful and most of the contact points are soft and of high quality. However, you’ll still come across hard, yet good-looking plastics on the transmission tunnel and rear seat door panels.

The interior of the Elantra is nice, but there is some hard plastic in some.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Focused on technology

On the tech front, the Elantra SEL features an 8-inch touchscreen with large shortcut buttons and knobs for volume and radio tuning. Like the instrument cluster, the screen displays vibrant colors and graphics, but is also input sensitive to control the optional eight-speaker Bose audio setup, Bluetooth, and wireless integration of both. Apple CarPlay is Android Auto. The touchscreen grows to 10.2 inches, but oddly enough this removes the wireless CarPlay and Android Auto functionality instead requiring a wired connection for both.

To power up the phones, my SEL sports an available wireless charging pad located in the center console base. There you will also find a 12 volt socket and two USB ports. Unfortunately, no power point is easily accessible for rear seat passengers. Android users can also enjoy the benefits of Hyundai digital key which allows drivers to unlock and start the Elantra via an optional smartphone app on the SEL and standard on Limited cars.

The technological buffet continues with a rich list of advanced driver assistance systems on board the Elantra. Front Collision Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Monitoring, and Safe Exit Warning are all standard issues. My SEL tester is further enhanced with available adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.

Elantra’s list of security technology features is solid.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Solid everyday driver

For those looking for a competent commuter, the Elantra is certainly up to the task. The engine of this sedan is a 2.0-liter I4 that produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, linked to a continuously variable transmission. Together, they return an EPA-estimated 31 miles per gallon in the city and 41mpg on the highway, which isn’t run down.

The Elantra’s engine is smooth but doesn’t feel particularly powerful. It does the job around town adequately, although throttle response is a bit lazy even when you have the car in Sport mode. For things like hitting the freeway, you need to really lean on the right pedal to seamlessly integrate with traffic. Thankfully, the CVT doesn’t sound like a hive of angry bees in Sport mode when you start it up and cling to the “gears” any longer. It also offers manual shifting functionality, but it’s best to forget about it, as it is very slow to execute commands.

Elantra’s Kumho tires are not bad in light snow.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Chassis tuning follows the transmission lead, being respectable for everyday driving tasks. Body movements are well controlled when rounding the corners with a regular clip, but pushing harder results in front wash. Racing the Elantra gets a thunderous touch when it encounters consecutive bumps and ruts, and it generally doesn’t feel buttoned up like rivals like the Honda Civic and Mazda3. The steering has a numb point in the center and lacks sensitivity, while the brakes are sturdy, offering confident muscle and modulation.

So, the Elantra won’t have your socks shaking from a driving engagement standpoint, but it’s comfortable for most and remarkably quiet as it rolls down the road. It fits quite well even in light snow with Kumho Majesty Solus all-season tires.

How would I specify it

When building my Elantra, I prefer a mid-tier SEL version like the one pictured here, which starts at $ 21,905 including $ 1,005 for the destination. In fact, I’ll take the white paint job as well, for how well it shows the outer lines and creases. From there, I’ll check the box for the $ 950 convenience package to get the awesome LCD instrument cluster, wireless charging pad, and heated front seats. Throwing in $ 155 for floor mats translates to a $ 23,010 price tag from slipping under my test car’s $ 25,110.

A white quartz paint helps showcase the Elantra’s body lines.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Rugged compact sedan case

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra starts at $ 20,655, giving it a lower entry cost than $ 22,245 Street number, $ 21,645 Mazda3 and $ 21,020 Toyota Corolla, but higher than the $ 18,885 Kia Forte and $ 19,990 Volkswagen Jetta.

Off that list of compact sedans, the new Elantra is unquestionably the visual highlight of the group, offering a vast dose of technology and a reassuring 10-year warranty on the powertrain to boot. Although its driving character is far from thrilling, it is a competent and comfortable ride for most driving situations. All of this combined to produce the most compelling Elantra to date.

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