2021 Hyundai Elantra

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. —  For more than 30 years, Elantra has been the standard bearer Hyundai in the competitive compact sedan segment that includes varsity brands such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and others. Even though compact crossover utility vehicles have become the flavor du jour for a copious number of car buyers, loyalists who prefer sedans still remain. And Hyundai makes excellent vehicles that still attract scads of customers.

For the 2021 model year, Hyundai introduces the seventh-generation Elantra with a stylish redesign that includes advanced safety systems, new infotainment connectivity, a segment-first digital key, and two all-new models: the first-ever Elantra Hybrid and high-performance N.

We recently drove the new Elantra models at its official launch in West Hollywood, Calif., accruing a couple hundred miles behind the wheel of the gas-only Limited and N-Line Elantra sedans, the gas-electric hybrid Elantra, and a too-brief spin in a camouflaged prototype Elantra N, a genuine performance sedan.

The N, coming next year, is Hyundai’s equivalent to the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru STi, and Volkswagen R performance sedans. The Elantra N joins the previously introduced Veloster N; future N models include Tucson and Kona, according to Hyundai. The Elantra N is powered by essentially the same engine as the Veloster N, including the new dual wet-clutch, eight-speed automatic transmission bolted to the 275-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant. A six-speed manual shifter is optional.

While my time behind the wheel of the N was brief, it was enough to know that it’s the real deal when it comes to performance, responding with immediate acceleration. It’s a genuine track-ready superb handling car.

The N is not to be con
fused with the Elantra N Line sedan. That’s also powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine but with only 201 horsepower — still 54 more than the base Elantra sedan. It’s connected to a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The N Line features five-spoke alloy wheels — one inch larger than the Limited and Hybrid — and the front and rear bumpers have a much more attractive shape than the base mode.
Regardless of model, the interior of the Elantra borrows much of the same look from the larger Sonata, a design we really like. Both the Limited and Hybrid have a bold infotainment/instrument cluster combo panel made up of two 10.3-inch screens slightly beveled in the center for better visibility from the driver’s seat. We liked the tiered dashboard design that mimics the Santa Fe SUV, with sweeping design lines spanning across the dashboard and into the door panels.

There’s no shortage of hard plastics on the dashboard and door panels, but they are well designed and actually look fairly good. We did wish for more touchpoint padding especially on the center armrest/console and outer door armrests. The N Line gets bolstered, power-adjustable heated leather and cloth sports seats that are especially attractive, with an embossed “N” logo in the seatback. There’s also sharp red stitching on the dash, door panels, and seats to suggest a sportier attitude.

As previously mentioned, the Elantra gets its first-ever gas-electric hybrid powertrain: a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that combines with a a 32-kilowatt electric motor for a total of 38 horsepower, paired with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 49/52/50 mpg, but our test drive indicated that we achieved 43.1 mpg, eclipsing the federal ratings. That almost never happens. You’ll pay a bit more for the Elantra Hybrid over the standard gas-only Elantra so how much you drive will dictate which Elantra is the best buy for your needs.

The Elantra Limited is Hyundai’s luxury compact and it is impressive. The upholstery is well crafted, ditto for switchgear and trim appointments, so no disappointments there. What’s glaringly missing, however, is driving excitement; that just isn’t pa
rt of the deal. The 2.0-liter 147-horsepower four cylinder just doesn’t have enough strength to achieve engaging or entertaining driving. The ride is well controlled, but push aggressively into a corner and your experience will be returned with understeer. The suspension soaks up road irregularities and broken pavement, and the cabin is quiet except under initial heavy acceleration. Most drivers won’t complain and with a heavy dose of standard equipment at a value price, the car will make sense for most buyers.

Much of what was already right with the outgoing Elantra generation has been left alone with the seventh-generation edition. The 2021 Elantra certainly looks more aggressive, with many of Hyundai’s styling elements from the Sonata worked into the appearance.

So, which new Elantra trim level is best for you? If you’re a driving enthusiast you’ll undoubtedly want to wait for the new N that will arrive mid-year 2021. If fuel economy is your objective you’ll want to strongly consider the Hybrid with its 50-mpg fuel economy. And if you’re driven by bang-for-the-buck value, it’s the base Elantra trim level. Either way there’s every reason to believe the new Elantra will attract scores of customers due to its sharp Sonata like styling, value, fuel economy, high standard content, and attractive warranty.

So, the question is, did Hyundai make the right changes and enough to not only raise the bar in the compact sedan segment, but to take the lead? The new Elantra offerings certainly make a convincing argument that Hyundai is not only dedicated to the sedan market but that it has every intention to be the class leader.

Vital Stats
Base Prices: $20,645 - $29,095 (price includes $995 destination charge. Pricing for N not yet released)
Seating: 5
Where Built: Montgomery, Alabama

Crash Test Results: The 2021 Hyundai Elantra has not yet been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of this writing.

Competes With:
Honda Civic
Kia Forte
Nissan Sentra
Toyota Corolla
Volkswagen Jetta

Fab Features
Stunning new styling
Advanced safety and progressive tech features
First-ever Elantra Hybrid

— Jim Prueter