Hyundai Elantra — A compact car standout

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(March 21, 2021) Compact crossover utility vehicles make up one of the hottest segments in the industry, but there's still demand for the once wildly popular compact cars such as the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla — and the all-new 2021 Hyundai Elantra. The seventh-generation Elantra is a standout for its head-turning exterior design, advanced safety systems and infotainment connectivity, and the best overall warranty in the business.

In fact, the Elantra so impressed the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year jurors that they named it 2021 North American Car of the Year. And a couple weeks ago it was named to AutoTraders top 10 new interiors list for 2021.

The Elantra, which is longer by 2.2 inches than the outgoing model, has been endowed with head-turning styling — not surprising for Hyundai, which seems to always be on the cutting-edge of design — highlighted by a large, imposing jewel-pattern grille that flows up into slim headlights, a fastback roofline, and prominent sharp lines and creases on the side and rear. If the Elantra was an European luxury model it would be called a four-door coupe.

It seems the Elantra offers something for everyone — for the first time it can be purchased in a fuel-sipping hybrid model, if performance is your top priority it can be obtained in the turbocharged N Line with 201 horsepower and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, and if you desire all the bells and whistles opt for the top trim Limited. And the Elantra will soon get the full Hyundai N performance treatment with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission mated to a 275-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four.

The Elantra comes in five trim levels — SE, SEL, Limited, Elantra Hybrid, N Line and the aforementioned steroid-induced Elantra N.

The SE, SEL and Limited get the carryover 2.0-liter 147 horsepower engine making 132 pound-feet of torque. It's certainly adequate — we've driven it in several Hyundai vehicles — but we wish with an all-new car that Hyundai would have upped the horsepower and torque for the standard models. That being said, for comparison purposes our Limited test car is capable of a 0-to-60 run just a tick or two over eight seconds. That's good enough for merging and passing in all situations. It's paired to a continuously variable transmission and — here's the best part — it carries an excellent MPG rating of 31 city, 41 highway and 35 combined on regular gas.

We found the ride well controlled. But push aggressively into a corner and you get noticeable
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 a majority of buyers.

The N Line (called the Sport in the outgoing model) is our choice. It comes with the 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque mated to Hyundai's 7-speed dual clutch automatic. It is head and shoulders above the base engine in performance and driving satisfaction — measured at 6.3 seconds from 0-to-60. The slight loss in gas mileage — 28/36/31 — we think is worth it. The N line at $25,250 is about $2,000 more than the SEL, but about $1,500 less than the Limited.

For exceptional gas mileage we urge shoppers to test drive the new Hybrid, which is EPA rated at 53 mpg city, 56 highway and 54 combined. We haven't driven it and we don't know if the total system's 139 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque would be adequate for our needs. The Hybrid includes a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine combined with a 32kW motor and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. You’ll pay a bit more for the Elantra Hybrid over the standard gas-only Elantra so how many miles a year you drive will dictate which Elantra is the best buy for your needs.  

Our Limited test car included an impressive interior. The upholstery was well crafted, ditto for switchgear and trim appointments. 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 clean, well organized layout features a center stack angled towards the driver. Controls for climate and infotainment are all large and clearly marked, making them easy to use while driving. That's not to say there weren't some efforts to visually jazz things up. The 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster — optional on the Elantra SEL and standard on range-topping Limited — is attractive with different design themes for each drive mode.

We found the interior spacious with 38 inches of legroom for rear-seat passengers, up slightly from 2020, and plenty of room for two normal-sized adults. Trunk space is above the segment average at 14.2 cubic feet.

Hyundai has placed a lot of emphasis on standard safety features. They include forward-collision avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, automatic high beams, driver attention warning, rearview camera, blindspot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and safe exit warning. Smart cruise control is optional on lower trims, but was standard equipment on our Limited.

Hyundai's familiar long-term warranties come with the Elantra including a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, and 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Also included is three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance.

Price of our Limited with a couple of low-cost options was $26,900.

2021 Hyundai Elantra


Base price: $20,645; as driven, $26,900
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 147 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 132 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 184.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,725 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31 city, 41 highway, 35 combined
0-60: 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra

The Good
• Head-turning styling
• Spacious cabin
• Loaded with standard and optional features
• Excellent gas mileage

The Bad
• A lot of hard plastic in interior

The Ugly
• Below average acceleration from base engine