Everyone loves a good success story, and you’d certainly be hard pressed to find a better one than Hyundai. Back in 1986 the Korean maker came to the US with the Excel with an extremely durable yet otherwise forgettable Excel sedan.
But much like the Japanese carmakers in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Hyundai paid its dues, worked hard, and constantly improved its products to become what it is today – a top brand, with a wide variety of vehicles, three brands (Kia and Genesis also part of the fam), and as we’ve said in many recent reviews, the days of cheap Hyundai’s are long gone.
Well, maybe not entirely. We’ve just tested the all-new 2021 Elantra sedan, and it’s one of the most impressive values we’ve seen in a small sedan in some time. And it’s also gorgeous, a very good drive, and loaded with features. Let’s take a look!
On the outside, the Elantra looks like a scalded version of the new Sonata. Actually, on the smaller Elantra the styling looks even more aggressive. This is now the 7th generation of the Elantra nameplate, and boasts a longer wheelbase, wider stance and lower roofline than the previous gen. Hyundai calls the new design “Sensuous Sportiness” with a 4-door coupe look.
The front end makes an imposing first impression, with angry angle-cut headlights and a massive parametric-jewel-pattern grille flow up into a crisp folded hood.
The profile is very sporty with lots of sharp edges that look crisp and modern, especially as it wraps around the bold rear spoiler. Our tester’s 17-inch alloys echo the sharp angles of the exterior and give it a sporty stance.
At the rear the angled tail lamps flow into the sharp side strakes with a signature LED line cutting across the full width of the back. Like many new models the name ELANTRA is spelled out in bold block letters that look cinematic as they spread across the trunk lid. Finish off with a contrasting wing-like lower rear fascia, and from all angles this new Elantra looks modern and stands apart from the familiar crowd of small sedans.
Dressed in a gorgeous red color Hyundai refreshingly calls “Red” it’s a stunning small car.
Inside is a much of an upgrade as the outside. Even though our tester was a mid-level SEL model, it was optioned out with two 10.25-inch displays that wouldn’t look out of place in the $52,000 AMG A35 we just tested. In fact, to the left of the display is a “faux” display that could easily have added to the effect.
Well, what you do get is still impressive – the luxurious silver toned digital gauges morph into an angry red in sport mode. To the right is very nicely sized infotainment display, with praise Hyundai! A volume and tuning knob. Apple CarPlay is easily accessed, and the available wireless charging is a state of the art touch. The 8-speaker Bose premium audio system sounds great, and even the door-mounted tweeters look like miniature pieces of art.
The design is sleek and represents the brand’s look and feel, a long horizontal line of vents creates a wide image of space, while the soft two-tone effect is elegant, as is the uniquely shaped steering wheel. The only thing we weren’t crazy about is the passenger “grab handle” the comes across the center console – it seems to break up the spaciousness to our eye. Pleasing to the eye and the hand, the controls for the info-tainment and the climate control have soft knurled patterns on them. This is an amazing amount of design and luxury for a relatively inexpensive car!
The drive is impressive as well. Hyundai offers three powertrains in the Elantra, a Hybrid model (a first time for the Elantra), a 201-horsepower, 1.6 L-turbocharged model, and the garden variety, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. While it may be the least powerful of the three, it feels great – the 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft of torque give a nice low-end push and is smooth and quiet.
We’re not big fans of CVT transmissions, but the Elantra does a pretty fair impersonation of a traditional automatic, and is actually pretty zippy in Sport mode. If you really want sport, the 201 HP Elantra N-Line is your baby, but we appreciate the little extra spice it throws into the mix. That CVT is also a fuel miser – we easily saw close to 40 mpg on the highway, even when taking advantage of Sport as much as possible.
The Elantra also has an impressive big-car smooth and quiet ride. If you were thinking about the larger Sonata, we say, try the little brother before you buy – it may be all you need. Handling is another plus, smooth and responsive, it’s happy to cut through traffic and put a smile on your face.
Hyundai is big on Safety (We know, who isn’t), and the Elantra also comes impressively equipped, with all models featuring standard Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep and Following Assist, Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic Collision Avoidance, and a few things you’d only expect on higher ticket models, like High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning – even Safe Exit Warning that may sound an alert when a vehicle approaches from behind, letting passengers know it may not be safe to open the door to exit the vehicle.
We also appreciated our tester’s Smart Cruise Control and Highway Driving Assist that helps keep you centered in your line and a preset distance from the vehicle in front.
How Much? Hey it’s a Hyundai!
So, the best part of all this is how affordable the new Elantra is. The entry-level SE comes in at $19,650, and is impressively equipped with loads of safety gear, standard Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, analog gauges and an 8-inch touchscreen display.
Stepping up to our SEL tester is a reasonable $20,900, and you get goodies like hands-free smart trunk release, Blue-Link Connected Car System, Proximity Key with push button start and 16-inch alloy wheels. The SEL also lets you opt in for the Convenience Package ($950), and Premium Package ($2,100) that makes this one tech advanced and luxurious little sedan. Add $350 for the lovely red paint, and $1,005 for delivery and we rang the bell at $25,305. Step up to the leather bound Limited trim, and you still only hit $26,455
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is a terrific blend of old and new. Cutting edge design, loads of tech and safety – all at good ‘old Hyundai value pricing that undercuts the competition by thousands.
Style, Value and Performance. The all-new 2021 Hyundai Elantra is beautiful no matter how you look at it!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.