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2021 Hyundai Elantra First Drive

Hyundai Elantra Full Overview

Not too long ago, compact sedans were seen as economy cars whose primary job was A-to-B transportation. Tailored for those with tight budgets, these economy cars didn’t have the classy features of today; 10.3-inch touchscreens, premium audio systems, and automatic emergency braking with adaptive cruise control were nowhere on the horizon. A performance-oriented compact? Forget about it.

But as the overall compact sedan market contracts, the picture is changing for those players remaining in the game. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is case in point. With four powertrains available, including a hybrid and two performance-oriented models, the 2021 Elantra is stepping up its game.

Hyundai’s compact sedan was already known as a competent player. In our most recent compact sedan Big Test, the sixth-generation Elantra claimed third place out of seven. Its value, technology, and design were all strong points, but it felt short in terms of mechanics. Although not as popular as before, the segment continues to change. And so does the Elantra. The 2021 model is new from the ground up, bringing a new chassis, engines, technology, and design.

How Does The 2021 Hyundai Elantra Drive?

The Elantra that most customers will buy is powered by a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle l-4 that delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. A continuously variable transmission sends the power to the front wheels. The engine carries over from the previous generation, but it has been tweaked to improve fuel efficiency. Unlike the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, there’s no upgraded engine unless you go for the N Line. Those engine-output figures don’t sound like a lot, and they aren’t. They are slightly below the Civic’s base engine and the Nissan Sentra’s sole engine but just above the Corolla’s standard mill. Still, we found the Elantra to perform adequately during our drive in Los Angeles.

The CVT actually gets a lot of that credit. Instead of sacrificing fuel economy for performance, the CVT will adjust to deliver torque whenever it’s needed. Simply press down the throttle, and the transmission will quickly respond, and once you’ve reached a cruising speed, it will readjust to deliver better fuel efficiency. Most notably, the CVT is quiet and refined, lacking the thrashiness we’ve experienced in other vehicles with this kind of transmission.

Although the regular Elantra won’t raise eyebrows for its power, it provides a settled ride. The small bumps didn’t seem to bother its chassis, as the shock absorbers quickly intervene to block the vibrations from going into the cabin. On the canyon roads north of Los Angeles, the Elantra proved it can handle tight turns without losing its posture.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line Brings Out The Fun

Need more power? The 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line delivers 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque thanks to its 1.6-liter turbo l-4 engine. The N Line’s standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but for those who don’t feel like rowing their own gears, a seven-speed dual clutch transmission is available. Think of the N Line as a Civic Si competitor.

We drove an Elantra N Line with three pedals through the canyons of Malibu, and we were pretty satisfied with the performance it delivered. The turbo has a bit of lag, but the added power made a significant difference compared to the regular Elantra. The low-end torque provides a fun experience behind the wheel; we sprinted through the canyons at a much faster pace than the standard Elantra is capable of.

One big difference in the Elantra N Line is the multilink rear suspension, which showed better body control on the tight corners. Hyundai also tightened the spring rates on the N Line, making the ride more dynamic. The result is not a sportier ride that beats you up but rather a ride that feels well balanced to provide both a more dynamic experience and a comfortable drive. Like the regular Elantra, the N Line comes with three driving modes—Normal, Sport, and Smart—that change the throttle mapping and steering feel.

The Interior of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Is Marvelous, But …

Enter the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited, and you’ll be wowed by the 10.3-inch touchscreen, the 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and the amount of tech goodies. From the ability to use your phone as a key to the natural behavior of the voice controls, Hyundai packed the Elantra with plenty of useful features. SE, SEL, and N Line trims get an 8.0-inch touchscreen instead of the big screen but benefit from wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

However, as we looked a bit closer, we were disappointed with the low-quality plastics used throughout the interior. The door panels and dashboard are filled with hard plastics that are inferior for the segment, especially for the $26,445 Limited. The juxtaposition of the rough plastics with the opulent 10.3-inch touchscreen gave us mixed feelings. We’d give Hyundai a pass if we were looking at the subcompact Accent, but the competition is tougher in today’s compact car segment. We also missed rear-seat air vents and USB ports for those seated on the second row.

But regardless of the trim, the new interior is more spacious than before. Yours truly, at 6-foot 1, had more than enough rear legroom when the driver’s seat was set to my position. Despite the fastback roofline, there’s also plenty of headroom in the second row. We appreciated useful features such as the adjustable cupholders, which provide two sizes to accommodate larger water bottles, and the stowage available in the door panels .

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra starts at $20,645, with the SE getting a four-speaker system, two USB ports, manual A/C, 15-inch alloy wheels, and a handful of safety features (forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist with lane following, and safe exit warning). The Elantra SEL is available for $21,895 and adds keyless entry with push-button start, two-zone automatic A/C, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, and 16-inch wheels. The SEL is the only trim available with the optional Convenience and Premium packages, which add $950 and $2,100 extra, respectively. Besides getting the aforementioned 10.3-inch screens, the Limited adds leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power driver’s seat, a Bose premium audio system with eight speakers, 18-inch wheels, Hyundai’s Digital Key, smart cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, parking distance warning, and highway drive assist.

The Elantra N Line comes in a well-equipped mono-spec trim with bolstered fabric seats and a sport steering wheel. Priced at $25,095 with the manual transmission, the N Line brings a ton of value, as it gets a more powerful engine and extra standard equipment over the regular Elantra. A wireless charger and Hyundai’s Digital Key make it into the N Line at no extra charge. The seven-speed dual clutch is available for $1,100.

Is the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Worth Looking At?

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra combines a host of updates that make it more competent. Its biggest problem, however, is that the Civic exists (and a new one is on the way). Although the compact sedan segment is shrinking, it’s still quite popular and competitive. Hyundai has been in the segment long enough to understand it, and the new Elantra is not looking back—its striking design, modern technology, and superb interior space will move it forward.

Looks good! More details?

2021 Hyundai Elantra
PRICE $20,645-$26,445
LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.0L/147-hp/132-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 16-valve l-4; 1.6L/201-hp/195-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve l-4
TRANSMISSION Cont var auto, 6-speed manual, 7-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT 2,750-3,050 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 107.1 in
L x W x H 184.1 x 71.9 x 55.7-55.9 in
0-60 MPH 6.9-9.0 sec (MT est)
EPA FUEL ECON 25-33/34-43/28-37 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 102-135/78-99 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.53-0.68 lb/mile
ON SALE Currently


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