When a car is awarded 2021 North American Car of the Year, it has a lot to live up to. So when it came time for me to drive the all-new 2021 Hyundai Elantra recently - I had high expectations. And from the get-go, the Elantra met them all.
Hyundai’s redesign of the Elantra, now in its 7th-generation, is nothing short of impressive. It’s also a sign that Hyundai continues to invest in its sedan lineup despite market trends. It’s built on a new platform making it longer, lower and wider, and therefore roomier in the cabin. It’s optionally full of awesome technology. But perhaps most surprising is the Elantra’s excellent ride and drive that is also remarkably quiet.
My test vehicle is the middle SEL trim equipped with two packages that offer a lot of features for the price point - which on this vehicle is just over $25,000.
The exterior is bold and dramatic. Something with such strong styling is probably not for everybody, but it will attract those who want something that stands out from the crowd. The Elantra has a coupe-like appearance with strong chiseled angles and a geometric look. You see cues from the Sonata in the front end though the strong creases on the hood form more of a V shape on the Elantra and the wide jewel-pattern cascading black grille is shaped a bit differently.
It’s flanked by projector halogen headlights and LED daytime running lights. A “Premium Package” nets larger 17-inch wheels over the standard 16-inch as well as black chrome exterior accents and a sunroof. The strong tail end is a conversation starter - the trunk lid forms essentially an overhang over a light bar stretching across the rear, flanked by cool-looking ”Flying H” logo L-shaped tail lamps. The LED and bulb tail lights are optional.
The Elantra is equipped with a Smartstream 2.0-L 4-cylinder engine and its 147-horsepower didn’t sound like much to me honestly, but acceleration was surprisingly great. It delivers 132 lb. ft. of torque. Hyundai made transmission shifts feel so much like a true automatic that you would not even know it’s an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT). (For a manual transmission you’ll have to go for the high-performance N variant.)The Elantra delivers a great 35 mpg combined. If you want more, the first-ever Elantra hybrid delivers more than 50 mpg combined.
Remote start using the keyfob is a terrific feature to get at this price point. This model does not have automatic stop/start.
Ride and Drive
The Elantra doesn’t ride like a compact sedan but like something more. In fact it had me wondering if I was indeed driving a $25,000 compact sedan. With its lower center of gravity, it’s unexpectedly sporty and engaging, with great handling and steering feel. The ride quality is smooth and quiet. You can feel a definite driving difference between the three drive modes - Sport being my favorite. Braking is excellent as well.
The Elantra SEL delivers a well-designed, roomy and tech-forward interior. A premium cloth interior looks modern in black with silver trim and glossy black accents. There’s a lot of plastic in here, but you do get soft-touch door armrests and some softer padding on the front passenger doors.
Hyundai designers wanted the cabin to look like an airplane cockpit. The high center driver-centric console won me over in its minimalism and silver hardware for the drive modes, auto brake hold and the optional electronic parking brake. The optional leather-wrapped gear shifter looks upscale. On the right, there is a grab handle for the passenger.
The optional leather-wrapped steering wheel is stylish with silver accents and glossy black trim. Hyundai also jazzed up the headlight and windshield wiper stalks with some glossy black. Small aluminum speakers up front for the optional 8-speaker Bose sound system add an upscale feel.
Well-designed, cloth black seats with side bolstering are comfortable and offer wide, long cushions. The SEL does not come equipped with power front seats, but my model has an optional power driver seat along with optional heated front seats that warm up nicely. Unique features include a center console cup holder that can accommodate both deep or short cups. Interior release levers for the gas lid door and trunk give a hint of an economy feel, I think making them buttons would improve their status.
Technology is flat-out superb in here - and keep in mind - I’m saying that even though this model does not have both 10.25-inch digital displays that are available. This SEL has an optional 10.25-inch TFT display and the standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, that does not include navigation. Angled slight towards the driver, it’s easy to reach with top-notch graphics and responsiveness. The rearview camera with gridlines displays not just in reverse, but also when you put it into park.
The 10.25-digital gauge cluster is the real star event. It’s bright, easy to read and animates when you switch between drive modes. Something unique is that the windshield wiper speed also shows in the right side gauge. The driver display graphics are excellent as well.
The second-row is roomy, but it’s a bit bare bones back there without optional packages. For instance, you don’t get a drop down console or a 60/40 split seat back unless you add a package. There are also no USB ports back here and the backs of the front seats are plastic. There is plenty of cargo room in the trunk that offers 14.2 cu. ft. of space.
Standard Elantra SEL features include push button start, dual A/C, a bench folding rear seat back, hands-free trunk release, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Hyundai BlueLink. There are 2 USB’s and a 12-volt up front, but none in the rear.
This is equipped with two packages: a Convenience Package ($950) and a Premium Package ($2100).
The Premium Package includes the Bose premium audio system, side mirror turn indicators, 60/40 split rear seatback, armrest and cupholders for the 2nd row, a power driver’s seat with lumbar and Hyundai Digital Key.
Convenience package additions include the wireless charger and the 10.25-inch digital cluster, electric parking brake, heated front seats and outside mirrors, along with the leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter.
Carpeted floor mats add another $155.
Hyundai offers one of my favorite suites of driver assistance in the industry. Elantra’s standard tech features include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keeping Assist (LKA),Lane Following Assist (LFA),High Beam Assist (HBA), Driver Attention Warning (DAW) andSafe Exit Warning (SEW), Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA. An optional package adds Smart Cruise Control with stop and go assist along and expands Forward Collision Warning Pedestrian detection to include cyclists and junction-turning detection as well.
What You’ll Pay
You’ll pay $25,100 for this particular SEL model with its two packages and optional carpet mats. A great value with the options in my book - and add to that Hyundai’s excellent 5-year warranty. If you want the larger 10.25 touchscreen with navigation as well as leather seats, you’ll need to move up to the Limited.
The all-new Elantra is hands-down an impressive compact sedan from Hyundai - and the one Hyundai needed to deliver to compliment its ever-growing award-winning lineup. It should for sure be on your shopping list if you’re looking for a four-door compact sedan.
2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL Review
- What I liked most: Driving Dynamics, Digital Gauge Cluster, and Overall Great Value.
- What I would change: Add emergency automatic parking brake, Trunk/Gas Lid Release levers. Offer optional LED headlights.
- MSRP: Base price $20,900; $25,100 as equipped
- Fuel Economy: 31 city/41 highway/35 combined.
- Official Color: Intense Blue.
- Odometer reading when tested: 2,372 miles.
- Weight: 2,725 – 2,868 pounds.
- Spare Tire: Temporary compact spare.
- Length-Width-Height: 184.1” long/ 71.9” wide/55.7” high.
- Towing Capacity: N/A.
- Cargo Space: 14.2 cubic feet.
- Final Assembly: Montgomery, Alabama.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 12.4 gallons with filler on the driver’s side.
- 2021 Hyundai Elantra SELin a few words: The 2021 North American Car of The Year for a reason.
- Manufacturers website: Hyundai
- Warranty: 5 year, 60,000-mile New Vehicle Warranty, 10-year, 10,000 mile powertrain warranty.