The new Hyundai Elantra is the seventh generation of the Korean maker’s compact sedan, but it’s not quite so compact any more.
It’s a little larger in almost every dimension than the previous edition, potentially pushing it out of the “compact” class and into the “intermediate” segment. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for the size categories, however, and the manufacturers themselves say what they consider their vehicle to be. Suffice to say, the new Elantra is a few centimetres longer and wider than its main competitors: the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda3.
“We’ve made the car wider, we’ve pushed the wheels a bit more, we’ve extended the wheelbase and lowered the car, and we’ve got very appealing proportions,” says Steve Flamand, Director of Product and Corporate Strategy for Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.
In practical terms, this means there’s a bit more legroom in the back seat and more headroom, too, with passengers sitting a little lower than before. I spent some time in the back seat and it was comfortable enough back there.
Hyundai has big ambitions for the Elantra, and it hopes the car will help take the company to third place in overall Canadian sales of light passenger vehicles. To do this, it must overtake Honda and the best-selling Civic, to settle in behind Toyota and top-placed Ford.
There wasn’t much wrong with the previous car, but Hyundai’s been redesigning the Elantra roughly every five years since its introduction in 1990. This time around, there’ll be more variety to the model, with a hybrid coming next year and a full-on-sport N edition. There’s also more technology and more safety features, which Hyundai says are much more important to today’s buyers than its surveys showed just four years ago. And it looks a little different, too.
“Exterior styling remains very important, regardless of what car you buy,” says Lawrence Hamilton, Hyundai’s Canadian Director of Marketing. “Every new-car buyer wants their car to be a statement, wants it to be individualistic and an expression of ‘self,’ so we put a lot of effort into that. Maybe we’re now even restyling cars that didn’t really need it, in a much faster cycle to keep up with this trend.”
Hamilton says it’s all paying off for the maker in Canada, by focusing on technology, safety, variety and looks, but also on how well the car actually drives.
“Maybe we weren’t the company that went out to design cars that were great drivers before, but we absolutely are now,” he says. “Just a few years ago, the company made the decision to really up our game in dynamics. Twenty-odd years ago, we made a similar decision about upping our game in terms of quality, and you can see what we’ve managed to do with our transition of vehicles. So when we turn our attention, our resources, and our minds to it, we can achieve amazing things.”
2021 Hyundai Elantra
- Base price/As tested: $17,899 / $28,299, plus $1,725 Freight and PDI
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder; 147 hp, 132 ft.-lb. torque
- Transmission/Drive: Continuously variable transmission / FWD
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.5 City, 5.7 Hwy., 6.7 Comb.
- Alternatives: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Mazda3, Kia Forte, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra
I like the front; not so much the long and high back, but that sloped rear does help increase the total space within the vehicle. Shallow, squinting headlights and tail lamps add to the lower appearance, similar to other new sedans in this segment.
Let’s just agree right now that you’re not going to buy the least expensive “Essential” trim level, which starts at $17,899 with a manual transmission. Even when you upgrade to a CVT, Hyundai expects only a few per cent of drivers to want this trim, and most of those will apparently be in Quebec.
So chances are you’ll opt for the Preferred trim at $21,899, or even for the Ultimate trim that I drove at $25,599, which had a $2,700 “Tech” package added. You’ll get premium cloth seats in the Preferred and nice leather in the Ultimate, but either way, you’ll get controls that are focused on the driver and easy to use. There’s a 10.25-inch central display touch screen at the top end, with an 8-inch touch screen for all other trims, that is simple and clear and intuitive, and the instrument cluster at the top end is now fully digital.
There really is plenty of space inside, both front and rear. A third person in the back seat will still be a squeeze, of course.
I forgot my test Elantra was equipped with a CVT, which Hyundai insists on calling an “intelligent variable transmission.” Whatever it is, it’s smart enough to not whine up to speed, and to always seem to be in the right powerband.
There are three electronic selectable drive modes in the Preferred and Ultimate trims, which provide Normal, Sport, and “Smart” driving. This adjusts the CVT shift patterns, the response of the throttle, and the tightness of the steering. I liked the feel of the Sport drive but didn’t like the blazing red colours of the digital speedometer and tachometer; fortunately, I could adjust these however I liked. (There’s even a display of spinning cubes instead of the dials. “That’s really for the kids,” says Hyundai’s Flamand.)
This test car was not the sportier N-line, with 201 hp, 195 lbs.-ft. of torque, much stiffer suspension, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and it certainly wasn’t the Elantra N, with 276 hp, bigger brakes, eight-speed DCT and all that other performance stuff. Still, it shifted off the line quickly enough, tracked flat through the corners, and didn’t lack for power in busy city traffic.
You get what you pay for with the Elantra, but the price isn’t that high compared to other vehicles. The popular mid-range Preferred trim will give you lane-departure assistance, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic collision assistance – all often an option on much more expensive cars.
If you pay the whole hog, which will top out for the fully-loaded Elantra at just under $35,000 after Freight and all taxes, you’ll get such clever stuff as adaptive cruise control, highway driving assistance, parking distance warning, and highway auto curve slowdown. These were all unheard of at this price five years ago, and are still a costly option for many vehicles.
Connectivity, with wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is just a given these days, though only the highest trim lacks the wires.
The extra six cm of room between the front and rear seats means Hyundai can claim its interior space is best-in-class. There’s 402 litres of cargo space in the trunk, which is smaller than the 428 litres of the current Civic, but the total passenger volume is a little larger, and noticeably larger compared to the Corolla and Mazda3.
Hyundai didn’t really need to produce a whole new generation of the Elantra to keep selling it in Canada by the tens of thousands, but it did need to keep pace with the improvements to its competition. There’ll be a new Canadian-built Honda Civic next spring that will surely give it a run for its money. Even so, the Elantra will always be a good deal, especially in its mid-range trim, and Hyundai buyers won’t have any reason for disappointment.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.