2021 Hyundai Elantra Review

2021 Hyundai Elantra - Breaking the mold in the compact sedan segment.


BAffordable and reliable are no longer the only words to describe Hyundai's compact Elantra. As winner of the North American Car of the Year, the latest version of the Elantra adds new styling elements, technology, and coming soon... performance. The Elantra first appeared over 30 years ago when it debuted in 1990 and is currently in its seventh generation. It has been completely re-done for 2021 with a longer, wider body and new styling in and out. The Elantra continues to be offered as a 5-passenger, 4-door, front wheel drive compact sedan. There are currently four trim levels known as the SE, SEL, limited, and N Line. Coming in 2022, Hyundai will add a performance-oriented Elantra N. Four powertrains are (or will be) available and prices range from $21,000 to $29,000. Competition includes sedans such as the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Hyundai went bold and dramatic with the new Elantra. It's a blend of smooth and sharp edges... from some angles I really like it while others are questionable. Up front is a dominant front grille that we're starting to see across the lineup on siblings such as the Sonata, new Tucson and upcoming Santa Cruz. The rounded front is a stark contrast to the angular rear end of the car which has a very sharp angle inwards from the trunk line that is accented by the LED lighting strip across the trunk. Under that light bar is Elantra centered and spelled out across the trunk, also a trend we're seeing more and more of these days. The side profile is where I struggle a little with as the overhangs seems extra-long and when combined with the geometric character lines, it may just be too much. I wish the wheelbase was stretched a couple more inches to give the car a better stance from all angles. Nonetheless, I do think it's quite sporty and they've added some really good-looking 17" and 18" wheel options.

Hopping inside, the Elantra is also all-new and different from the previous generation. It has adopted the extra-large extended digital screen look with a  10.25" digital instrument cluster blending into the adjacent 10.25" infotainment touchscreen which is currently the largest screen in the class. The all-digital screens give the Elantra a very modern look that ties into technology such as the wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto. Below the screen is a row of buttons that includes the push button ignition, volume control and quick navigation buttons for the digital screen. Further down in the dash are traditional buttons for climate control and traditional gear shifter. Hyundai has also added an angular trim piece that stretches down from the dash to give a more driver-centric look to the layout.  

Elantra technology was user-friendly and well placed. The digital cluster was easily visible with crisp high-definition graphics and large screens. The digital display changed with each drive mode selection. One oddity though is that the aforementioned wireless capabilities with Apple & Android phone are not available on high trim models equipped with the larger screens. Other interior options that stand out in the Elantra are an 8-speaker Bose premium audio system, ambient lighting, and a sunroof. While the available options are plentiful, some of the materials are lackluster on a closer inspection. Hard plastics and cheaper cloth materials on the seats remind you that it's still an economy car despite a modern tech-oriented layout. Competitors such as the Mazda 3 offer much more premium materials, but with that also comes a higher price.

Cloth upholstery and manually adjustable seats are standard, although power and leather are optional. The cloth material felt subpar in a car that was otherwise very well equipped. Materials aside, I found the seats to be comfortable and sightlines were all good. Personally, it would be worth optioning up to the available leather seats that come standard on the Limited model with a $25,600 list price. The materials found in the Limited feel a step up and make the Elantra feel like an even better value.  Overall cabin space was good with plenty of head and leg room for five passengers. Rear seats feature two full sets of LATCH connectors for car seats, although they are deep within the seats.  

Cargo volume is good with 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space which carries over from the previous generation.  This is the advantage of the large rear overhang that visually is less appealing. Despite the large space, the opening to access the area is smaller due to the design of the rear of the car.  The smaller opening will make it more challenging with items such as strollers compared to competitors such as the VW Jetta with a large trunk and opening or the others in the segment that also offer a hatchback option (Civic, Corolla, and Mazda 3).

Under the hood, most models will come with a 147 horsepower 2 Liter 4-cylinder engine that mates to a continuously variable automatic. N Line models get a turbocharged 1.6 Liter 4-cylinder that makes 201 horsepower while the upcoming Elantra N is expected to get a turbocharged 2 Liter four that makes 276 horsepower.... Both of these turbo engines will pair to either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic. Finally, there is also a hybrid model available in the SEL or Limited trims that has a 1.6 Liter 4-cylinder that pairs with electric motors and 6-speed automatic to provide 139 horsepower. My test model came with the base engine which was sufficient for suburban commuting and offered good fuel economy. The CVT was responsive and the gears shifted smoothly at highway speeds. Road noise was minimal and there was no whine from the engine when pu[JO1]shed which used to be the case in compact sedans.

Elantra offers drivers a well-rounded performance that won't excite nor disappoint you... it treads comfortably in the middle of the pack. Handling was stable enough in the SEL, but I expect the N Line and upcoming N will offer a more dynamic driving experience. Playing it safe under the hood of its volume leaders makes sense since it keeps the overall price point and fuel economy down which are two key factors in this segment.

Fuel economy is rated at 35 MPG combined, 31 city and 41 highway. When it arrived with a full 14-gallon tank, it offered 460 miles of range. After a week of driving, I averaged 33.1 MPG. These numbers are above average for the class. Opt for hybrid models and get 54 MPG combined, 53 city, 56 highway.

Like many other Hyundais, the Elantra comes with a list of standard safety features that include forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision-avoidance with rear cross-traffic assist, safe exit warning, rear occupant alert, lane keeping assist, lane following assist, high beam assist and driver attention warning. Additional available safety features include forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, smart cruise control with stop & go, highway driving assist, parking distance warning-reverse and parking collision-avoidance.

The Elantra is dramatically different for 2021 and brings new style elements with mixed angles, LED lighting usage, and a fresh face for the Hyundai brand. It comes with a very reasonable starting price that includes a lot of standard features. Hyundai has given it technology and driver assistance features that will cost a premium in luxury brands, but are standard on the Elantra. Overall, this is a great option with a good reputation behind it for someone looking for a stylish, no-nonsense sedan.

First Impression Summary

Test Vehicle: 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL
Exterior Color: Shimmering Silver Pearl
Interior Color: Gray Cloth
Notable Options: Convenience Package: Forward-collision avoidance, 41358" LCD cluster, heated seats, and more ($950) and Premium Package: 17" alloy wheels, power sunroof, LED lights, Bose Sound System, Digital Key, and more ($2,100).
Price as tested: $25,100 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.