Hyundai's Elantra has been completely redesigned for 2021. Still a compact sedan, the new model is slightly longer and wider and features new styling inside and out. In addition, there are new safety and technology features, a sporty N Line, a hybrid model and a serious sports edition called the N. As before, Elantra is offered only as a front-drive 4-door sedan and shares engines and chassis with the Kia Forte. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla.
Trim offerings include the SE, SEL, Limited, N Line, and, later in the year, performance Elantra N. Most get a 132-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that carries over from last year. It mates to a continuously variable automatic. N Line models get a turbocharged 1.6-liter four that makes 201 horsepower. Elantra N models will get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four that makes 276 horsepower. Both turbo engines pair with either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic. Elantra Hybrid, which is offered only in SEL and Limited trim, has a 1.6-liter four that pairs with electric motors and 6-speed automatic to provide a total output of 139 horsepower.
All models come standard with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist and driver attention warning. Also, standard are wireless support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Upgrades include leather seating surfaces, 10.25-inch touchscreen display and digital instrument cluster. N Line models add 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and custom graphics. Elantra N adds 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension, sport seats and unique fascia. Prices start at $20,940 and clime to nearly $30,000.
Most Elantras come equipped with the normally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It provides modest acceleration and middling passing response. The engine does provide a good balance of performance and economy and mates well to the continuously variable automatic transmission, which deserves merit for its fuss-free and seamless operation. With its more-powerful turbocharged engine and conventional automatic transmission, the N Line provides a noticeable improvement in overall performance. If you can afford the $5,000 price bump, it's a worthy choice.
Elantra Hybrid deserves consideration as well -- as long as you value economy over performance. It's a bit unique in the segment as it offers a conventional automatic transmission with a hybrid powertrain. That gives it more scoot off the line and makes it feel a bit more traditional when passing on the highway. But ultimately, It's not all that quick.
Regardless of model, Elantra owners will be very pleased with the overall fuel economy. The 2.0-liter models get EPA highway ratings north of 40 MPG. Hybrid models do even better with combined city/highway ratings in excess of 50 MPG. In routing suburban commuting with the base engine it's easy at average close to 35 MPG in mixed driving. Throw in a fair amount of highway driving and you can push that average north of 40 MPG. It's worth noting that the gas-only models get a 12.4-gallon fuel tank while hybrids make due with an 11-gallon tank. All engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
In a unique twist, suspension setups vary between trims. All models get standard economy-car-fare MacPherson struts up front. Gas-only SE, SEL and Limited utilize a torsion beam at the rear, while Hybrid and N-badged models get a more-sophisticated independent multi-link setup. Believe it or not, the suspension setup has a noticeable impact on both ride quality and handling characteristics.
For most buyers the torsion beam setup provides the kind of ride compact-car buyers expect -- sure footed, predicable if not a bit bland. While, those with the multilink rear suspension show better body control when rounding quick corners and traversing bumps mid-turn. Hyundai also firmed up spring rates on the N Line, making the handling more dynamic. That results in a sporty ride that feels well balanced providing both a more energetic experience and a comfortable drive. Like the regular Elantra, the N Line comes with three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Smart. Not only does the setting change engine demeanor and shift points, but firms up the somewhat flaccid steering. Stopping power is unremarkable, but at the same time undramatic.
Interior noise levels are impressively low. There's barely any road rumble and just a hint of wind rush on the highway. Both the base and N Line engines create a buzz in hard acceleration, but cruise quietly. Hybrid models are definitely the quietest of the bunch, but do groan a bit in hard acceleration.
On the inside, Elantra gets a complete facelift with a more modern and functional design. Materials are mostly good, though there is more hard plastic that in some competitors and the cheap-looking headliner is out of place compared to some of today's competitors with woven-fabric headliners. Opting for Limited trim dresses things up quite a bit.
Lower-level Elantras get an analog gauge setup and an 8-inch infotainment screen while up level models get a digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch infotainment screen. Either way, readability is excellent and control setup is very similar. Though there are a fair number of buttons and switches, all are well placed and easy to reach and operate. One quirk though, the wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play are only offered with the smaller 8-inch infotainment system. Those with the larger screen will still have to plug in to get those functions supported.
Despite the swoopy new styling, Elantra offers ample interior room. Front-seat riders are treated to ample head and leg room and fairly comfortable seats that could use a bit more thigh support. Rear-seat occupants have good knee space and enough head room as well. Getting in and out is a breeze and outward visibility is great.
Regardless of model, Elantra has a roomy 14.2 cubic foot trunk. In addition, the rear seat backs fold to accommodate longer items. Interior storage could be better as the somewhat bulky center console lacks some of the ingenious bins found in competitors.
Bottom Line -- There's no debating the 2021 Elantra is the best edition to date. It has won numerous awards including North American Car of the Year and MAMA's Family Vehicle of the Year. But I can't help but think that Hyundai might have gotten out ahead of its skis with the 2021 redesign. Elantra is so good, offers so many features and has so many combinations that it appears that Hyundai might have forgotten what the compact-car segment is all about -- value. Of course, Elantra is still a tremendous value. But what made the old model tremendous was a near-perfect blend of comfort, economy, utility and value. The new Elantra tries too hard to be a luxury car, a performance car or a technology tour de force. Of course, plenty of shoppers will appreciate those facts and that will likely help Elantra stand out among competitors. Thankfully, at its core and despite all of the glitz and tech, Elantra continues to please value-conscious shoppers in an efficient, modern and pleasing package.