Review: Hyundai Elantra

Design, interior and infotainment

Compact cars were once the vehicles you were forced to buy because you were tight on cash, so they were fairly stripped down, at least in the United States. The last decade has been good to the compact car market, though.

The mid-aughts saw more compact cars available with higher-end options, like leather interiors, heated seats and navigation systems. And now, new compact models from the last two years gained driver assist technologies, too.

Hyundai announced the new 2017 Elantra at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, to replace the previous model that’s been around since the 2011 model year. The last-generation Elantra was when Hyundai got the styling right, with its fluidic sculpture design language.

Before the 2011 Elantra, Hyundai’s second oldest model name was never something I would consider “good looking”. Now on its sixth generation, the Elantra sports sharp new looks in a variety of vibrant colors.

I flew out to Imperial Beach, Calif. to drive the new Elantra along the area’s windy roads to get a feel for the car. Hyundai only had Elantra Limiteds with the tech and ultimate packages available, for a total MSRP of $27,585 (not available in the UK or AU yet), for the main drive route. A prototype Elantra Eco was available to drive on a shorter route afterwards.

Hyundai Elantra

Styling-wise, the 2017 Elantra loses the aggressive creases and swoops from the last generation for a smoother and refined look, but I dig it. The best view of the new Elantra is definitely from behind, with stylish LED tail-lights and trunk-lid that mimics a ducktail spoiler.

Speaking of the backside, the Elantra Limited has a hands-free smart trunk, like the Kia Optima. The Elantra’s implementation of the hands-free trunk is just as flawed, unfortunately. It can automatically release the trunk, but isn’t powered or able to launch itself open automatically, so you still have to reach and lift the trunk open.

The front end sports Hyundai’s trademark hexagonal grille with LED lights and high-intensity discharge (HID) projector beam headlights. The door handles are chrome – which I despise, because it’s a fingerprint magnet – but the rest of the car is light on the chrome. I’d prefer the car to have painted door handles and black-out trim, but that may have to wait for the upcoming Elantra Sport that’s coming later this year.

Interior

Reach for the door handle, and manually press the lock and unlock button to get into the car. The Elantra Limited features push-button start and passive keyless entry, but there isn’t a sensor in the door handle that automatically unlocks the car when you reach for it.

Step inside, and you’ll find an interior layout that resembles the larger Sonata midsize sedan, which isn’t a bad thing. The layout is straightforward, with an LCD mounted high and center.

Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai sticks to buttons and knobs for the infotainment system and climate control, which I greatly appreciate. The Elantra makes liberal use of silver trim to break apart the black interior, instead of just glossy black, fortunately.

The top half of the dash is covered in soft-touch materials, but everything below the silver dividing trim is covered in cheap, hard plastic. While I’d prefer more soft touch materials all around, this is typical of the compact segment. The door and center armrests are covered in soft material, but there’s very little padding underneath, but my elbows weren’t in pain after a long day of driving, either.

Hyundai did a great job making the Elantra seats comfortable, at least on the Limited trim. There’s plenty of side bolster support on the upper and lower cushions to keep you in place during aggressive driving. The lumbar support is adjustable, too.

The seat foam is made of soybeans, which is better for the environment than petroleum-based foams that were previously used. I asked Hyundai if the soy foam was edible, but a representative advised against it and gave me funny looks when I attempted to lick the exposed demo on display.

Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai sticks with analog gauges for the tachometer, coolant temperature, speedometer and gas. The tech package adds a 4.2-inch LCD in between the speedometer and tachometer. The LCD serves as a fancey trip computer that also shows turn-by-turn navigation directions, driver assists and lets you adjust vehicle settings. The arrangement works well, and I have zero complaints.

Infotainment system

A 7-inch LCD is standard on Limited trim levels, but the car I tested had the tech package that bumps the screen size to 8-inches and adds native navigation features. The infotainment system is virtually the same one as the Hyundai Tucson, which also bears resemblance to the Kia Optima.

Hyundai Elantra

Features are the same too, with HD Radio, SiriusXM, Travel Link and USB connectivity. SiriusXM supports time-shifting for stations set to the first six presets. There were no surprises with the Elantra Limited’s infotainment system – it’s easy to use with an intuitive interface.

There’s a home screen that shows a miniature navigation map with the speed limit, music information and a couple shortcuts, which is all the information I need most of the time. The navigation maps are plain, flat maps that are typical for mainstream cars.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

Despite having the same Hyundai Display Audio infotainment system as the Tucson, the Elantra has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay working. I briefly tested Android Auto with my Google Nexus 6 by plugging it in with a micro USB cable. The phone detected Android Auto compatibility, launched the companion app on the phone and asked me to accept the connection.

Hyundai Elantra

The beauty of Android Auto is it automatically pairs the phone to the car via Bluetooth for hands-free calling. After it connected, the Google Now interface shows up on the car’s 8-inch screen. Hyundai’s native infotainment interface is still available to use for navigation and music, so you can use whichever one you like better. I rely a lot on Google services, so i stick to the Android Auto interface most of the time, because Google is a life-time commitment whereas the Elantra is a brief affair.

I spent most of my drive using Apple CarPlay, simply because I’m using a trial Apple Music subscription, so I had all my music on my iPhone 6S. CarPlay works similar to Android Auto and automatically asks to connect to the car when you plug-in the phone to the USB port. It also automatically pairs the phone via Bluetooth for hands-free communications, but music audio is sent over Lightning.

Hyundai Elantra

Everything works as it should, with the phone projecting a familiar iOS interface on the 8-inch screen. The Hyundai button takes you out of the CarPlay interface back to the Hyundai home screen. If you’re using CarPlay for music, the music information passes onto the Hyundai’s home screen, too.

When you’re using CarPlay, the voice recognition button on the steering wheel automatically triggers Siri with a single press. Hyundai’s method doesn’t require holding the button down, like with some Siri Eyes-Free implementations.

Ultimately, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay work great in the Hyundai Elantra, so you shouldn’t have any problems regardless of whether you’re using Android or iOS.

Infinity sound, Blue Link and driver assists

Opting for the $2,500 tech package also gets you an Infinity-branded, eight-speaker premium sound system. The eight speakers are arranged in a six channel configuration, with separate 1-inch tweeters and 6.5-inch mid-woofers in the front doors, 6.5-inch full range speakers in the rear door, a 3.14-inch midrange center speaker and an 8-inch subwoofer in the rear deck.

A seven-channel amplifier delivering 45 Watts (W) per channel powers the entire system. The front doors, rear doors and center speakers each use a channel while the dual voice coil subwoofer receives twice the power. Harman Clari-Fi sound processing technology rounds out the Infinity premium sound system to reconstruct lost audio data from low quality sources in real-time for more CD-like sound.

Hyundai Elantra

The result is a sound system that produces balanced sound with clear high-range and neutral midrange. Clari-Fi technology makes low bitrate SiriusXM a lot more tolerable, too. It still doesn’t match a high-bitrate MP3 or CD, but it adds more depth for slightly richer sound.

As with most premium sound systems, the subwoofer is the weakest link in the Elantra’s Infinity sound system. The 95W subwoofer just doesn’t produce enough bass for my tastes. However, since the high and mid-range sounds good, adding a separate subwoofer, like an Infinity BassLink, shouldn’t be too hard.

Blue Link

Hyundai Blue Link is standard on the Elantra Limited. The telematics system lets you remote start, lock, unlock, track the car location and make use of other features using a smartphone and wearable app, or through a web portal.

I didn’t get a chance to play with Blue Link in the Elantra, but covered it extensively in the Hyundai Tucson review.

Hyundai Elantra

The Verizon-based telematics system can be useful in cold climates where you need remote start, but I don’t use any of the features. The ability to control the car from a smartphone or smartwatch is entertaining at first, and can impress friends and family, but the novelty wears off quickly and doesn’t justify the subscription cost, at least for me.

Driver assists

Check off the Ultimate package to get everything and the kitchen sink on the new Elantra. The Ultimate package adds a full suite of driver assists, which includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning (LDW) and lane keep assist (LKAS). The blind spot monitor is standard on the Limited trim level.

Hyundai’s AEB system relies on a camera and radar sensor, and it can apply full braking power at speeds from 5 to 50 miles per hour (mph). Meanwhile, the pedestrian detection function automatically applies the brakes at speeds of 5 to 43 mph.

I didn’t mean to trigger the AEB system, but traffic came to a complete stop on an open highway during my drive, triggering the forward collision warning before I stepped on the brakes. The system then provided stopping power before I could slam on the brakes.

I couldn’t find another auto journalist or Hyundai representative to run in front of the car while I drove 40 mph to test out the pedestrian detection feature, unfortunately.

The LKAS in the Elantra caught me by surprise. You can adjust the sensitivity of the system via the LCD display in the gauge cluster. I set it to active and enabled the LDW and LKAS via a button to the left of the steering wheel. I expected the LKAS to be a simple system that only bounces the car back and forth between the lane, but it’s an active system that provides steering assist, which was a surprise.

Hyundai Elantra

A small indicator in the gauge cluster lights up green when LKAS is active and able to read the lane markers – it turned on and off intermittently during my drive, according to the indicator. It works great when it’s active, but I wouldn’t trust it for semi-autonomous driving.

ACC in the Elantra leaves me conflicted, because it’s not a full-speed range system that can stop and hold the car for you. However, it doesn’t cancel out until you get below 5 mph, which is a lot more usable in traffic than ACC that only operates at speeds above 19 mph. The only compact car that has a full-speed range ACC system – that I can think of – is the 2016 Honda Civic, so the Elantra’s ACC isn’t too bad.

Hyundai’s implementation lets you choose between three levels of acceleration. I set it to fast and found the acceleration conservative, but braking was smooth and comfortable.

Lastly, the Elantra Limited comes standard with a radar-based blind spot monitor. The system works and provides visual indicators in each side mirror and an audible warning inside. It’s a standard system that works.

Performance, Eco and Sport trims

Powering the 2017 Elantra is a new version of Hyundai’s Nu-family, 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that puts out 147 horsepower (hp) and 132 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, which is a slight improvement over the previous generation’s base 1.8-liter with 145 hp and 130 lb.-ft. The mild improvements are because the new 2.0-liter uses an Atkinson cycle instead of Otto cycle, which trades power density for fuel efficiency and yields a 1 mile per gallon (mpg) gain in the city over the last generation for 28 in the city, 37 on the highway and 32 combined.

The motor is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, though the base SE can be had with a three-pedal, six-speed manual. Despite the minor improvements to fuel economy and power, the big improvements are in refinement. The new Elantra smoothly sends power to the front wheels.

Hyundai Elantra

It’s no performance car, but I was able to merge at highway speeds and pass others without the car feeling uncomfortably slow. The motor is also eerily silent at idle and comes to life with the ferocity of four over-caffeinated hamsters at full-throttle, which is typical for economical compact cars.

The Elantra won’t win any performance awards but the car drives competently with responsive steering and a comfortable suspension. Hyundai’s drive mode selection lets you choose between Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes that alter the response of the electronic power steering.

I briefly drove in normal mode and found the steering too laid back and light, so I spent most of my drive in sport mode. Sport mode had the right amount of weight and steering response for my driving preference, but I prefer to feel road imperfections through the steering wheel.

The suspension absorbs bumps with comfort, and I have no complaints about ride quality. As a commuter car, it does the job well.

Elantra Eco

Coming later this year is an Eco model that trades the 2.0-liter engine for a smaller 1.4-liter turbocharged motor paired with Hyundai’s seven-speed dual-clutch (DCT) transmission. Hyundai had a prototype on hand for a quick drive around Imperial Beach.

I took the Elantra Eco out and found it better around town. The 1.4-liter turbo only produces 128 hp, but makes up for it with 156 lb.-ft of torque at a low 1,400 revolutions per minute. It was easy to spin the tires from a stop and the car felt zippy, but at highway speeds, it lost steam past 60 mph.

Hyundai expects the Elantra Eco to return 35 mpg combined, so city fuel economy should be in the low 30 range. The trade off is the Eco doesn’t have some some of the nicer features of the Limited, such as, leather seats, HID headlights and driver assist technologies.

Elantra Sport

The trim I’m most excited about is the Elantra Sport, which also comes later this year. Hyundai remained tight-lipped about the Elantra Sport, but did let some details slip. The previous generation Elantra Sport had a Nu 2.0-liter putting out 173 hp, 154 lb.-ft and a standard six-speed manual.

Hyundai claims the new Elantra Sport will come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder motor, like the sportier Veloster Turbo. The motor produces 201 hp and 195 lb.-ft. in the Veloster Turbo, which should make the Elantra more entertaining to drive.

But, we will have to patiently wait for it.

Verdict

Hyundai is on a roll with the current model lineup. I might nitpick over things that your average driver won’t notice, like steering feel, power delivery and handling when the car is pushed beyond the typical daily commute, but Hyundai and the Elantra have come a long way since the ’80s and ’90s.

We liked

Hyundai announced its Display Audio infotainment system at CES 2015, the Elantra is the first car with the software necessary for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. The implementation in the Elantra works seamlessly with the car’s native audio and navigation features, so you can pick and choose which functions you use from your phone or natively without any hiccups or user interface annoyances.

The driver assist suite available on the Elantra still leans toward the top of the compact class. The lane keep assist system is substantially more advanced than most of its competition and similar to the system in Hyundai’s luxurious Genesis sedan (soon to be the Genesis G80). The only other competitor that can put up a tough fight with the Hyundai Elantra for driver assists is the Honda Civic.

Hyundai Elantra

Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection should give the Elantra a Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rating of Top Safety+, too.

I didn’t play with Blue Link too much in the Elantra, but the experience has been consistent across all Hyundai cars that I’ve driven. While it does require a subscription after the initial 3-month trial period, the features and companion applications may be worth it if you need remote access to the car. Plus, the wearable companion app does makes me feel like James Bond when I can control the car from my watch.

The new Elantra trades the previous generation’s aggressive swoops and curves for smoother lines and a fresh face. The rear end styling makes it look like a baby Genesis sedan (Genesis G70). I’m a fan of the styling and find the understated looks more sophisticated.

We disliked

Hyundai continues to install the hands-free trunk on sedans, and I wish they’d make it usable. Being able to trigger the trunk release by standing behind the car for a few seconds is a useful convenience. However, it doesn’t help if you still have to raise the trunk lid yourself. This could be easily fixed by replacing the torsion rods with hydraulic struts that can raise the trunk and make the hands-free trunk truly hands-free.

Hyundai Elantra

Adaptive cruise control is an awesome convenience when you’re stuck in traffic. The Elantra doesn’t have the worse system in its class, but the full-speed range systems that can completely stop the car and hold it are better. Luckily for Hyundai, the 2016 Honda Civic is the only compact car to have a full-speed range system.

While it could be better, the Elantra’s ACC works at 5 mph and above. This is more usable in traffic than systems that only work at 19 mph, but Hyundai should have gone the extra mile.

Final verdict

If you’re shopping for a compact car with sharp looks, useful driver assist technologies and an intuitive infotainment system, the Hyundai Elantra is worth a look. The car offers plenty of technology, a comfortable ride and plenty of space and manages to stay under $30,000.

Hyundai Elantra

Its not as engaging to drive as a Volkswagen Golf or a Mazda 3s, but you can still have some fun on windy roads. The powertrain is smooth and economical, but if you want more power, I suggest waiting for the upcoming Elantra Sport trim.

Ultimately, the Elantra is a compact car that gets you from point A to B in comfort and style, with plenty of niceties, backed by a 10-year powertrain warranty. There are a lot of strong contenders in the compact class, but you can’t go wrong with the Elantra.

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