With its arched roofline sloping all the way back to the trunk lid, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra almost looks like a hatchback. And that's just one of the deceptively odd things about Hyundai's small sedan.
If you are familiar with older Elantras, you might expect this car to be compact, but it actually classifies as a midsize car according to EPA definitions. Having gained almost an inch in length and a bit more in width, the 2017 Elantra looks and feels larger inside and out.
What really threw me as I drove the new Elantra and examined its spec sheet was the engine. Four cylinders, displacing 2.0 liters, has been pretty standard fare for cars of this size, but Hyundai also notes that this engine uses an Atkinson cycle, a valve timing scheme most often used in hybrids. What is going on here?
Hyundai gave the Elantra sedan a major update for the 2017 model year, with new styling, chassis, engine and electronics. This car slots under the Sonata, Hyundai's larger midsize sedan. I drove a fully loaded Limited-trim version, pricing out at over $27,000 and a big step ahead in features compared to the base SE model. Hyundai will add an Eco model with a smaller, turbocharged engine later this year.
In city driving, the Elantra pulled just fine up to about 25 mph, but above that I felt it struggle, especially going uphill. At 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, the engine's output is in line with typical four-cylinder engines, but the valve timing gives it a slight different character. Atkinson cycle engines leave their intake valves open longer than does a conventional engine, allowing a more complete fuel burn.
While this cycle makes more efficient use of fuel, it generally results in lower torque. Hence, Atkinson cycle engines see the most use with hybrid drivetrains, where electric propulsion can make up for power deficiencies.
In the Elantra, the Atkinson cycle mainly affected acceleration. I was able to hum along on the freeway at 65 mph without a problem, but when I contemplated passing maneuvers, I had to take some more care. The car's six-speed automatic transmission did its best to give me power when I needed it, but its behavior meant more gear changes, which some might describe as "hunting."
The Elantra proves the Atkinson cycle's efficiency, however, with fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg city and 37 mph highway. Those number proved realistic, as I found a consistent mid-30s fuel economy in city and freeway driving.
Over bumps, the suspension felt bouncy as it tried to maintain a comfortable ride quality, but sound deadening improved the overall in-cabin experience. The steering felt reasonably responsive, with a strong pull to center. However, the tuning of this electronic power system wasn't particularly natural.
I wouldn't call the new Elantra a driver's car, but most people will find it a comfortable and economical means of getting to work and running errands.
Tech package upgrade
While the Elantra's driving dynamics should span all trims, moving up to the Limited model and adding the Tech package brings in navigation on an 8-inch touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.The touchscreen, larger than on most cars of this class, also shows digital audio sources as well as phone features.
The car's native navigation system shows maps with a clean design and very extensive traffic coverage, with flow information for many surface streets as well as freeways. Although the maps lack a perspective view, only showing a top-down format, I was pleased to find Google search integrated with the destination options. Using it, I entered a search term and quickly got a list of any businesses with that term in the name.