2021 Hyundai Elantra walk-around: There's more to this sedan than bold styling

Hyundai's next-generation compact sedan has a lot to offer.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
6 min read
2021 Hyundai Elantra

More creases and folds than a piece of origami. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The Hyundai Elantra has been redesigned from the platform up. Not only does it offer unmistakable style, but it's got plenty of groundbreaking tech as well. Unfortunately, I can't tell you anything about how it drives, but there's a mountain of other stuff to talk about.

Come along with us as we take an up-close-and-personal look at the new Elantra, which isn't slated to arrive at dealerships until the fourth quarter of the year.

Watch this: The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is a bold move

Larger and in charg… er

Now in its seventh generation, the Elantra is built on new architecture -- Hyundai's K3 platform -- which, in addition to making the car roomier, should make it safer and more efficient than before. The new Elantra is a 2.2 inches longer, 1 inch wider and 1 inch lower than its predecessor. The car's wheelbase has also been stretched by 0.8 inch.

With 113.6 cubic feet of overall interior volume, the Elantra is technically classified as a midsize car. By that measure, it's also more spacious inside than some small SUVs  like the Toyota RAV4. With 38 inches of second-row legroom, it should offer more backseat space than major rivals like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra. A gangly sort, I fit back there nicely, the wide-opening rear doors making entry and exit a snap, though I do wish this Hyundai had a skosh more rear-seat headroom. I have to sit with my neck pushed slightly forward to keep my noggin from hitting the ceiling.

Compared with the previous-generation Elantra, the 2021 model's trunk has shrunk, but only by 0.2 cubic foot. It clocks in at a still-generous 14.2 cubes. Also, a low lift-over height and generously portioned opening should make it easy to load and unload cargo. 

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is like automotive origami

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Sensuous Sportiness styling

What you're really going to notice about this Elantra is not its size, but rather the design. This is the second model after the Sonata sedan to wear Hyundai's new Sensuous Sportiness styling theme. In this case, that means lots of lines and geometric shapes. The Elantra's grille is almost diamondlike and is heavily textured, the rear has more creases than a piece of origami and the flanks appear to have been attacked by Zorro's rapier.

In addition to the standard model, for the first time a hybrid Elantra will be offered to customers who want to save both fuel and the environment. Gasoline-electric variants will have slightly different exterior styling -- emphasis on slightly. Changes will be extremely minor, mostly centered on the vehicle's rear. Expect a full-LED taillight strip and a slightly tweaked bumper design.

After walking around this car, I'm not totally in love with its styling. It's a bit busy for my taste, but the new Elantra doesn't look like any other small sedan on the road today. It's bold and assertive, and the way sunlight plays off some of the body's lines is seriously cool.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

The new Elantra's flanks are emblazoned with a Z-shaped design where various lines intersect.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Two (or three?) engines 

Two powertrains are going to be offered in the 2021 Elantra. Standard models will feature a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, an engine used throughout the Hyundai-Kia automotive empire. Expect 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque from this engine. For maximum efficiency, it's paired with a continuously variable transmission.

As for Elantra Hybrids, they will feature an Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter four-pot engine matched with a 32-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.32-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Unlike many other gasoline-electric vehicles, which typically utilize CVTs, this one will feature a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This powertrain should yield 139 hp, 195 lb-ft and better than 50 miles per gallon combined.

A sporty Elantra N-Line model is in the works, too, but it's unclear if this will use the standard car's 2.0-liter engine or if it'll get a more potent, turbocharged version. Fingers crossed for the latter.

Tons of interior tech

Inside the new Elantra, there's plenty to get excited about. This car's driver-focused cabin is even more expressively designed than its exterior, with a large grab handle on the center console, a sculptural dashboard and no shortage of screen real estate.

For the most part, this cockpit looks great. Yes, there is some soft plastic sprinkled here and there, but many polymers are of the rigid variety, disappointingly, even on upper portions of the door panels. But it's not all bad news, because those hard plastics are nicely textured, and everything seems solid. The T-shaped mechanical gear-selector not only looks cool, it feels great in your hand. According to Hyundai, an electronic shifter will not be offered in this vehicle.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

A driver-focused interior design puts everything within easy reach.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

As for tech, high-end models feature a pair of 10.25-inch screens housed under one glass panel, similar to what Mercedes-Benz is doing these days. More-affordable variants have a smaller but still generously sized 8-inch display, plus traditional analog gauges. The up-level infotainment system in my demo vehicle is attractively designed, quite simple to navigate and blazingly quick. Seriously, poke around the various menus and it never lags or stutters.

A first for Hyundai, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard equipment in the new Elantra, with an asterisk. This works with the base infotainment system, either wirelessly or with a cable if you prefer, but the optional system that features navigation still requires you to plug your phone in. This is kind of backward, but wireless capability should be offered with that system as well, possibly in the next model year.

Another thing you can do wirelessly in the Elantra is charge your phone. This system supposedly performs 30% better than before and features integrated cooling to keep your handset from getting hotter than a baked potato while absorbing electrons.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

The 2021 Elantra's up-level infotainment system is seriously speedy. Seriously.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The Elantra's Dynamic Voice Recognition should function kind of like Siri on an iPhone , enabling you to control a range of vehicle functions using only your voice. It can adjust the climate control fan speed, raise or lower the front driver's side window and even report on the weather or how a particular stock performed. Unfortunately, this feature was not loaded into this demonstration vehicle's software, but I look forward to testing it in the future -- it sounds seriously cool, and something otherwise unheard of in the compact class.

Of course, no new car is complete without tons of safety tech, and the 2021 Elantra will come with plenty. Standard advanced driver aids include automatic high beams, forward collision avoidance and lane-keeping assist. Optional kit includes blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control with lane centering.

Another nifty bit of tech is the available Hyundai Digital Key, which lets you use your Android phone to unlock and drive the vehicle. Near-field communication and Bluetooth low-energy allow the car to interface with a special mobile app. Among many other things, you can share virtual keys with people for a set amount of time and there's an NFC card with similar functionality that you can keep in your wallet as a backup should you lose the regular key.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

This car's rear is perhaps even busier than its front.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Pricing and availability

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra will be offered in four trim levels: SE, SEL, N Line and Limited. As for the hybrid, it should be available in SEL and Limited grades. This car enters production in the fall and will be manufactured in both Ulsan, South Korea, and Montgomery, Alabama. Hybrid models will only be sourced from Asia. Look for the new Elantra at dealerships in the fourth quarter of the year. Pricing will, of course, be announced closer to its on-sale date, though don't expect it to be dramatically different from the model offered today, which starts in the neighborhood of $20,000 including delivery fees.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra's looks may be a bit controversial, but the car feels like quality and offers loads of clever features. If it drives well, which it should, the automaker will have a winner on its hands.