2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid review: Where style meets efficiency
As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Whatever vitriol the person that coined this adage had against felines is unknown, but their logic is sound, especially if you're looking to save money at the pump. There are plenty of super-thrifty cars to choose from and you don't even have to get a plug-in model or something that's fully electric. You could grab a Toyota Corolla Hybrid or even Honda's economical Insight. And then there's the Prius, a household name and a proven performer. But have you considered the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid? If not, you absolutely should.
In Blue trim, its most efficient form, this small sedan returns some whopping fuel-economy figures. Expect around 53 mpg city, 56 mpg highway and 54 mpg combined. The top-shelf Limited model I'm evaluating here, however, is 4 mpg less efficient in each driving cycle. That sounds like a big hit, but on a percentage basis it really isn't, plus in real-world driving I'm averaging about 48 mpg, which is still phenomenal. Those remarkable figures are strong enough to make the Elantra Hybrid more miserly than some of its competitors, but penny-pinching parsimony isn't the only reason to consider one of these Hyundais.
What really sets this car apart from the pack is its avant-garde design. With its intricate front end that recalls a multifaceted gemstone to its crisply creased flanks to that angular rump, this sedan has some serious style. No, its looks won't be for everyone, but the Elantra stands out from practically everything else on the road today. The only potential problem is longevity. This car looks great in the moment, but I question whether it will remain as attractive a few years down the road or if it will age like unrefrigerated milk.
Those suave good looks carry through to the Elantra's interior, which is as upscale as it is well equipped. The techy-looking dashboard is angled slightly toward the driver so more of the controls are within easy reach. Painted silver accents brighten up the cockpit, which otherwise might be a bit too severe in black, though a gray color scheme is available, too.
The car's dash is constructed of attractive hard and soft plastics and the whole shebang looks more upscale than you'd normally expect from a vehicle in this class. Of course, some cost-cutting is noticeable, though none of it is egregious. The headliner is of iffy quality and there are no air vents or power outlets for rear-seat passengers. Also, there's a weird applique to the left of the steering wheel, a gear-like circle with a line in the middle. If you expected this element to function, you'll be sorely disappointed because it's purely decorative, though on N Line versions of the Elantra this is where the drive mode button is located.
The Elantra Hybrid's front seats are comfortable enough, plus they're heated and ventilated in the Limited model, but the rear accommodations are spectacular for a car of this size. There's stretch-out amounts of legroom and there's nearly as much head space. On top of that, the cushions are nicely positioned with a comfortably angled backrest and even a fold-down center armrest. This Hyundai's cabin is airy and open, with 99.4 cubic feet of passenger volume, which makes it more capacious than its sedan rivals. Even the trunk is massive, clocking in at 14.2 cubes, a tiny bit less than the Insight provides.
Two 10.3-inch screens are standard on Limited-trim Elantras. This includes a reconfigurable digital instrument cluster and a crisp touchscreen that's home to an excellent infotainment system. Not only is it colorful and easy to use, this multimedia array is super responsive, almost never lagging or stuttering. Embedded navigation is included here as well. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard across the Elantra range, though they require the use of a cable on Limited models. Curiously, lower-end examples support wireless smartphone mirroring on their smaller 8-inch infotainment screen, something I've experienced in other Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
As for driver aids, the Elantra Hybrid comes standard with the usual suspects. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams, among others, are all accounted for. The Limited trim also includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability as well as Highway Drive Assist, which throws lane centering into the mix. All of these amenities work as advertised and are intuitive.
The Elantra Hybrid is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that's matched to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This engine is augmented by an electric motor that brings 43 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque to the party, while a lithium-ion polymer battery pack serves as an electron reservoir. Total system output is a modest 139 hp, but the twist is more impressive at 195 lb-ft. Quiet and refined, this sedan accelerates better than you might expect after reading those numbers. No, it won't set the world on fire, but it has more-than-respectable scoot for everyday use, especially when you consider just how economical it is. The powertrain's paucity of ponies is only really noticeable at highway speeds where it feels somewhat asthmatic. Switching to the Sport driving mode from either Normal or Smart does liven things up slightly and marginally stiffens the steering.
Slowing your roll, this car's brakes are a little rubbery underfoot and the initial bite of regenerative deceleration is a tiny bit abrupt, but otherwise the pedal feels fine and the transition to friction braking is pretty much imperceptible. Ride quality is on the stiff side, which is surprising considering the hybrid model is about 200 pounds heavier than a conventional Elantra Limited. Perhaps engineers were trying to make the car feel as sporty as it looks.
Underway, the interior is impressively hushed, except for the high-efficiency Hankook Kinergy GT tires mounted to 17-inch wheels. Depending on the surface, they tend to sing, plus they also feel a little greasy while cornering, squealing with little provocation. The Elantra's steering is smooth and accurate, if otherwise unremarkable. When Highway Drive Assist is activated, the lane-keeping aid does a phenomenal job keeping the Elantra Hybrid between the lines. In fact, this setup performs better than some systems offered in far more expensive luxury vehicles. The only real dynamic downside to this car is the transmission, which on very rare occasions can feel befuddled. Usually, it's super smooth and reasonably quick to shift, though not as speedy as other dual-clutch gearboxes.
An entry-level 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid starts at $24,555 including $1,005 in destination fees. That makes it about $3,700 pricier than a standard 2022 Elantra sedan, an appreciable difference. The top-of-the-line Limited model reviewed here rolled off the assembly line in Ulsan, South Korea wearing a $29,260 price tag, which is right in line with an Insight Touring and, frankly, not unreasonable considering the average new-vehicle transaction price these days is around 41 grand.
If maximizing fuel efficiency is as important to you as fashionable design, your chariot awaits. The Elantra Hybrid can stretch a gallon of gasoline like the best of 'em and it looks far better while doing so.