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Like any good compact sedan, the seventh-generation Hyundai Elantra offers something for everyone. If you're looking for a fuel-sipper, there's a hybrid model on offer. Those in search of a little more driving excitement can opt for a turbocharged N Line. And for everyone else, there are the standard versions, all of which are armed with standout looks, a ton of technology features and competent on-road manners that make it the most competitive Elantra sedan to date.
One thing is for sure, the Elantra isn't just another underwhelming face in the crowd. Hyundai's entry is visually out-there with a mammoth grille, slim headlights, fast roofline and prominent sharp lines on the side and rear end. The creases show up particularly well on my Quartz White test car that rides on 17-inch wheels with black-painted insets that are as visually daring as the rest of the sedan. Is it all a bit much? Maybe to some, but it's a different and cohesive overall design.
Things inside the Elantra aren't quite as futuristic. The clean, smartly organized layout features a center stack angled towards the driver. Controls for climate and infotainment are all large and clearly marked, making them easy to use while driving. That's not to say there aren't some efforts to visually jazz things up, though. The four-spoke steering wheel reminds me of a monster from Space Invaders and a 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster -- optional on the Elantra SEL and standard on range-topping Limited -- is snazzy with different design themes for each drive mode.
Then there's the dummy panel to the left side of the Elantra's gauge cluster. There's a circular graphic with a horizontal line in the middle making it look like it should be an air vent. In the Elantra N Line this piece of real estate houses the drive mode dial, but in the regular models it's dead space that doesn't do anything. Maybe it's a good place to stick a Post-It note?
As for space, there's a healthy helping of it inside the Elantra -- 99.4 cubic feet of passenger room to be exact, pushing it into the EPA's midsize classification. Headroom and legroom are generous in front and back, while materials throughout are acceptable. Soft leather wraps the steering wheel, the cloth on the cushy seats is nice and most touchpoints are soft and of high quality. You'll still bump into hard, but nice-looking plastics on the transmission tunnel and backseat door panels, however.
On the tech front, the Elantra SEL comes equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen with large shortcut buttons and knobs for volume and radio tuning. Like the gauge cluster, the screen displays vibrant colors and graphics, but is also responsive to inputs to control the optional eight-speaker Bose audio setup, Bluetooth and wireless integration of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The touchscreen grows to 10.2-inches, but oddly that removes wireless CarPlay and Android Auto capability instead requiring a wired connection for both.
To power-up phones, my SEL sports an available wireless charge pad located in the base of the center console. There you'll also find a 12-volt outlet and two USB ports. Sadly, no power points are within easy reach of backseat passengers. Android users can also enjoy the benefits of Hyundai Digital Key that lets drivers unlock and start the Elantra through a smartphone app that's optional on the SEL and standard on Limited cars.
The tech buffet continues with a hearty list of advanced driver-assistant systems onboard the Elantra. Forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, a driver-attention monitor and Safe Exit Alert are all standard issue. My SEL tester is further enhanced with available adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
For anyone looking for a competent commuter, the Elantra is certainly up to the task. Powering this sedan is a 2.0-liter I4 making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, connected to a continuously variable transmission. Together, they return an EPA-estimated 31 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, which isn't shabby.
The Elantra's engine is smooth but doesn't feel particularly powerful. It adequately gets the job done romping around town, though response at throttle tip-in is a little lazy even when you have the car in Sport mode. For things like merging onto the freeway, you'll need to really lean into the right pedal to seamlessly blend in with traffic. Thankfully, the CVT doesn't sound like a hive of angry bees in Sport mode when booting it and hanging onto 'gears' longer. It also offers manual shift capabilities, but you're better off forgetting about that, 'cause it's real slow to carry out commands.
Chassis tuning follows the drivetrain's lead, being respectable for daily-driving duties. Body motions are nicely controlled when rounding corners at a normal clip, but pushing harder results in the front washing out. The Elantra's ride gets a touch crashy when it encounters consecutive bumps and ruts, and generally doesn't feel as buttoned-up as competitors like the Honda Civic and Mazda3. The steering has a numb spot on center and lacks feeling, while the brakes are stout, delivering confident muscle and modulation.
So, the Elantra isn't going to rock your socks off from a driving engagement standpoint, but it's comfortable for the most part and impressively quiet while rolling down the road. It also handles itself quite well through light snow with the Kumho Majesty Solus all-season tires.
When building my Elantra, I'd stick with a mid-grade SEL version like the one pictured here, which starts at $21,905 including $1,005 for destination. In fact, I'll take the white paint job, too, because of how well it shows off the exterior lines and creases. From there, I'll check the box for the $950 Convenience Package to get the cool LCD gauge cluster, wireless charge pad and heated front seats. Tossing in $155 for floor mats results in a $23,010 price tag to slide in under my test car's $25,110 bottom line.
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra starts at $20,655, giving it a lower cost of entry than the $22,245 Civic, $21,645 Mazda3 and $21,020 Toyota Corolla, but higher than the $18,885 Kia Forte and $19,990 Volkswagen Jetta.
Out of that list of compact sedans, the new Elantra is unquestionably the visual standout of the bunch, offering an extensive dose of tech and a reassuring 10-year powertrain warranty to boot. While its drive character is far from thrilling, it's a competent and comfortable ride for most driving situations. All of that together combines to produce the most compelling Elantra to date.