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More premium 2017 Hyundai Elantra debuts, will be joined by 40+ mpg Eco model next year

The current Hyundai Elantra sedan is a very good buy, but the next-gen 2017 model looks even better.

LOS ANGELES -- Hyundai's Elantra has been a tremendous success for the Korean automaker. Over 10 million Elantas have been sold, an achievement that Hyundai claims makes the Elantra the 6th-best-selling car in the world. Today, at the 2015 LA Auto Show, the Elantra enters its 6th generation. How apropos!

The new Elantra doesn't look much different from the old one; the broad strokes are similar enough that the car is immediately recognizable as an Elantra. Look closely and you'll notice the details are all new. The hexagonal grille, for example, is more angular and is now flanked by vertical LED daytime running lights. The elongated roofline now stretches its arc nearly to the vehicle's end, which gives the sedan a more coupelike profile.

The headlights are narrower and sweep out horizontally, rather than back toward the windshield, which accentuates the car's width and makes it look broad. Hyundai uses a few visual tricks to make the Elantra look like a larger car, but they're not strictly necessary because the 2017 Elantra simply is a larger car than before. Though it's only about an inch longer and wider than the 2016 model, the interior volume has increased so much that the EPA now technically classifies it as a midsize sedan.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

The Elantra is larger and wider than before, but increased use of high-strength steel and aeronautics-grade adhesives means that it's lighter and more rigid.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Elantra's tech has also grown up. Android Auto will grace the dashboard -- on either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen, depending on whether navigation has been spec'd -- along with Siri Eyes-Free and Pandora connectivity. Apple CarPlay will join the feature list post-launch, but the automaker wouldn't comment on a timeframe.

Hyundai's latest-generation BlueLink telematics and connectivity will also join the feature set, which means that Android Wear and Apple Watch users will be able to lock and unlock their doors and monitor their vehicles from their wrists.

Safety tech isn't ignored for this new generation. There's automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic high beams. Adaptive cruise control and steerable adaptive lighting round out a list of options that is looking mighty premium. Speaking of premium, there are also a few class-first amenities including Hyundai's hands-free smart trunk release, LED door handle approach lighting and dual-position seat memory.

The automaker tells us that the new Elantra uses twice as much advanced high-strength steel as the previous model and 40 times more aeronautics-grade structural adhesive in its construction. Together these help the body to be lighter and stiffer than before, which should net improvements to performance, handling and cabin comfort.

Lighter than before and more aerodynamic than many of its competitors, the sixth-generation Hyundai Elantra will launch with two new and fairly efficient engine options. The first is a 2.0-liter gasoline four-banger that the automaker estimates will reach a combined 33 mpg average when paired with a revised six-speed automatic gearbox. That Atkinson cycle engine is rated at 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

The high-tech sedan's trunk can be opened hands-free and its door unlocked with a smartwatch. The Elantra has come a long way over six generations.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

An Elantra Eco model will be powered by a smaller 1.4-liter turbocharged engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic; a combo that should achieve 40-plus highway mpg and 35 mpg combined. Joining the lineup in spring 2016, the 1.4T makes just 128 horsepower but also a meaty 156 pound-feet of torque -- that's more than the 2.0L -- so it should still scoot around pretty well.

Hyundai also hinted that an Elantra Sport model is in the works and that it will be the most powerful Elantra model yet. We'll expect to hear more about that, along with pricing for the models announced today, sometime in 2016.

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