2017 Hyundai Elantra Review: The Tech-Heavy Korean Luxo-Compact
Not all cars are destined to become future classics. Some are built with the intention of being a mode of transportation and little more. Even though they may never be labeled as “iconic,” one of the most sensational things about the modern compact economy car is how damn good they have become. While there certainly are a few notable exceptions out there, for the most part, the basic “weekend rental” has gotten so good that there are now benefits to downsizing these days.
Take the revamped Hyundai Elantra for example. In Limited trim, with a few select add-ons, it features more than enough amenities to entice the average commuter. It’s a prime example of how the re-calibrated Korean take on the average commuter car has morphed into a magnificent monster, and while it may not be the most engaging automobile in today’s market place, Hyundai sure has done a bang-up job of making it more enticing.
It’s important to be careful when comparing the Elantra of today with the Elantra of… say, 1998. Hyundai is a different company now, that makes very different cars. What I discovered was that it wasn’t a complete bore to be in, and that it was a far sharper reinterpretation of high end economical automotive design than its humble appearances will have you think. While it still left me wanting considering its sticker price, it easily swept away most of the old notions that this is just some crummy economy rent-a-wreck.
Visually, function tends to take front seat over form. It’s a tightly drawn, overly obvious attempt at playing it safe, and by keeping a tried and true Hyundai design at the forefront, this car both captures and loses appeal at the same time. You won’t make a second take when walking past one at a stoplight, but neither does it cause you to cringe; it’s just there for the morning commute, and little more.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Nicely drawn lines from nose to tail make for a strong sales pitch against older, more flavorless versions.
+ The lighting array from the dynamic HID headlight, LED fogs, and the sharp projector lamps to the layered taillights and the integrated side markers are attractively sculpted.
+ The alloy wheels that come on this version look good, and the black forward-facing under spoiler looks sharp.
– No polished, bumper integrated exhaust ports; this would help further set the Limited from the other trims.
– Only front door handles support keyless entry and offer integrated LED lighting.
– Chrome grille is a “love it or leave it” touch.
The powertrain in the Limited is the same as what you would get in the base SE version. The Atkinson cycle 2.0-liter motor is a perky little fellow that likes to hold high RPMs under throttle along the interstate, but it falls a bit short of the mark when compared to other engine options that are out there like Mazda’s SkyActiv series, and even the much smaller 1.4-liter turbo model has more torque.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Sport mode does actually kick in a little additional fun, even if it’s via incremental throttle tweaks.
+ Gas mileage isn’t too shabby at all, with a 28/37 rating that averages 32 miles per gallon. Having an Eco button on call also helps when cruising at high speeds.
+ Not being boosted has its perks: In this case, it’s the absence of defective turbo headaches down the line. Simpler engines are also less prone to issues like oil consumption and turbo lag, and typically feature better heat management.
– While sport mode does show some results, when cruising at higher speeds the drivetrain seems to flounder around, not knowing if power or efficiency is on order.
Internally, there are a lot of strong arguments for upgrading to the Limited edition of the Elantra. It’s well-built, surprisingly spacious, and with its leather appointments and piano black accents, there’s a certain level of luxury that is befitting of the elite badge. Unfortunately, inexpensive materials and the absence of contrasting touches made the cabin feel a bit one-sided and viscerally flat.
Interior pros and cons
+ Leather-wrapped seats, a snazzy shifter, piano black trim touches, and dual zone climate control.
+ Heated seats both front and back.
+ Surprisingly spacious for being so small, with a nice sized trunk to boot.
– Outside of a split-heated bench, the backseat doesn’t get a lot of love, which translates to not having things like USB ports or air vents.
– The cup holders don’t have adjustable grips in them, so narrow water canteens and venti coffee cups can flop around.
– Flimsy trunk materials, overabundant cheap looking plastics, and steering wheel materials seemed easy to tear.
Tech and safety
Just when the interior began to leave me wanting, the tech department came to the rescue with a tech-rich rearview mirror, a loaded MID, and one of Hyundai’s fantastic infotainment touchscreens. While it was missing components like the surround view cameras we found on the similarly priced Kia Forte5, there was still enough left to impress even the most elitist tech head, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay serving as just one example.
Tech pros and cons
+ For as basic looking as they are with their black and white interfaces, Hyundai’s MID displays continue to kill it with their response times and standard features.
+ If you haven’t played with Hyundai’s BlueLink yet, you should probably give it a shot. It’s easy to set up, transfers everything you need in your phone directly to the center stack, and is pretty intuitive.
+ Tech safety is a strong suit, and the Limited gets everything from lane keep assist and rear cross traffic alerts to variable cruise control and blind spot monitoring.
– Lane keep assist doesn’t work nearly as well as what we’ve seen in some of the competition, with over corrections and center lane tracking being a prime issue.
– Still no 3D mapping or a fully-loaded app center.
– No surround cameras or adjustable rear camera views, like what you get on an equally priced Kia Forte.
Driving this car eventually made me feel like I was a hamster on one of those little wheels. It was engaging to an extent, but doesn’t offer much more than just a run around. It does its job as a basic daily driver quite well, but when the lack of tire smoke clears, you are left with a car that isn’t all that interesting or engaging. Again, this is not designed to be anything more than a nicely appointed compact car, and it brakes, handles, accelerates, and cruises exactly the way it looks.
Fortunately, this version does offer some nice surprises for the average commute. Sport mode doesn’t just tweak the throttle, but it also tightens up the electric steering rack, so anywhere over 10 miles per hour gets you solid feedback and an easy-to-park softness at lower speeds. It also has a fairly quiet cabin, and both the backseat and the front passenger side of the car are spacious and comfortable, so long stints on the open road shouldn’t be an issue.
But perhaps the best part of driving this car is how well mannered it is on the freeway. Even though it weighs little more than a large Rottweiler, it doesn’t bounce around at high speeds or swerve when a semi blasts past. With Eco mode engaged, lane keep assist on, and variable cruise set to a desired speed, you find yourself relaxing for a moment to allow you to ponder how Korean cars got so good.
Wrap up and review
Much like its hatchback GT brother, the Limited is obviously trying. Where the GT was pretty underwhelming in the performance and handling departments, this version of the Elantra felt a little light handed in the design and amenity departments when you look at its competition and that $28,000 price tag.
Sure, it has heated leather seats, tons of tech, safety selling points galore, and a fantastic warranty, but so do a lot of other cars out there, and when compared to an equally equipped Mazda3 or the Kia Forte5, the Elantra loses some of its sheen. Without things like clever HUD pop-up displays and optional aero upgrades, it’s almost as if the “Limited” badge is there not to tell us that this is a rare vehicle, but that it is limited in what it can offer drivers, even when they pay a premium.
We’ll have to see how good the new performance variation of this sedan plays out, but with little hope of a performance motor and a six-speed manual going into the sportier sedan, the jury is still out on if it will fill in the gaps that the Limited leaves behind. It’s a nice little car, but for the money, buyers will quickly realize that there are quite a few other buying options out there that warrant consideration.