CARS.COM — Compact sedans are the sneakers of the auto market: They’re practical, affordable and not very exciting, but they get the job done. Hyundai’s redesigned compact car kicks that stereotype to the curb. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is redesigned with brawnier styling, more passenger room, better fuel economy and loads of available safety and creature comforts. Bonus: It’s about $100 less than the outgoing model.
Related: 2017 Hyundai Elantra: First Look
Bigger in Style and Size
The Elantra was last redesigned for the 2011 model year, and the sedan’s sloping roofline and dynamic curves gave it an edge in a conservatively styled segment. For 2017, the design is big and bold, and previous buyers may not like the new direction. It wears a version of the Sonata’s large, hexagonal grille and swaps its swooping curves for chiseled corners. The result is a more masculine look, but also a more premium one. Available LED daytime running lights bracketing the grille and approach lighting that illuminates the door handles once the key fob is detected add a premium flair, making the Elantra look right at home parked alongside an Audi A4.
The sedan grew a bit in length and width this year, and the gains are felt in the backseat with more headroom and legroom. The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla offer slightly more legroom, but two adults will have sufficient space on the comfy, lightly bolstered rear bench.
Cabin Hits and Misses
The cabin, however, lacks character. I tested the top Limited trim and was underwhelmed by the materials and design. The leather seats were cushy and comfortable, and all the touch points were sufficiently padded, but the combination of utilitarian-looking hard plastics and flat, horizontal planes fell flat against the boldly styled exterior.
The interior may not match the exterior’s upmarket look, but the Elantra makes up for it with loads of optional features, many of which you’d expect in a premium-brand vehicle. New to the compact sedan segment is a hands-free trunk; stand behind the Elantra with the key fob in your purse or pocket and the trunk will open after three seconds. Other available convenience features include two charging USB ports, heated rear seats and driver-seat memory.
The Elantra uses an updated multimedia system with a 7- or 8-inch touch-screen depending on the trim (base SE models make do with a small 3-inch display). Navigation is optional on the Limited’s 8-inch unit, and it’s a straightforward system with a clear menu structure and responsive screen. Tuning and volume knobs as well as home, radio and map buttons make toggling between functions easy. Overall, it’s much more user-friendly than many competitors’ systems. What’s more, Hyundai angled the screen and the climate controls below it slightly toward the driver for better visibility and easier reach.
The Elantra is the first Hyundai and first compact sedan to offer both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard on models with the 8-inch and 7-inch touch-screens. The smartphone integration systems seamlessly project apps on the car’s touch-screen. After plugging in my phone and selecting the Android Auto button on the car’s home screen, I was able to see my phone’s contacts, use Google Maps and launch Pandora internet radio within seconds.
The previous-generation Elantra’s pleasant road manners were a highlight, helping it earn the No. 2 spot in Cars.com’s $20,000 Compact Sedan Challenge; the new model delivers a similar experience. The sole powertrain at launch is a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission; it replaces last year’s base 1.8-liter. Though not exactly peppy, it’s sufficient from a stop, and the six-speed automatic quickly and smoothly spools out more power for confident highway passing.
In the mountains near San Diego, I found that the Elantra’s handling and maneuverability have improved. It’s composed in corners with good body control and has nicely weighted, reactive steering. A new Sport mode, standard on automatic-equipped cars, adjusts shift timing and power-steering assist for peppier takeoffs and an overall more engaging drive. At the other end of the spectrum, the sluggish Eco mode blunts acceleration to benefit fuel economy.
Fuel economy is up slightly this year and is class-competitive. Base manual Elantras are EPA-rated at 26/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined; automatic models get a smidge higher. The previous gen’s 2.0-liter was rated 24/34/28 mpg. Base Honda Civics still are more fuel efficient with a 40-mpg highway rating, but the Elantra beats the Focus’ and the Corolla’s mileage.
Where the Elantra needs work is in road isolation, also a struggle for the previous-gen car. Hyundai said sound-deadening material was added to the cabin, but a decent amount of road noise and vibration filters in. It’s not as loud as the rowdy Toyota Corolla, however. Similarly, the ride is again on the firm side; bumps rarely unsettle it, but even small ones register.
Hyundai’s strategy always has been to emphasize value, and the new Elantra is no different. The 2017 model starts at $17,985 including destination; that’s around $100 less than the outgoing sedan and cheaper than base models of the Civic, Focus and Corolla. Add an automatic transmission for $1,000. To get the 7-inch multimedia screen as well as a backup camera, cruise control and heated outside mirrors, add $800 for the Popular Equipment Package.
Where the Elantra disappoints is safety-feature availability. The new model offers many features that most other compacts don’t, such as an automatic forward collision braking system with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and prevention, and blind spot warning, but you have to first pop for the top trim level and then select pricey option packages. All told, you’ll spend around $28,000 to get all the safety features — a lot for a compact car.
The 2017 Elantra is on sale now; an Eco model will follow in the spring and a Sport model in the fall. I’ll share more impressions, details about the Elantra’s features and how it measures up to more competitors in the upcoming full-length review.