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2021 Hyundai Elantra Brings High Tech, High Style, Hybrid

Competes with: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Forte

Looks like: A downsized Sonata but with a less-fishy grille

Powertrain: 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine with intelligent variable automatic transmission and front-wheel drive; hybrid 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine with electric motor and 32-kilowatt lithium-ion battery, 139-hp total system output, dual-clutch six-speed automatic, FWD

Hits dealerships: Fall 2020

Usually the more flash there is around a car reveal, the more suspicious I become of the vehicle’s substance. So when the unveiling of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra began with a crew of dancers, a projection floor and people breaking down a wall shooting virtual fireballs, my B.S. detector started beeping incessantly.

Related: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Angles for Mojo-Recharging Redesign

It turns out it was a false alarm because the redesigned Elantra brings the goods. For a car with a name that doesn’t exactly inspire excitement, there’s a lot here to get jazzed up about with extensive technology updates and two new Elantra models: a hybrid and a forthcoming N-Line performance-focused version (though Hyundai declined to offer any N-Line specifics).

Exterior

The Elantra bears a strong family resemblance to the recently redesigned Sonata sedan, Hyundai’s mid-size offering, but it appears to take the dramatic styling even further. The front grille is of a similar shape, but it seems to take up even more of the nose and dips all the way down to the very bottom of the car. Moving down the sides, three strong lines converge on the front doors to give the new Elantra a dramatic profile — and in true modern fashion the roofline extends all the way back to the end of the trunk to give an almost fastback-esque silhouette. My favorite part of the design might just be the back of the Elantra, with a thin light strip joining the taillights together, more sharp angles and a jutting trunk edge that acts like a pseudo spoiler.

The new car is longer by 2.2 inches and wider by an inch, with most of the added length coming from an extended rear overhang. The front overhang has actually shrunk, pulling the front of the car closer to the wheels and shifting much of the bulk rearward. There’s a lot here to work with for the N-Line model, which should slap on some unique aerodynamic parts.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

Interior

The Elantra adopts a driver-oriented dashboard, with its multimedia screen and center console controls canted slightly to that side of the vehicle. And in case you didn’t get that from the look, a long grab handle serves to break up the front two seats even more a la the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette (though not as high, and without buttons curiously positioned on it).

The standard multimedia touchscreen measures 8 inches and is flanked by controls — but the real star is a pair of available 10.25-inch screens that sit behind one single pane of glass. The screen on the left replaces the instrument panel for the driver, while the screen on the right is a touchscreen for the multimedia system that bumps the physical controls down to a single row below the screen (though it appears you lose a tuning knob in the bargain). This is the same size screen you’ll find in the Sonata and Palisade, and it’s good to see it moving down the rest of the lineup (Android Auto screen usage issues aside).

Speaking of Android Auto, the 2021 Elantra will offer wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, making it the first car in this class to do so. It will also offer dual bluetooth support, so you can have one phone connected for phone calls and another for audio streaming. The Elantra adopts Hyundai’s Digital Key technology as well, which allows Android users (sorry iPhone folks) to use their phone as a key to unlock and start the vehicle. The car can store up to four profiles, which adjust the seat, mirrors, audio setting and safety preferences for you automatically. 

The Elantra’s added length includes a 0.8-inch increase in wheelbase, which expands the cabin some and builds upon a traditional strength of the car: efficient use of interior space. There is now 38.0 inches of rear legroom, which is 1.0 inch more than the Honda Civic and 3.1 inches more than the Toyota Corolla. Cargo room is rated at 14.2 cubic feet, which fits in behind the Civic but ahead of Corolla.

Engine and Transmission

Gas versions of the Elantra feature a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine mated to what Hyundai is calling an “intelligent variable transmission.” That’s just a fancy way of saying a better continuously variable transmission, or CVT, but we’ll have to get behind the wheel to find out if it’s actually an improvement.

The Elantra Hybrid combines a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery that’s housed under the rear seats. Total system output is 139 hp and 195 pounds-feet of torque (much higher than the gas car’s 132 pounds-feet of torque); the engine is mated to a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a bit strange to see the gas model opt for a CVT and the hybrid to go for a more conventional setup, but that could be a choice made in the interest of drivability, which I support.

Official EPA fuel economy figures are not yet available for either vehicle, but Hyundai has said it expects the hybrid to break 50 mpg combined in testing, which would put it up near the efficient Ioniq Hybrid.

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Safety

Standard safety features do lag slightly behind the Civic and Corolla, both of which offer adaptive cruise control standard, but that’s not the case with the Elantra. Automatic forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist (with lane centering) and high-beam assist come standard. Also available are blind spot monitors, the excellent Highway Driving Assist lane-centering system, safe exit warnings for passengers and reverse automatic braking. Curiously absent, given the availability of a digital instrument panel, is the blind spot monitor system that we liked on the Palisade and Sonata, so there is a small bit of technology differentiation between the Elantra and those models after all.

Pricing information is sure to follow, but what we know so far has me intrigued by the new Elantra — and the addition of an N-Line variant has me even more excited, though I hope that Hyundai includes some kind of torque vectoring this time (unlike the existing Elantra GT N-Line). The 2021 Elantra is expected to hit dealerships in fall of this year; we will have to see if that timeline applies to both gas and hybrid models.

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