With some manufacturers getting out of the small-car game entirely, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra sets itself apart in a shrinking — but increasingly competitive — segment with flashy new interior and exterior styling, a brand-new hybrid variant and a sporty “N Line” model aimed at the enthusiast crowd.
While appealing to the enthusiast and green crowds may bolster the Elantra’s appeal with those niche audiences, Hyundai is aiming for the mass market with new features such as wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an updated suite of safety and automated driver assistance technology, and everyday comfort and efficiency.
With the new Elantra, Hyundai counts itself among the remaining manufacturers in the class that are working harder and investing more in an effort to attract customers left behind by brands that have simply chosen to throw in the towel.
What’s new for 2021?
The Hyundai Elantra is all new from the ground up for 2021.
What are the Elantra interior and in-car technology like?
Hyundai went to great lengths to ensure that its compact sedan is both feature-rich and a good value. The driver’s portion of the cabin boasts a cockpit-like layout framed by a large grab-handle running most of the length of the center console and terminating about midway up the dashboard. The front seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive but, as with most economy cars, do not offer a great deal of adjustment.
The base-spec Elantra has an analog cluster and 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. This system is compatible with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Stepping up to the 10.25-inch widescreen unit unlocks features such as split-screen app functionality and navigation, however, this larger screen is compatible with only the wired versions of the aforementioned smartphone integration suites. Hyundai plans to rectify this in future model years. The larger infotainment screen is accompanied by a digital gauge cluster of the same size, and together represents one of the showiest tech offerings in the segment.
The Elantra has a handful of noteworthy convenience features, including front cupholders that can be configured for two different depths and a ventilated wireless device charging cubby. The latter reduces device temperatures during the charging process, both speeding it up and improving the comfort of picking up the phone when it’s time to go. Frustratingly, it is available only with the larger touchscreen, which means it cannot be paired with wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. If you want to use either function, you’ll have to plug in your phone, negating the only benefit of wireless charging.
Materials in the back are less impressive, and you’ll have to spring for the larger Sonata to get niceties like charging ports or climate controls for the rear bench.
How big is the Elantra?
Like many of its competitors, the Elantra has grown enough over the years that the EPA considers it a midsize sedan based on its interior volume metrics. It offers front head- and legroom on par with the likes of the Honda Civic and Mazda3.
Despite the coupe-like styling approach, the Elantra retains plenty of headroom in its spacious rear bench (also as roomy as Honda’s or Mazda’s). Hyundai claims 14.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the Elantra’s trunk, which is about average for the class, but these figures are often so nebulous that we’ll wait until we can properly test it before drawing any conclusions. Hyundai at least notes that the Elantra Hybrid has the same trunk volume and split-folding rear seat as gas-only models.
What are the Elantra fuel economy and performance specs?
Garden-variety Elantra variants are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque and paired to a continuously variable transmission that Hyundai dubs “IVT.” It earns EPA-estimated fuel mileage ratings of 33 miles per gallon city, 43 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined. We averaged just over 38 mpg during a 60-mile city/highway test loop.
The Hybrid is powered by a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and 32-kilowatt electric motor for a total output of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. This variant gets Hyundai’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. According to the EPA, the standard Hybrid scores estimated ratings of 49 mpg in the city, 52 mpg highway and 50 mpg combined. The ultra-efficiency-minded Hybrid Blue trim level scores 53 city, 56 highway and 54 combined. Buyers looking for max efficiency will find those figures comparable to the Honda Insight and Toyota's Prius and Corolla Hybrid. We didn't quite hit 50 mpg in our week of testing the Hybrid Limited, but our 48-mpg score is effectively the same.
The sporty N Line model is motivated by Hyundai’s 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder producing 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque paired with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT. It returns 28 mpg city, 36 highway and 31 combined. The N Line also gets bigger front brakes and a multi-link rear suspension for improved handling and ride quality.
What’s the Elantra like to drive?
The Elantra's base engine is nothing exciting, to be sure, but it's pretty typical for the compact segment. It’s plenty for daily use, though we’d like a bit more off-idle enthusiasm, especially in the default drive mode. Dialing it up to “Sport” helps a bit, but also exaggerates the rubber-band sensation you sometimes get going on/off the throttle with a CVT.
Unlike the hybrid and N Line, which are fitted with an independent rear suspension, those with the 2.0-liter base engine are are stuck with a less sophisticated twist-beam rear setup. Fortunately, the Elantra’s wheelbase is on the long-ish side for a compact, so the twist-beam setup isn’t a huge impediment. The ride is smooth and comfortable, but not sporty. Sure, you can throw it into a corner if that’s what you feel like doing, but you won’t get much feedback from the Elantra’s helm.
The Hybrid has a traditional six-speed dual-clutch automatic rather than the CVT you'll find with the 2.0-liter and most other hybrids. That means it behaves more like most customers will be accustomed to, with the stepped-gear transmission offering extremely smooth shifts and the electric-boosted powertrain providing a torquey delivery of power. The Hybrid's suspension tuning may be different from the base version, but it's still biased heavily toward comfort over handling prowess.
What other Hyundai Elantra reviews can I read?
Proof that Hyundai remains committed to the compact sedan
It's very pointy.
Five features we love; one we don't.
How much is the 2022 Hyundai Elantra price and what features are available?
The 2021 Elantra is available in four grades: SE, SEL, N Line and Limited. The Hybrid model is offered in extra-efficient Blue and higher-spec Limited trims only.
The SE model is the entry-level Elantra and will not be offered with any upgrade packages. The SEL, which Hyundai expects to be the core model, offers additional standard equipment along with Convenience and Premium packages for additional features. The range-topping model is the Limited, which is fully loaded and offer no additional packages.
The N-Line model’s key selling point is its high-performance powertrain and sporty suspension. It's offered with features similar to those found on the SEL.
What are the Elantra safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Every Elantra comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and a driver inattention warning system on every Elantra model. Higher grades can be equipped with parking assist with reverse automatic braking, blind spot monitoring with emergency steering assist, rear cross-traffic warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control with partially automated steering on the highway. Besides the sheer volume of safety features, we've found Hyundai's to be among the best in the segment. They do their job well without annoying you.
The U.S. government (NHTSA) gave the 2021 Elantra a five-star overall crash rating (out of five) along with four-star frontal and five-star side ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Top Safety Pick. It received the best-possible ratings for its crash protection and prevention. The Limited trim's LED headlights got a best-possible "Good" rating, but the halogen lamps on all others got a "Poor" rating.