Today's economy cars are do-it-alls. They're practically mid-sizers, with styling that has set trends, and features that sometimes outpoint much more expensive rivals.
Two highly-rated four-doors fight head to head for shoppers looking for reasonable performance for about $20,000--but between them, is the 2017 Hyundai Elantra or the 2015 Chevrolet Cruze the better choice?
For now, the Elantra is our winner. And yes, we're aware the two are separated by two full model years. What gives? The Elantra is brand-new for the model year, and it's a more refined, more roomy vehicle than the Cruze, at least for now.
We've been waiting almost a year for a drive in the new 2016 Cruze--but as of now, it's not available in showrooms or test fleets.
(Both the Cruze and the Elantra will also be offered in hatchback form in the future, but neither of these has hit the streets, either.)
While we hold for the new Chevy compact, it's fair to say the older Cruze acquits itself fairly well against a more refined, less dramatically styled Elantra. The Cruze is probably Chevy's most effortlessly elegant sedan, with an aerodynamic ease that's just a little generic. The Cruze is better inside, where its striking combinations of high-quality materials set it off against its peers.
The Hyundai is less stunning visually than it was in its previous form. It's still a more attractive vehicle than today's Cruze. With curved and crested sheetmetal, plus a kicky line pulling the rear end up and shoveling the shape forward, it's an eager look that's grown more substantial-looking, with its wide front end. The cabin is plainer and fitted with more grainy plastic, though, and it's lost the distinctive hourglass shape of the center stack of controls and replaced with with a more anodyne binnacle of gauges and screens.
For performance, the Cruze earns our kudos for its ride quality, though the Elantra has made big strides in that area. Straight-line performance is a wash. The Cruze offers a base four-cylinder of 1.8 liters, but we'd opt for its 1.4-liter turbocharged four, which gets better fuel-economy ratings, while it's also more smooth and more refined. With aero add-ons, it gets EPA ratings of up to 42 mpg.
If you're likely to do most of your mileage on the highway, we suggest you drive the Chevy Cruze Diesel, which gets 46 highway and can eke more than 700 miles out of a tank. Its amazing efficiency is offset by buckets of turbo lag and the penalty of the diesel engine's weight.
Elantra sedans with the 147-hp 2.0-liter four and six-speed automatic are rated at 37 mpg on the highway in standard form, or 38 mpg in Eco trim, with the smaller-displacement 1.6-liter turbo four engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Neither is particularly quick or slow, and both offer a quietness that many top-ranked rivals can't match--the Civic and Mazda 3, notably.
2015 Chevrolet CruzeEnlarge Photo
2015 Chevrolet Cruze, 2014 New York Auto ShowEnlarge Photo
2015 Chevrolet CruzeEnlarge Photo
The Elantra now matches the Cruze's smooth ride and overall driving feel. Neither is eager or tossable, but both have an absorbent ride that's taut enough to avoid bobbly handling. The Elantra's steering has a bit more wander than the Cruze's, but it has a lighter feel thanks to a optimized body structure that can be a couple of hundred pounds lower on the scales than the Chevy.
Both the Elantra and Cruze offer up sizable interior room for front passengers, with more usable space for rear-seaters. The Elantra does a better job at comfort, with nicely bolstered front buckets and more rear-seat leg room--and it's strong on storage space, too.
The winner in safety remains to be seen. The Cruze, with its ten standard airbags, has fallen slightly behind its class due to its 'marginal' rating in the IIHS small-overlap frontal test. The Elantra hasn't been crash-tested yet, but it's one of the first cars in this niche to offer adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Among other features, the Elantra has standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; Bluetooth; and a USB port. Hyundai's optional navigation system can be fitted with real-time traffic information and a rearview camera, and its LCD screen is one of the largest in the class. The Cruze got a significant infotainment upgrade for 2015, with Siri Eyes Free connectivity for iPhones and upgraded MyLink connectivity, and it also offers navigation, as well as heated leather seats and automatic climate control.
The Elantra is our winner for now, thanks to a fresh design, gains in ride and handling, and its optional safety technology. The Cruze? It's possible a new verdict will come after our first drive, as Chevy's done a remarkable job transforming its Impala and Malibu sedans. Stay tuned.
|from $16,170||from $17,150|
|from $16,089||from $16,621|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
|Front Leg Room (in)|
|Second Leg Room (in)|
|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|