2015 Hyundai ElantraEnlarge Photo
Over the past several years, the Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla couldn't have been more emblematic of how far the Korean automakers have come in a short time, while some long-respected Japanese brands have towed an especially conservative line.
Yet with the last full redesign of the Corolla, for 2014, Toyota gave its compact sedan a design that's far bolder and much more competitive when it comes to matching up feature sets. Does that give Toyota the edge once again? It's worth browsing through our full reviews on both of these well-developed commuting devices, but in the meantime you'll want follow us here for the encapsulated take.
The Elantra sure stood out in its class when it was completely redesigned, for 2011, but today, with the Corolla nicely updated, it's pretty much a tossup from a styling, design, and even functionality standpoint. While the Elantra was a standout in its class for its appealing take on Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design direction, it now blends in a bit better with its competitive set. We still like the sleek, modern cabin cues inside the Elantra; its stylish hourglass center console stands out, while trims are neat and are pretty much in line with what you get in Hyundai's more expensive models.
But be sure to take a long look at the Corolla; Toyota has just given it a fresh look that's much more daring and edgy than its previous iteration. Inside especially the Corolla takes some of the space-efficient sensibilities of the current Camry cabin and adds more flair. LED headlamps and running lamps on the outside add a nice finishing touch, while a sporty Corolla S stands distinct, with a blacked-out look and sportier details.
In most Corolla models you'll find a 132-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, while the Elantra comes with a 148-hp, 1.8-liter. The Elantra includes a six-speed automatic transmission, while most Corolla models get a CVT that isn't so bad and responds well in most cases. Performance between the two is comparable. For those seeking maximum fuel efficiency, the Corolla LE Eco trim holds the upper hand, with a special Valvematic version of the engine and mileage of up to 42 mpg on the highway.
Last year Hyundai made the Elantra a slight step sportier, with a new 173-hp, 2.0-liter four available, as well as a three-mode steering system in the SE and Limited models, plus stiffer shocks and springs on the Sport. All models get retuned steering, too.
Keep in mind that these are both commuter devices and low-cost transportation above all, and driving excitement isn't the first priority...or the second one. On a curvy road, neither the Corolla nor the Elantra feel quite at home; both are sprung quite softly, with the Corolla's steering simply too light and the Elantra a bit uneven in its transitions. The Corolla S, with its stiffer suspension tune, is the better pick if curvy roads are in your daily-driving reach; these models feel more buttoned-down, and the CVT pretends that it has seven simulated gear ratios and steering-wheel paddle-shifters.
The much-improved Corolla interior no longer puts the Elantra's cabin at a strong advantage. We'd actually call it a tie in terms of materials and trims—both impressive for such low-cost cars—but the Corolla is almost a mid-size car in terms of real, usable seating space, and back-seat legroom in particular has been boosted by a few inches this year.
Both cars are reasonably good performers for safety, but with some noteworthy blemishes. Both cars earn a five-star overall score from the federal government. And while there's no doubt the Corolla's improved body structure makes it safer than the previous version; however, it earns a 'marginal' score on the IIHS' new small-overlap test. The Elantra didn't do all that much better, with an 'acceptable' rating in small overlap.
Equipment used to look sparse in the Corolla compared to the Elantra, but Toyota's really stepped up its game here, too, with a feature and option set that's competitive to the Elantra. Most Corollas include the automaker's latest Entune infotainment system, featuring navigation and apps in some models. Both the Elantra and Corolla include standard Bluetooth connectivity, while navigation, push-button start, heated front seats, and automatic climate control are available on upper trims. The Elantra, however, can be optioned with rear heated seats and we do like its infotainment interface slightly better.
In all, you can't go wrong with either of these frugal compact sedans. The pricing and features are now comparable. The Elantra arguably might still have the edge in style and flair, with its very well-coordinated design. But with a roomier interior, quieter ride, and better fuel economy, the Corolla has narrowed the gap significantly. The way it shakes out in our point system, the Elantra holds a significant edge, but if you place your priorities where they matter for most daily-driving commuters, the Corolla could be the better bet.
|from $16,950||from $17,250|
|from $16,018||from $16,734|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
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|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|