Toyota Corolla Vs. Hyundai ElantraEnlarge Photo
Just a year ago, 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 this year, with an all-new, refreshed Toyota Corolla that's far bolder and much more competitive with respect to features, it's clear that the competition isn't over yet—and Toyota might even have an edge.
The Elantra sure stood out in its class when it was completely redesigned, for 2011, but today, with the Corolla completely redesigned for 2014, it's pretty much a tossup from a design and styling standpoint. While the Elantra still stands as an 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 2014 Corolla; Toyota has just given it a fresh new look that's much more daring and edgy than its previous iteration; and 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.
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; but the Corolla S, with its stiffer suspension tune, is the better pick if curvy roads are in your daily-driving reach; there models feel more buttoned-down, and the CVT pretends that it has seven simulated gear ratios and steering-wheel paddle-shifters.
We haven't yet driven the 2014 Hyundai Elantra, and compared to those of previous model years, it's a step sportier. In the new Sedan Sport model it gets a 173-hp, 2.0-liter four, 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.
The much-improved Corolla interior no longer puts the Elantra's cabin at the strong advantage that existed last year. The Corolla is almost a mid-size car in terms of seating space, and back-seat legroom in particular has been boosted by a few inches this year. Interior materials are impressive for such a cost-conscious car—perhaps as impressive as those of the Elantra.
Toyota hoped that the Corolla's revised structure and strong safety features would earn it both a federal five-star rating and the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating; however, a "Marginal" score on the IIHS' new small-overlap test denies it that Top Safety Pick+ status. It has earned a five-star score from the NHTSA, though. The Elantra, on the other hand, has earned five-star federal scores and the Top Safety Pick+ nod for its sedan models.
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