The Hyundai Elantra has been a big success story for the South Korean automaker. A decade ago, it wasn't even mentioned in the same breath as Civic and Corolla.
Today, it's one of the highest-rated small sedans at The Car Connection, in league with the brilliant new Honda Civic, the Ford Focus, the Mazda 3, and the Subaru Impreza. In large part, that's due to edgy styling, a spacious cabin, good crash-test scores and a strong set of standard features.
We're not alone in calling it a winner. The current Elantra is one of the best-selling Hyundai cars. One of the best-selling compact cars. One of the best-looking compact cars. And one of the most fuel-efficient, too.
So what happens when Hyundai changes up its winning formula? We found out when we went to San Diego last week a first drive of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra.
Hyundai Elantra styling and utility
Hyundai made styling a calling card with the last Elantra. This time it's smoothed out a lot of the brash details, just like it did with the latest Sonata.
The new Elantra has more presence, with a wider and deeper grille, but it's also simpler and cleaner and less interesting past its handsome front end. The C-shaped cut lines at the rear doors are muted, the kicky roofline and side sculpting have been tamed, and the roof blends into the rear fenders in a more straightforward way--the same way the same pieces intersect in a Chrysler 200 or a Ford Fusion.
The details that work better on this Elantra include new air intakes at the front corners to smooth airflow around the tires. They're slits that tuck in along available LED daytime running lights in attractive bracket shapes. The doors have a deep shoulder line that contrasts nicely with the swell of the fenders--it's a look Acura's worn before, but the Elantra wears it better.
A trio of LED taillamps per side progress from center to side in a subtly changed pentagonal shape. It reads like a Mensa test where you're supposed to predict the next shape.
Inside, the Elantra's cabin is a dead ringer for the one in the latest Sonata. It's built along horizontal themes, with a large space reserved under a simple dash hood for a touchscreen, canted slightly toward the driver. The very appealing hourglass shape from the last Elantra has been wiped clean in favor of this subtly European treatment.
The new Elantra definitely has a more subdued cabin, but has a more substantial feel that comes from the pared-down design. There are big panels of hard plastic across the dash and doors, with softer materials placed at touch points for the driver and passengers.
For small-item storage, there's a deep covered bin in front of the shift lever, where power ports, aux jack and USB live. Two cupholders sit toward the back of the center console, next to the handbrake.
Slightly more spacious than before, the Elantra is roughly the same size as Honda's new Civic--and both actually mid-size cars if you go by the EPA's classification system.
The overall length of 179.9 inches is up by 0.8 inches, and wheelbase of 106.3 inches is unchanged. The new Elantra is an inch wider than before, at 69.9 inches. Curb weight ranges from about 2,800 to 3,000 pounds. More than half the body is made from high-strength steel, and the new Elantra is about a third stiffer than the previous car, which can contribute to a quieter ride and better handling.
The largely unchanged interior space means excellent front seat room even for bigger drivers-- and better seat comfort too, with more bolstering on the bottom cushion. The low side bolsters are almost identical to those in the bigger Sonata.
The back seat has better room than a lot of rivals. The seats aren't shaped quite as well as those in front, and the bottom cushion is slightly low, but knee and headroom are ample enough for adults. Anyone under six feet tall should fit just fine, even with the available sunroof--its housing doesn't intrude on rear-seat head space.
For storage, the Elantra's trunk has 14.4 cubic feet of space that's usefully shaped, with a low liftover access. The rear seats have a section that folds down for long objects to be loaded through the trunk to the passenger space--and a hands-free trunk lid opens with the wave of a foot under the rear bumper.
Quality perceptions are a wash in the new Elantra versus the last model. The new car has a lot of black plastic trimming the doors, the carpeting on the package shelf is a bit furry, but the doors close with a solid, satisfying noise and a lack of flutter.
More expensive versions also have more sound damping. For an economy car, the Elantra is pretty quiet inside, even under full throttle. However, not all Elantras get all the available sound-damping features, like a hood insulation panel and sound-deadening material in the pillars, fenders, and floorpans. Hyundai didn't provide a base model for comparison.