When it first launched, the current Hyundai Elantra marked a styling sea change for the automaker. It took themes established on the the bigger Sonata sedan and re-crafted them into a flawless compact profile, in the process flipping the Hyundai compact range out of the design doldrums and into the fashion-forward set. From front to back, it's an effort that brims with confidence.
From almost every angle, the Elantra sedan looks like it's already in motion, which tends to be a sign of good car design. It is here, anyway. The rear door cuts are particularly effective cues that seem to pull the shape taut for release, like a bow pulled back waiting to release an arrow. The whole car looks to have been detailed with an expert eye, from the way the marker lights extend over the front wheel centers, to the steep cant of the windshield, to the crease that runs down the body, softening at the C-pillar. We also admire the rising shoulder line that emerges from smooth sheet metal just inches behind the lipped wheelwells and flows into the taillights. There's nothing particularly sporty about the lines as much as they are sophisticated, a theme that is not common among youth-oriented cars of its size and very much welcomed here.
There's a lot to like here. Given the Sonata's recent retreat into conservative territory, the Elantra is now one of Hyundai's most daring pieces of work, right there with the funky Veloster hatchback. It's our hope that the next Elantra keeps the distinctive look that helps it stand out from the veritable sea of compact sedans available now.
The exterior's design triumphs are matched by some great execution in the cabin, albeit in a more subdued manner. The unfettered swoops of the exterior are toned down in the right way inside; the curves are there, just pulled in more compelling and cohesive ways. The pinch point where the center console meets the rest of the dash is brilliant; the hourglass shape isn't just fresh and distinctive, it's a perfect area for resting knees that usually get a hard ridge and no apologies. That's just one cue in a design from a brand that's had few visuals all to itself in the past.