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-door sedans fight head to head for shoppers looking for reasonable performance for about $20,000--but between them, is the 2017 Hyundai Elantra or the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze the better choice?
The redesigned Cruze has a handsome, wedge-shaped profile that's crisper and more modern than its slab-sided, three-box predecessor. It's got a lot of curves, angles, and accent lines that mostly work together but border on the busy. It also looks remarkably like the Volt plug-in hybrid hatchback introduced this year as well. Inside, however, its high-quality materials and intuitive controls set it apart.
The Hyundai is less visually audacious than it was in its previous form. It's still a more attractive and elegant vehicle than the new Cruze, though. 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. Some viewers even saw a hint of Audi A7 in the roofline. 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 new Cruze offers only a single engine, a 153-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four, which gets fuel-economy ratings of 35 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic transmission that'll be the most common choice.
Elantra sedans with the 147-hp 2.0-liter four and six-speed automatic are rated at 32 mpg combined, or 35 mpg in Eco trim, with a smaller-displacement 1.6-liter turbo four engine and a 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.
The Elantra and the Cruze are fairly evenly matches for a smooth ride and confident driving feel. Neither is particularly 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 while they're not sport sedans, they're both better than their predecessors in driving feel.
Both the Elantra and Cruze offer up sizable interior room for front passengers, with more usable space for rear-seaters. Both are relatively large inside, with nicely bolstered front bucket seats and adequate rear-seat leg room--though the Elantra gets the edge in the rear. Both are strong on storage space, too.
The winner in safety remains to be seen. Neither new model has been fully crash-tested yet, but both offer active-safety systems like blind-spot alert, lane-keeping assist, and forward collision warning. The Elantra, however, has two optional features the Cruze doesn't offer on any model: adaptive cruise control and automatic crash braking.
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 MyLink connectivity system in the Cruze offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, and it also offers navigation, as well as heated leather seats and automatic climate control, on high-end models.
The Elantra has a slightly more elegant design, plus more optional safety technology. The Cruze outpoints it, however, with higher fuel economy across the board and a fresher, more youthful set of equipment.