What it is: The Elantra is Hyundai’s compact sedan; they recently launched the seventh generation for the 2021 model year. It starts at a penny-pinching $19,850 for the SE trim, $21,100 for the SEL and $25,600 for the top Limited trim, which is the one I tested. All three are powered by the same 147 horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and get more than 40 MPG on the highway.
When you sit in the driver’s seat, you are immediately greeted with a 10.25-inch digital LCD gauge cluster with a matching 10.25-inch infotainment screen next to it. It looks nice but you also immediately notice the dichotomy of how some materials feel more upscale (leather seats, fancy LCD screens) but the door panels and other plastics in the car are exactly what you would expect from a lower cost economy car. The Limited trim features adaptive cruise control with forward collision avoidance, heated front seats, a wireless charging pad, sunroof, Hyundai Digital Key (which lets you use your smartphone instead of the keys to turn on and drive the car) and a bunch of other tech, but it still comes off across as just lipstick.
I really like Hyundai vehicles and usually recommend them to friends and family, but it is too hard to ignore the larger Sonata sedan that is only a few thousand more and is worth every one of those extra pennies. The Sonata SEL starts at $25,800, just $200 more, and when you add the $2,200 convenience package, you get most of the features except for leather seats. Yes, an extra $2,400 is a decent chunk of cash, but it would be worth it.
Additionally, the ride quality and quietness in the Sonata is far superior as well. If you force a comparison with other cars that are the same size as the Elantra, well, none of them are particularly good. One hundred and forty-seven horsepower is pretty lethargic and there is nothing particularly rewarding about the driving experience. I was decently impressed with the back seat room, but four full-sized adults for anything more than an hour or so might be too much.
MPG: 35 combined/31 city/41 highway
Price: $19,850 base price. $26,600 as-tested.
Upsides: Leather seats and lots of tech for mid $20s.
Downsides: It is still an economy car.
Wrap-up: The tech additions are good, although I have become accustomed to front parking sensors and the Elantra only has rear. Every penny matters on low margin vehicles like this, so I’m sure this was a conscious decision. The story of the Elantra is this: if you are at the rental car lot choosing a car and you are faced with a line of compact cars, then the Elantra is a really good choice. Maybe even the best choice. However, if you are at the dealer shopping for new cars and deciding on something that is going to be sitting in your driveway for the next several years, then you should buy a Sonata.