Your writer has a special relationship with the last-generation Hyundai Elantra.
On a test drive of the then-new model a few years back, I discovered a car with many strengths and few weaknesses. The ride quality on rough, real-world roads stood out; the Elantra felt durable, dense, and robust. Feature content was excellent, while styling was upscale and unique. The ABS and stability control systems performed consistently well, discreetly, and with refinement during a week of nasty winter driving ― adding confidence to my travels.
Fast forward a few years. My mother needed a new car to replace her trusty but ageing Honda Accord; she wanted a used Civic, but had a budget in mind. And although all mom wants from her car is to know that it exists, she decided that she’d treat herself to heated leather seats in her new ride. Furthermore, I decided that I wanted mom to have stability control, which made both of us more confident about her travelling around in the snow.
These features weren’t possible in a used Civic in her price range. Instead, she’d have to settle for a basic unit with cloth seats (non-heated), no stability control, and limited options. However, the same money would also get my mother into a few-year-newer Elantra equipped with stability control, more amenities, and her mandatory heated leather seats. With my blessing, she’s owned a last-generation Elantra for several years now.
I know the car well.
So, on a recent test drive of the all-new-for-2017 Hyundai Elantra, I noted that Hyundai has taken a compelling car and made it even better. If you’re a driver of a previous Elantra and considering upgrading into the new one, here’s a look at some of the stand-out differences — and where you might most see and feel the latest Elantra’s further-improved quality.
It starts outside: The bulbous and curvaceous bodywork has been benched in favour of a look that’s cleaner, tidier, more angular, and more upscale. The front fascia is a collection of straight lines and sculpts, accented with chrome and LED lighting and set against a chiseled hood. The rear is cleaner, more assertive, and more detailed, although the proportions of the taillamps to the trunklid to the rear bumper still instantly define this machine.
In all, the Hyundai Elantra’s look is more alert and more sophisticated, and styling now pulls its weight even harder towards the Elantra’s price tag. Pay attention, and you’ll see tighter panel gaps, reduced tolerances, and more precision in the details, too.
Hop on board, and the Elantra’s most valuable asset surrounds you. The cabin is the biggest step forward here, in terms of both design and execution. The former Elantra was unconventional looking, with accenting that was curvaceous, radically shaped console trim, a unique but fussy climate control layout, and crispy, hard plastic dispatched widely as the trim material of choice.
By contrast, the new 2017 Hyundai Elantra feels just like a slightly smaller Hyundai Sonata, which is a good thing. Styling is blessedly conventional. The lines are clean and uncluttered. Effective use of trim, accents, colours, and textures throughout give the forward dash a rich and upscale appearance, with some details and materials that wouldn’t look out of place in a thrice-the-price luxury sedan not so long ago. And it’s all sensible, easily operated, and upscale. The infotainment interface is one of the most logical and responsive in the segment, two supplemental digital displays for climate control and the driver computer add a touch of high-tech flair, and the materials and build quality are all improved, as well. This new cabin stands up nicely, even to close visual inspection.
So, if you want a compact-car interior that’s easy to use, conventionally laid out, and delightfully styled and trimmed and detailed, right down to the tactile feel of the buttons and switches, you’ll like what’s happening here.
Further improvements are apparent in the drive. Ride quality is bang on: well managed, calibrated for comfort first and sportiness second, but without feeling like a motorized glob of mayonnaise. On my watch, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra proved free of undue noise or excessive activity from the suspension, even on the roughest roads I could find to hammer on the springy stuff beneath. Driven thusly, the steering system stays straight and true, with no tugging from the wheel and no harshness transmitted through it.
Like the former Elantra, the new model feels dense, durable, and solid on rough roads, not delicate and flimsy and as if the suspension is disintegrating beneath you like dollar-store toilet paper. The ride is similar, but quieter, and the overall feel between the two generations is in the same ballpark, with the newer Elantra coming across as more fine-tuned, more substantial, and better calibrated more of the time.
A few complaints do surface, however. The big one is noise: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra isn’t excessively loud at highway speeds and beyond, where noise levels are about average for the segment, but given the luxurious look of the cabin, some drivers will expect less wind and road noise to seep in as speeds increase. Moreover, the new powertrain is most impressive when driven gently, and numerous competitors offer a more pleasing sound and refined sensation when called upon for full-throttle exercises.
Speaking of competitors, the new Honda Civic feels sportier, with a driving position that’s lower and more coupe-like, steering that’s sharper, heavier, and more entertaining, plus a suspension calibration that’s tauter and more eager in hard driving ― though at the slight expense of ride quality on harsher pavement. The Mazda3’s interior is less tidy and straightforward, but even richer with detail and texture, and slightly more high-tech in execution. It’s also got a more refined driveline. The Toyota Corolla has a significantly superior lighting system with standard LED headlamps, and it feels a touch roomier inside, especially in the rear passenger quarters.
Ultimately, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra’s noise levels at speed may disappoint slightly, but overall, here’s a machine that puts top-notch, real-world ride quality on offer, from a cabin that punches above its weight, wrapped in a great new look, and all that at a price that won’t break the bank. For shoppers, it should be considered a priority test drive in the segment.