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2021 Hyundai Elantra First Drive: Reaching for the Top

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Auto123 takes a first test drive of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra.

In case you might have lost track of time – entirely forgivable given the last weeks and months of semi-confinement - Hyundai’s Elantra has been on our roads for almost 30 years. The first model carrying the name arrived in 1992, to little or no fanfare at all to be honest. Few took notice.

The model has come a long way since then. Last year, the Elantra ranked third in sales in its category in Canada, behind perennial leader the Honda Civic and not far back of the Toyota Corolla. Hyundai’s aim now is higher up the podium as it introduces the next-gen Elantra, scheduled to debut in 2021.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, profile
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Elantra, profile

The Sonata as muse
And what we’re getting is an entirely new model in every respect. Built on a new platform, this 7th-generation Elantra has a longer wheelbase, wider tracks and a bold exterior styling in the tradition of a four-door coupe. It clearly borrows some of its inspiration from the Sonata, which changed its skin last year.

What stands out with this new styling exercise is the overall upscale look that suggest a more expensive vehicle than the Elantra really is. And, thanks to the larger exterior dimensions, the interior benefits as well. The seating position is now lower to counteract the receding roofline at the rear that could have reduced headroom for rear-seat occupants.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, three-quarters rear
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Elantra, three-quarters rear

Well-equipped
Korean automakers continue to build on their reputation for delivering value. The extensive list of standard equipment includes frontal collision avoidance, lane assist, driver attention warning system and rearview camera.

Our tester was the Ultimate trim, and it also includes more advanced features such as highway driver assistance, which helps keep you centered in your lane and a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you, rear occupant alert and safe exit alert in addition to intelligent cruise control.

This top-of-the-line version also benefits from a fully digital instrument panel with a customizable display that changes settings depending on driving style - another feature typically found in luxury car models.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, steering wheel, dashboard
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Elantra, steering wheel, dashboard

The Elantra is also the first vehicle in its segment to receive Android Auto and Apple CarPlay wirelessly when equipped with the 8-inch infotainment screen. No more dragging a wire around, woohoo. Hyundai added that next year, you'll also be able to use wireless navigation from your smartphone.

Beyond that, there’s an available large 10.25-inch high-definition screen with navigation and audio system. This system offers improved functionality over the previous generation, including split-screen functionality. We even had customizable 64-colour mood lighting that invites you to relax or get excited or whatever your preference.

Hyundai also thought of all sorts of small details like the tilt of the infotainment touch screen towards the driver for easier access. The many adjustments possible for the seat allow you to find a good driving position. Excellent leg and shoulder room in the rear adds to passenger comfort.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, interior
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Elantra, interior

Tranquil on the road
For this first encounter, Hyundai only made available to us the regular version of the new Elantra. This rather sedate version is equipped with a 2.0L engine producing 147 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. Only the base Essential version is available with a manual transmission; all other models come with the so-called “intelligent” IVT (CVT) transmission, which simulates gear changes to reduce the level of pain in your ears when you open up the throttle.

The focus is on comfort, not performance. If you want more power, a little bit of patience is in order because Hyundai will bring out the N Line version with a 201-hp 1.6L turbocharged engine later in November. If that's not enough, more patience will be required as you’ll have to wait for the true N version Hyundai is preparing for 2021, and which will borrow the 2.0L turbocharged powerplant of the Veloster N with several performance adjustments for suspension, chassis, steering and more, and 276 hp under the hood.

Finally, for those who want to do even better than the 6.7L/100 km average that we managed to do with our gas-powered Elantra, Hyundai will also offer an Elantra Hybrid equipped with the powertrain of the Ioniq Hybrid, which will undoubtedly take the cake when it comes to fuel economy.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, front
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Elantra, front

In our Ultimate version, as with all other versions, power comes only through the front wheels – so no AWD - and the emphasis is on comfort. Quiet driving and competent handling, but nothing more.

Realistic pricing
The starting price for a manual-transmission version of the Elantra Essential starts at $17,899. It's true that it has a little less equipment than the next versions, but cars under $20,000 are very rare.

Our test model, an Ultimate Tech version with virtually everything conceivable added to it, including two digital displays, wireless smartphone connectivity, heated seats and more, starts at $28,299. Which we still consider to be a great deal.

The Preferred versions, which are likely to be the most popular, start at $21,899 and the entry-level Ultimate models are priced at $25,599, or about $1,000 more than a hybrid version.

2021 Hyundai Elantra, from above
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Elantra, from above

Conclusion
With its bold, high-end styling, wide selection of trims and several upcoming models, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra is primed to make move in the category. And I admit it’s good to see that, at a time when auto manufacturers are systematically abandoning cars for SUVs, Hyundai continues to invest in vehicles for those who appreciate the pleasures of driving a car.

We like

Comprehensive list of standard features
Fuel economy
Lots of space for passengers

We like less

The engine’s a little meek
The CVT can get screechy during accelerations
The styling likely won’t please everyone

2021 Hyundai Elantra, rear
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Elantra, rear

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