2021 Hyundai Elantra review: Is this the best affordable car money can buy?
Affordability comes in a sleek package.
I didn't get my first new car until well into my late 20s. Everything before that was used in some form, and I was very excited to pick up that new car.
It was a Mazda3 hatchback, and, if I remember correctly, it was around $21,000. It was a reasonably entry-level car but still well-equipped with Bluetooth and a rev-happy 2.5-liter engine mated to a six-speed manual. It was the epitome of the Zoom-Zoom slogan Mazda was using, and it even said Zoom-Zoom when you turned it on. Cool!
If I were buying my first new car today, I think I'd be astonished by the number of features packed into a base sedan like the Hyundai Elantra. The Elantra competes with vehicles like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Nissan Sentra and, as it happens, is my test car this week.
I had a fully-loaded Elantra Limited that weighed in at $26,600 out the door. As is typical with Hyundais, there aren't many options (mine had carpeted floor mats for $155). Instead, there are several trims depending on whether you want Good, Better, or Best.
Even the base Elantra SE includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic avoidance, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and even a highway driving assist that handles a good amount of steering on the highway. That last feature is something that many cars don't have at twice the price.
Mine had a two-liter four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It is not fast, but it's more than adequate. And it gets 35 miles per gallon combined which is solid for folks on a budget. There's also a hybrid version that starts at around $24,000 (very similar to the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, in fact) that sports 54 mpg combined.
Forget Bluetooth. The Elantra comes with an eight-inch touchscreen (10.25-inch on the Limited), CarPlay, and Android Auto. Weirdly, the lower-trims get wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, but the larger-screened Limited only supports wired.
I'm a huge fan of current Hyundais, and it continues with the Elantra. The interior is well laid out with a driver-focused cockpit. There are easy-to-use knobs for climate control and radio, and there's a well-considered spot for your phone with wireless charging in front of the shifter and well-placed cupholders. And, if you're an enthusiastic driver, there's a grab handle for your passenger too.
It also includes Hyundai's Blue Link connected car setup and Hyundai Digital Key, where you can use your Android phone as a car key. That makes for a full suite of tech and safety features that used to be found only in luxury vehicles, and now it's available starting in the low-$20,000 range.
The exterior of the Elantra is one of the best in its class. It looks modern, with creases and edges that make the car look pricier than it is. The rear is especially interesting, with a spoiler and rear lights that look almost tucked into the sheet metal. I'm not sure how to explain it, but I love the look.
There are a lot of good-looking cars these days, but the Elantra feels a cut above both inside and out. And, with a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty plus a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it's an excellent choice for anyone looking for a first new car.
But suppose you're looking for something a little more exciting. In that case, Hyundai also makes the Elantra N. I wrote about the Kona N a few weeks ago, and the Elantra N includes the same 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft turbo 2.0L. Still, it also has an option for a 6-speed manual if you're looking for something a little more direct. I'd go for the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, but it's also nice to have the choice. And, like the Kona N, the Elantra N sports an incredible new exhaust system that is full of pops, bangs, and crackles, and might be the best sounding four-cylinder engine you can buy.
The manual Elantra N is available for just $32,925 (with a $1,500 premium for the dual-clutch automatic), which makes it one of the best performance-to-dollar ratios you can find.
All in, the Elantra is one of my favorite affordable small cars. Whether you're looking for your first new car or something to commute with, it'll take good care of you for years to come — just like that Mazda3 hatchback took care of me.
One Cool Detail: The N Version
N is Hyundai’s performance division, named either after the Namyang district in South Korea or the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany where Hyundai has a technical center or the shape of a racing circuit chicane.
N is affixed to three different Hyundais, but the Elantra N is the best of the bunch when it comes to performance and it takes an already excellent car and jolts it with a mainline drip of espresso.
It would be my first choice if I were looking for an affordable everyday track car, and it’s incredibly cool.
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