The Honda Civic may have been the best-selling car in Canada for 18 consecutive years, but the Hyundai Elantra is looming large in its rear-view mirror. It’s even passed the Civic in a few individual months.
The Elantra has worked its way through the crowded compact car sector and into runner-up position over the last several years on its own merit. With the arrival of a thoroughly reworked model for 2017, it becomes an even more worthy competitor.
With this new model, the Elantra has grown up, literally and figuratively. The styling has evolved, like a teen passing from that awkward gawky phase into physical maturity.
And, while it is marketed as a compact car, the interior dimensions qualify it for a mid-size car rating, according to the EPA.
Rising to this level of acceptance has been the result of continual improvement in everything from quality and reliability, to styling, engineering, technology – and value. There is no denying the importance of the latter at this end of the market. Consumers appreciate being able to drive a car loaded with features within the limits of their monthly outlay.
That was the core issue during development of the 2017 Elantra. The stated goal was to “disrupt the market” by adding content to every model from base to top trim levels. For example, the lowest entry level model, the $15,995 L, which accounts for only 5% of Elantra sales, comes with heated front seats, height adjustable front seats, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, heated mirrors and remote keyless entry.
Surprise and delight
My test car was two rungs up the trim ladder, a Limited model. While competitively priced in comparison to anything else in the class, it boasted many features either not available elsewhere or at added expense. At slightly over $26,000 the tag may seem high – if you haven’t been looking at new cars for a few years. At that price point you can now expect dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seats, a back-up camera, power heated mirrors, power seats, alloy wheels and a sunroof in most models.
But the Elantra Limited tops it off. Surprise and delight features include: heated leather steering wheel, heated rear seats, automatic defogging, 8-inch colour touch screen with Android auto, two memory settings for seats and mirrors, a separate 4-inch driver information screen, eight-speaker, 315-watt Infinity audio system and “smart trunk activation” – pass your foot under the rear bumper if your hands are full and the lid magically opens. Just don’t stand around the rear of the car with the keys in your possession unless you plan to open the trunk!
The Elantra nails the safety category. In addition to all the belts, bags and electronic aids that have become mandatory or standard, even lower trim levels of the Elantra come with blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. The former advises when there is vehicle in the adjacent lane and the latter when vehicles are approaching from either direction as you attempt to reverse out of a parking space.
If you want it all, there is an aptly-named Ultimate model showcasing technology, unavailable elsewhere in the compact segment: HID headlights that turn in the corners, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control that will maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead and bring the car to a complete halt if the driver fails to do so in an emergency, as well as a lane departure warning system with lane keeping assist that will warn if you are wondering from your lane and lightly tug you back into it if you fail to take action. All this at $28,799!
The interior of the new Elantra is filled with little touches that make you feel the designers actually drove the car. The instruments are clear and legible day or night, both major and minor controls are intuitively designed and placed and there are soft touch surfaces where your extremities come in contact with the vehicle – on the edge of the center console where you rest your leg and on the door panels and top of the center console where rest your arms.
A real fuel miser
The sixth generation Elantra comes with a new engine boasting some unique technology. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder, it operates on the Atkinson instead of Otto cycle. The Atkinson cycle favors efficiency at the cost of power – normally – and is common with hybrid drivetrains where the electric motor can make up for a slight loss of torque. Hyundai engineers have come up with an approach to varying the valve timing they feel addresses the power issue, without adding an electric motor..
They nailed the fuel economy. Despite an aggressive driving style and subsequent heavy throttle, my test vehicle averaged 7.1-litres/100 km on a mixture of city and highway driving. That is better than the NRC rating – a rare accomplishment!
Not so much on the power side. The reason for that heavy throttle use, is a slight loss in performance compared to similar trim levels of the outgoing model and some competitors. The new engine produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, well below the 173 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of the 2.0 offered previously.
All but the base model come with a six-speed automatic transmission, giving it a step up on the main competition, which is saddled with a CVT automatic. While the CVT may yield good fuel economy numbers under strict fuel economy testing conditions, the conventional six-speed wins out in the real world. And it’s far more pleasant to drive.
The Elantra comes with Drive Mode Select with Eco, Normal and Sport modes, altering steering, throttle and transmission actions. I preferred normal, the default mode. Eco softens every response too much for my taste and Sport makes for a very touchy throttle pedal.
Recent Hyundai products have shown considerable improvement in chassis stiffness and suspension calibration. More than half of the new Elantra is made from high strength steel and there are significantly more industrial adhesives in use. The result is a rock-solid feel and sound whether closing a door or hitting a nasty pothole. The car remains well-controlled under all but the most severe conditions and composed over rough roads, like a like a much larger and heavier vehicle.
There is some, but not much feedback from the steering wheel, not unexpected with electric steering at this price point. Switching between the different drive modes allows you to adjust the amount of effort required, but not the results.
Overall, the Elantra has become a refined, high-value small family car with proven reliability. Anyone shopping in this segment that does not take a few minutes to drive one is missing the boat.
Model: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Price: $26,249 as tested
Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder, 147-horsepower, 132 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (city/highway): 8.3/6.4 L/100 km
Length: 4,550 mm
Width: 1,775 mm
Wheelbase: 2,700 mm
Mass: 1,330 kg
Primary competitors: Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf