Like many other small cars, Hyundai’s latest Elantra sedan is trying its hardest to act like a luxury-badged compact car rather than a plebian commuter pod. Its sharply creased exterior and high-tech interior both succeed at giving off an upscale vibe, especially in higher trim levels. But the Elantra hasn’t forgotten that it’s still an economy car, and it now offers a hybrid version that prioritizes fuel economy, with impressive EPA ratings of up to 54 mpg combined.
It’s one of several new hybrid models Hyundai has introduced recently, and the Elantra’s drivetrain is most similar to the gas-electric setup found in the Ioniq hatchback. A 104-hp Atkinson-cycle gasoline inline-four combines with a 43-horsepower electric motor and a small battery pack to provide a total of 139 horsepower, a bit less than the nonhybrid Elantra’s 2.0-liter inline-four offers. We got the Elantra hybrid to 60 mph in a respectable 8.4 seconds, which isn’t exactly quick but also isn’t nearly as slow as the sluggish Toyota Corolla hybrid’s 10.7-second dawdle (we’ve yet to test a nonhybrid 2021 Elantra).
What most differentiates the Elantra from hybrid rivals such as the Honda Insight and the Corolla hybrid, which have a CVT, is its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which makes it accelerate much more like a normal car. While many hybrids have a gearless transmission that causes the engine to drone loudly when you step on the gas, we appreciated the Elantra hybrid’s noticeable but not obtrusive shifts that help avoid that auditory annoyance.
Our test car was a loaded Limited model, which receives lower EPA fuel-economy ratings than the lighter Blue base trim level. But we weren’t able to match even the reduced estimates of 50 mpg combined, 49 mpg city, and 52 mpg on the highway. In our hands, the Elantra averaged 40 mpg overall and hit 48 mpg on our real-world 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop. The Corolla hybrid hit a whopping 56 mpg in this same test, and Hyundai’s larger Sonata hybrid even beat its little sibling with a 51-mpg result. But the Sonata’s hybrid powertrain, which uses a 2.0-liter inline-four and a conventional torque-converter six-speed automatic, wasn’t as smooth as the Elantra’s in our experience, with clunky low-speed operation that made us wonder if the engineers didn’t quite finish the tuning calibration.
Impressively quiet and refined for a compact sedan, the Elantra hybrid goes down the road confidently. Its skidpad result of 0.85 g and stopping distance of 171 feet from 70 mph aren’t groundbreaking, but we enjoyed the nicely weighted steering and composed ride quality.
Hyundai says the hybrid doesn’t sacrifice any passenger or cargo space compared with the nonhybrid model, and the rear seats still fold in a 60/40 split arrangement. The Elantra’s cabin feels airy and bright thanks to a clear view out front, and the driver’s seating position is comfortable. Both the optional digital gauge cluster and 10.3-inch infotainment screens use clear, modern-looking graphics, and the buttons and knobs look and feel high-quality.
The hybrid’s steep price point is the only thing that would give us pause when shopping for an Elantra. The Blue model starts at $24,555 but lacks many of the niceties we enjoyed in our Limited test car, which stickered for $29,260. Because the nonhybrid Elantra Limited ($26,455) and the 201-hp, turbocharged Elantra N Line ($25,105) both go for several thousand dollars less, we think it’s difficult to justify buying the hybrid based on its mpg bump alone.
That’s not to say the Elantra hybrid doesn’t feel worth its price; instead, it illustrates the value available elsewhere in the Elantra lineup. Hyundai has succeeded in increasing its compact sedan’s curb appeal, technology offerings, and driving experience no matter which version we’re discussing. And if you’re particularly keen to get as close to 50 mpg as you can, we won’t judge you if you decide the hybrid is worth ponying up for.
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