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Test Drive: 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL
2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL in Shimmering Silver Pearl

2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

ClassCompact Car

Miles driven: 757

Fuel used: 21.6 gallons

CG Report Card
Room and ComfortB
Power and PerformanceC+
Fit and FinishB-
Fuel EconomyB
Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
Big & Tall Comfort
Big GuyA-
Tall GuyB
Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.
Engine Specs147-hp 2.0L
Engine Type4-cylinder
Transmission CVT
Drive WheelsFront-wheel drive

Real-world fuel economy: 35.0 mpg

Driving mix: 35% city, 65% highway

EPA-estimated fuel economy: 31/41/35 (mpg city, highway, combined)

Fuel typeRegular gas

Base price: $20,900 (not including $995 destination charge)

Options on test vehicle: Convenience Package ($950), Premium Package ($2100), carpeted floor mats ($155)

Price as tested: $25,100


Quick Hits

The great: Spacious interior for the class; comfortable, compliant ride

The good: Generous level of standard features, value pricing

The not so good: Middling acceleration; polarizing styling; so-so interior materials

More Elantra price and availability information


John Biel

You may or may not like the new Hyundai Elantra’s looks, especially the creased and beveled bodysides. You may or may not appreciate the powerteam used in most gas-engine models, a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT). However, we’ll wager that starting prices—with delivery—ranging from $20,645 to $26,445 will meet with broad approval.

Hyundai uses the term Parametric Dynamics to describe the provocative styling theme for its redesigned-for-2021 Elantra. The body panels wear sharp character lines that create “gem-like” shapes.

Obviously, anyone truly put off by the seventh-generation Hyundai compact sedan’s appearance or performance won’t be able to justify even a dime of those figures. For everyone else, though, there’s good value to be found in the 2021 Elantra.

Gas models come in four trim levels running up from SE to SEL, N Line, and Limited. (Blue and Limited gas/electric hybrids are newcomers to the Elantra family that cost $2655 more than gas-only SEL and Limited, respectively.) Consumer Guide editors sampled an SEL that started at $21,895 but barely exceeded $25,000 with a pair of option packages and a set of carpeted floor mats.

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The Elantra’s interior features a fairly dramatic design, but rather pedestrian materials. The Convenience Package ($900) adds a host of upgrades, including a 10.25-inch LCD digital instrument panel, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats and outside mirror, wireless charging pad, and an electronic parking brake.

Any ’21 Elantra is going to present its owner with a car that is a little longer, wider, and lower than the previous-generation model. All feature standard blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keep and lane-follow assists, headlight high-beam assist, and safe-exit warning. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility are standard as well, and those with the base 8-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s standard for all but Limiteds boast wireless versions of both systems. Save for the SE, keyless entry and push-button starting are part of the deal, too.

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There’s respectable space for adults in both the front and back seats. The front seats are comfortable and supportive.

That’s hardly all. The test car also had a hands-free trunk release, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-volt outlet and twin USB ports, satellite radio, and Hyundai Blue Link telematics services. Option packages replaced the standard 16-inch alloy wheels with 17-inchers, the 6-speaker audio system with a Bose 8-speaker unit, conventional driving gauges and 4.2-inch vehicle info display with a 10.25-inch virtual display, conventional cruise control with adaptive stop-and-go cruise, and the full-bench folding seat back with a 60/40-split-folding seat. Some further extra-cost add-ons were a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob; wireless charging; heated front seats and external mirrors; sunroof; power driver’s seat; and the Hyundai Digital Key smartphone app that permits users to lock, unlock, and drive the car without the physical key fob.

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There’s 14.2 cubic feet of cargo room in the Elantra’s trunk–that’s on par with most compact-sedan class rivals.

Except for the sport-attuned N Line, all gas-engine Elantras come with the 2.0-liter four, CVT, and a suspension with MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar in front and torsion-beam axle in back. Engine output is modest—147 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm—but the “Smartstream” CVT doesn’t instill the sense of ennui (in driver and car) that often comes with this kind of transmission. If not soul-stirring, this powerteam is at least fairly smooth and quiet in “Normal” drive mode. Punch in “Sport” mode and response is a touch quicker and power ranges stick around a little longer before “upshifting.” For example, steady-state 60-mph highway cruising takes place at around 1500 rpm in Normal but jumps to 2500 revs in Sport. (A mixed “Smart” mode is a third choice.) Normal’s light but fundamentally featureless steering behavior turns a little more positive in Sport. Ride is quiet and generally smooth.

SEL and Limited fuel-economy estimates from the EPA are 31 mpg in the city, 41 mpg in highway operation, and 35 combined. (SE projections are 2 mpg higher across the board.) That’s why this driver was surprised—shocked, really—to see just 27.7 mpg from a test stint of 92.8 miles that included 51 percent city-type miles. Other CG editors who drove the car fared much better, however.

The SEL interior comes in a choice of Black or Gray with fabric upholstery that’s dressed up with white seam stitching and a matching vertical pattern in the center of the seat backs. It’s a nice look that helps spare the cabin from appearing bland. Front seats have good side bolstering. Front leg- and headroom seem abundant, and folks up to about 6 feet tall who will find good comfort in back as well. Two adults or three youngsters will fit across the rear seat.

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Elantra SELs are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower and is paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard.

Cabin materials don’t get too plush in the SEL, but neither are they stark. There are the hints of leather, don’t forget, and a few padded surfaces. The optional thin-film-transistor driving-control display is vivid and legible, and changes with the driving mode. The audio system with the 8-inch screen has external tuning, volume, and function knobs and buttons, and is blessedly easy to use. The dual-zone climate controls are on a separate panel with individual dials for direct setting of desired temperatures; two rows of well-marked buttons summon the system’s other functions. Driver vision is best out front and to the sides, where a low dash and fairly narrow roof pillars don’t block much view. Over-the-shoulder and direct-rear views aren’t as good.

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The Elantra’s front fascia is dominated by a bold “parametric-jewel-pattern” grille; the rear styling is highlighted by a full-width taillight panel and the trunk’s crisp, convex shape at the rear.

Interior storage is just so-so. The glove box is sizeable, but the covered console cubby is compact. Door pockets are big in front but only large enough to serve as bottle holders in back. There’s a single net pouch in back, behind the front-passenger seat, and it is not standard but comes as part of the Premium Package option. Paired cup holders are located in the center console and in the central armrest that comes with the 60/40 rear seat. A low liftover gives access to 14.2 cubic feet of flat-floored trunk space. The rear seats fold flat but rest a couple of inches above the level of the cargo floor.

You may or may not like everything about the 2021 Hyundai Elantra but there’s enough to impress here to earn a place on any serious small-car shopper’s must-see list.

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Its radical styling isn’t for everyone, and there is some cost-cutting evident in the interior materials, but Hyundai’s redesigned Elantra is a practical, comfortable everyday commuter that offers a lot of features for the money.

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2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL Gallery

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2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

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