First Drive: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Is a Mature Machine

This curvy compact sedan has higher tech and a more refined driving experience

2021 Hyundai Elantra front driving

Update: Since this first drive was originally published in January, 2021, we finished testing the Hyundai Elantra.

Read the complete Elantra road test.

The redesigned 2021 Hyundai Elantra feels like a more grown-up car than the model it replaces. It has a new, higher-tech infotainment system and delivers one of the more refined driving experiences in the compact sedan class. The new Elantra is also considerably more stylish, both inside and out, than the previous version. It looks to be a good alternative to key competitors such as the Honda CivicMazda3Nissan SentraSubaru ImprezaToyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.

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The seventh-generation Elantra is longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing model. Most Elantras will be powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There is also a 201-hp, 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder available, and an all-new hybrid that has a 54 mpg combined fuel-economy rating from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   

Prices for the front-wheel-drive Elantra start at $19,650 for the SE and top out at $25,450 for the top-shelf Limited. We bought a 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL for our test program, and rented the top-level Limited trim from Hyundai to add to our first impressions. 

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial expert assessment of the Elantra SEL we purchased for our test program is available to you below. We have since logged more than 2,000 break-in miles on our Elantra and put it through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members have access to the full road-test results.

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What we bought: 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL
Powertrain: 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; continuously variable transmission; front-wheel drive
MSRP: $20,900
Options: Convenience package ($950), including 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, adaptive cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector lever, heated front seats, wireless charging pad ($950).
Destination fee: $995
Total cost: $23,000

CR's Take

The Elantra’s cabin makes a strong first impression, especially when fitted with the optional 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. Combined with the 8-inch infotainment touch screen, Hyundai’s designers made these two screens appear like a single, giant horizontal screen, which is likely to make for some strong showroom appeal. 

Those on CR’s staff who have cycled through the new Elantra so far have been impressed with the driving experience. It feels solid and competent through corners, delivers class-competitive ride comfort, and has one of the best-tuned CVTs we’ve experienced. We’re also happy to report that even with its more high-tech infotainment system, the Elantra’s controls remain easy to use, a relative rarity these days.

It also looks sharp, and it’s a bonus that rear-seat legroom has been increased and proves class-competitive even with the sharper styling.

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