2021 Hyundai Elantra front driving

The Hyundai Elantra grows up for 2021, with larger dimensions, more sophisticated infotainment, and stylish looks that give it a more upscale appearance. For the first time, a hybrid powertrain is available in an Elantra, with the automaker claiming an impressive 50 mpg combined. Clearly, Hyundai is taking aim at its small sedan competitors, and it is coming out swinging.

The appearance is more upscale than common in the small sedan class, both inside and out. It bears a strong resemblance to the midsized Sonata, and its interior touches, like large screens, would look at home in prestige-branded models.

Production starts in Alabama this fall, with sales expected to begin by year’s end. No pricing details have been released. Here is what we know so far.

What it competes with: Honda Civic, Honda InsightMazda3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla
What it looks like: A pint-sized Hyundai Sonata
Powertrains: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a continuously variable transmission; 1.6-liter hybrid four-cylinder with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
Price: $19,000 to $27,000 (estimated)
On-sale date: Late 2020  

CR's Take

The new Elantra aims to move a half-notch up in the small car pecking order, gaining a premium appearance and many upscale features. If Hyundai can hold the line on pricing, it would again shine for value. The fuel-economy promises intrigue us. The Honda Insight sedan and latest Toyota Corolla set a high bar for both the regular gasoline version and the hybrid. If the Elantra hits its targets, it will provide another compelling choice for buyers seeking efficiency, and it looks to do so with more panache than the rather drab Corolla.

The outgoing Elantra had some refinement shortcomings that were largely addressed for 2020. These demerits were for things such as engine noise and performance that contributed to a mediocre road-test score. We hope the improvements continue with the redesign and that the large screens retain the intuitive controls Hyundai has become known for.  

Outside

The Elantra has lines akin to the Sonata, with a sloping hood, sculpted doors, and rakish rear pillar. The front corners look like origami, with angled folds, and the wide grinning grille is reminiscent of the Palisade. Increased dimensions make it more similar in size to its prime competitors, including the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Mazda3. The previous car was a hint smaller than these prime rivals. This means it gained about 2 inches in length and an inch in wheelbase and width. However, it is about an inch lower. The combined effect is a more imposing road presence.  

2021 Hyundai Elantra interior

Inside

The stretched dimensions, aided by shorter overhangs, bring increases to many key cabin dimensions, such as increased legroom, shoulder room, and even headroom. But the main attraction here is the pair of available 10.25-inch screens, one for the instrument cluster and another for the infotainment system. This is reminiscent of the presentation seen in Mercedes-Benz models, like the A-Class and CLA. The standard center screen measures 8 inches.

Connectivity is a key theme with the new Elantra. It looks to be the first model in this segment to provide wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This means the driver can leave the phone in a bag or pocket, rather than dig it out, plug it in, and find a place to stow it. An available Qi wireless charger is a welcomed complement to this ability. Further, dual Bluetooth support means two phones can be paired at the same time.

The audio can be upgraded to an eight-speaker Bose sound system.

The car uses a natural language voice recognition system that Hyundai claims can understand context and is deeply integrated into many car functions. Again, the Elantra comes with Blue Link telematics, allowing drivers to remote start the car and control interior temperatures via a phone app. Users can also lock/unlock the car and use a Car Finder function.

The navigation system is connected, enabling routing based on current conditions. (Of course, that is also the case when using phone-based navigation apps.)

Another tech trick: Like the Sonata, the Elantra offers an optional digital key, allowing it to be unlocked without a physical key by using a near-field communication (NFC) card—a rare feature associated with far more upscale brands like BMW and Tesla. 

What Drives It

The standard engine is a 147-hp four-cylinder, teamed with a continuously variable transmission. This 2.0-liter carries over from the outgoing model, although Hyundai promises a fuel-economy improvement due to its “intelligent” CVT. Known as “IVT,” this transmission uses a chain design, rather than a belt like most CVTs, that is said to aid efficiency. The automaker claims the transmission simulates gear shifts to make it feel more like a traditional automatic moving through the gears.

The available hybrid powertrain produces 139 hp, with a notable 195 lb.-ft. of torque that promises to make this version feel more eager than the gasoline engine. Hyundai is claiming that this combination will achieve a combined EPA fuel-economy rating of more than 50 mpg, putting it on track to measure up against the Honda Insight and Toyota Corolla Hybrid—both are EPA-rated at 52 mpg combined. Until quite recently, such fuel-economy numbers were the realm of more specialized cars, like the Hyundai Ioniq and the Toyota Prius.

There has been no mention of adding a turbocharged engine to the range, as is offered with the current Elantra.  

Safety & Driver Assist Systems

The next-generation Elantra packs a full suite of advanced safety equipment, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, driver monitoring, and automatic high beams. Optional features include adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, rear automatic braking, and a “safe exit warning” that alerts if there is a vehicle approaching from behind as passengers open a door.  

2021 Hyundai Elantra rear