By Derek Price
One of the toughest things about evaluating cars is resetting your expectations after each one.
For example, driving a new, $62,000 Lexus luxury SUV for a week and then hopping into a car that costs less than half as much — as I did this week with the 2017 Hyundai Elantra — I have to brace myself for a letdown. Otherwise, I could end up judging the cheaper car too harshly.
The strange thing about jumping from a luxury car into my Elantra tester, though, is that it didn’t feel like much of a drop.
This new-generation Hyundai sedan had a big, high-tech, touchscreen navigation system like the Lexus. It had radar cruise control and lane-keeping steering, so it could almost drive itself like the Lexus. It had comfy, heated leather seats in front and back, so it checked a lot of those same luxury-car boxes.
It even did something really cool to solve a first-world problem.
If you’ve got the air conditioner or heater blowing full blast and then start to make a phone call through the Bluetooth system, that usually makes it tough to hear the conversation. You probably know the feeling.
“Hello, can you hear me? … Wait, let me turn down the A/C.”
The new Elantra automatically turns the blower down a little bit so you can hear the phone better when you make a call. It’s one of those thoughtful features I like to see on cars to set them apart in a crowded, hyper-competitive market.
Putting upmarket features into an affordable car was one of Hyundai’s biggest goals when redesigning the Elantra, one of its most popular models.
Of course, offering nicer features on smaller cars has been a trend in the car industry for years, but this all-new Elantra takes it to a new level. Other than cooled seats — a must for those of us who drive in the South — I couldn’t find any important luxury features that would be missing compared to, say, a Mercedes-Benz. It’s blurring the lines between luxury-brand content and regular-brand content like few vehicles have done before.
Another thing that surprises me is how quiet and comfortable the cabin is. This new generation Elantra has a softer ride than before and apparently a lot more sound insulation to keep the road and engine noise out.
One noticeable downside, though, is mediocre acceleration from its 147-horsepower engine. It feels like it’s designed more for getting great gas mileage than for having fun, and you can see that in the numbers — 37 miles per gallon on the highway for my test car.
That’s good for saving money. Just don’t expect acceleration to be all that great.
Fortunately, the engine feels and sounds syrupy smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission makes crisp, confident shifts. I did notice it hunting for the right gear a few times in my stint behind the wheel, but I suspect the issue stood out more because everything else on this car is so incredibly refined. The construction of the cabin, feel from the steering wheel and brake pedal, body styling and silent highway ride all seem so well sorted out that it makes the few picky imperfections more glaring.
I don’t have any complaints about the way it looks. The fresh styling does a good job straddling the razor-thin line between daring and tasteful, with a large hexagon grille, sculpted hood and dramatic LED foglights that sprinkle just a dash of supercar excitement onto the front end.
Any less and it would be boring. Any more and it would be ugly. To my eyes, it strikes that balance perfectly.
Finally, there’s the price.
While my loaded-up test Elantra rang up over $27,000, the base SE model starts around $17,000. The more luxurious Limited trim starts at $22,350 and gives you leather seats, more safety features — including blind spot detection, one of my favorites — a 7-inch touchscreen audio system and push-button start.
If you want to save even more at the gas pump, you can choose the efficient Eco model with a small turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission for $20,650. It’s rated for 32 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, a bump of 3 mpg over the base Elantra.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited ($22,350). Options: Tech Package ($2,500), Ultimate Package ($1,900), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $835 destination charge): $27,710
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 179.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder (147 hp, 132 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 28 city, 37 highway
2017 Hyundai Elantra
Why buy it?
A complete redesign breathes new life into an already strong mid-size sedan contender. It offers luxury-level features at a price for people on a budget.