The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is 100 percent adequate.
By John Pearley Huffman, Yahoo Autos
It’s not like anyone actually needs more car than the Hyundai Elantra sedan. It’s quick enough to keep up with traffic; it rides well so that its passengers are unlikely to get car sick; there’s room for four people and their stuff; the stereo sounds good; it’s not bad looking; and the air conditioning blows cold. For 90 percent of the people 90 percent of the time, the new 2017 Hyundai Elantra is 100 percent adequate.
Adequacy, however, is often unrecognized as an automotive virtue. So let’s call it “sufficiency.” Is that better? And sufficiency isn’t an easy trick to pull off.
The Elantra sits in the hammock spot of the Hyundai line up between the too-small Accent and not-that-much-larger mainstream Sonata sedans. In general specification it competes in the compact market segment defined by the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. It’s intensely competitive, price conscious market slice where retail prices hover near $20,000 and lease deals are advertised down near $169 per month. The customers shopping at this level aren’t looking to buy a status symbol, but need a reliable automotive companion to complement their lives.
It’s the sort of car that often shows up as a prize on “The Price Is Right.”
Much of what was already right with the 2016 Elantra has been left alone with the 2017 version. The design of the structure under the new exterior sheet steel is mostly left alone with the wheelbase unchanged at 106.3-inches and the 56.5-inch total height carrying over as well. The new Elantra looks more aggressive than the outgoing model, but it carries the same general proportions and many of Hyundai’s signature styling elements.
The basic suspension design is also mostly a rerun. There’s a pair of MacPherson struts up front and the tail hangs over a slightly tweaked version of the solid torsion beam axle. The rack-and-pinion steering gets its assist from an electric motor. This is all typical for the class.
What’s new is sitting transversely in the engine bay driving the front wheels. Hyundai has developed two new engines for the 2017 Elantra and they’re each intriguing in their own way.
For base SE and lofty Limited models, there’s a new 2.0-liter four cylinder that runs on the Atkinson combustion cycle and is rated at 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of peak torque at 4,500 rpm. The Atkinson cycle—which uses laggard timing of an intake valve to maximize expansion of the gas-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber—allows an exceptionally high 12.5:1 compression ratio. That zippy ratio is good for both emissions and fuel economy, but the new engine doesn’t use that current darling of engineering, direct injection.
The other new engine, available in a new “Eco” trim model that’s coming this spring, is a turbocharged 1.4-liter direct injection four rated at only 128 hp, but with 156 lb-ft of torque available from 1,400 to 3,700 rpm. It will be paired with a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. But it was only available on a limited basis at the press launch last month in San Diego.
What us press monkeys got to pilot in San Diego were top-of-the-line Limited models with the 2.0-liter engine lashed to a six-speed automatic transaxle. A six-speed manual will also be offered in the SE model, but none were on hand for sampling.
Starting at $23,185 after including the expected $835 destination charge shakedown, the Limited comes thickly equipped for this class of car. That includes 17-inch wheels with P225/45R17 tires, LED tail lights, leather seating surfaces and shiny trim pieces to decorate the exterior. Most of the cars on hand also included the $2,500 “Limited Tech Package” which includes a navigation system, power sunroof, a rip-snort Infinity audio system, a power sunroof and, interestingly, rear heated seats. Beyond that, many of the cars also carried the $1,900 “Limited Ultimate Package” with HID headlights that bend their beams into corners, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, super smart cruise control and memory seats.
So while the base SE will start at $17,985, the car I spent the most time with was fortified to the tune of $27,585. Hyundai is far more likely to sell vastly more SE models down around $20,000 than it is compact luxury liners like the Limited. But that’s what I got to drive.
And as a compact luxury skiff, the Elantra Limited is impressive. The dash design is straightforward with the simple, large speedometer and tachometer sharing a hooded binnacle with an information screen between them. At the center is the eight-inch nav screen that was easy to read. The upholstery is well stitched and feels somewhat supple, the steering wheel carries redundant controls for the audio system and Hyundai has, thankfully, retained a mechanical parking brake with a real handle in the center console.
Thanks to its well-shaped seats, accommodating ergonomics and logical layout, the Elantra is an easy car in which to get comfortable. In that way it’s an awful lot like it’s bigger Hyundai sedan brothers all the way up to the Equus royal barge. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Excitement, however, isn’t part of the deal. The engine simply doesn’t have the strength it needs to bound along entertainingly while the steering is precise but numb. The ride is well controlled, but dive aggressively into a corner and the nose will push into understeer. Of course, diving into corners isn’t a part of most commutes, while getting along over broken roads is. So the bias here makes sense for most buyers.
Because the Elantra’s market is so obsessed with value, that there wasn’t an SE to sample was frustrating. As we head into the final years of this decade, most buyers know that their smart phones already have solid navigation systems built in and how many of us regularly open the sunroofs in our cars anyhow?
Despite that, there’s every reason to believe the Elantra will attract scads of customers looking at its competitive price, a Methuselah-like 10-year powertrain warranty, and solid 29 mpg in the city and 38 mpg highway EPA mileage ratings and conclude this is the car for them.
Honda’s new 2016 Civic has set a strong and high new bar in this class, and the new Elantra doesn’t feel or seem as ambitious. But at this point it’s kind of astonishing how good all the cars in this class have become. The Mazda3 is a blast to drive, Ford’s Focus is aging gracefully and, if you’re an Uber driver, it’s tough to beat the Toyota Corolla’s rear legroom. None of these cars feel like a compromise to drive.
The new Elantra, like all the cars in this class, won’t be cherished by its owners, but respected and used hard. After changing hands three or four times over about 15 years, they’ll go to the shredder having exhausted themselves in the adequately noble service of sufficient transportation.
It’s enough to make one almost melancholy. Almost.