June 21, 2021

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2021 Hyundai Elantra

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The latest Elantra takes a 4-cylinder/front-drive recipe and adapts it to radically different tastes. Mild at the core, the Elantra Hybrid’s a hypermiler without really even trying, while the Elantra N fires off warning shots at some of our favorite sporty compact sedans. It’s bland otherwise. We give the Elantra a 5 for performance, but it’d be at least a 6 based on the N Line model.

Is the Hyundai Elantra 4WD? 

No, all versions are front-wheel drive.

How fast is the Hyundai Elantra?

Not very, except in N trim. Base cars soldier along with a frugal, diligent, but ultimately average 2.0-liter inline-4. Rated at 147 horsepower, it ships power to the front wheels via a CVT, and does so without much gusto. With pre-programmed ratios to step through it tries to mimic a good automatic, but it lags from launches, even in a Sport driving mode. It’s sluggish even when the throttle’s pressed hard; freeway passes above 70 mph with one passenger aboard can take a while. 

The powertrain lets down what can be an entertaining car to drive. The dynamic improvements Hyundai’s made are noticeable in the Elantra, which has a more balanced ride with more crisp steering than in its earlier generations. With a front strut and rear torsion-beam suspension, there’s nothing exotic about its composition—and nothing widely out of spec in its ride and handling. There’s a bit of vagueness in highway tracking, but the Elantra’s better damped for most road types than before, and its brake pedal tuning is consistently good across the Elantra family.

Elantra Hybrid performance

Take a smaller 1.6-liter inline-4, marry it to an electric motor and a 1.3-kwh lithium-ion battery pack and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, and you have the 139-hp Elantra Hybrid. Our editors leaned toward this model as the better of the two naturally aspirated cars to drive, mostly because of its stellar 54-mpg combined fuel economy.

The Hybrid’s slight electric boost off the line simply feels more responsive than the engine in the base Elantra; its dual-clutch also has a more natural feel than the CVT. It’s also upgraded to a rear multi-link suspension that feels more planted. The Hybrid transmission can judder between gears and its gas engine can stir up a shudder in the drivetrain as it clutches in and out, but those quibbles are minor given the major difference in economy.

Elantra N Line performance

Here’s where things get interesting. Strip the Hybrid of its fuel-saving devices, graft on a turbocharger, and the Elantra N Line emerges with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, enough for 0-60 mph runs in the seven-second range. Outfitted with either a 6-speed manual or a $1,000 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, the Elantra N Line lets power set into its chassis early. It’s a more vibrant car to drive, and it benefits from one of Hyundai’s few manual transmissions; the 6-speed has a light clutch and easy take-up, with long-ish lever throws.

Outfitted with 235/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1s, the manual-shift Elantra N Line outgrips the all-season tires that come with automatic-transmission versions. It’s not just the tires; the Elantra N Line’s springs are stiffer front and back; it gets the independent rear suspension and a rear stabilizer bar as well as bigger front brake rotors, too. All the tautness missing from the base Elantra is found here without ruining ride quality. At about 3,000 pounds, the lighter-weight Elantra N Line strikes a nice balance between responsive tuning and everyday comfort. It leaves plenty of room for the upcoming Elantra N and its 275-plus horsepower.

Review continues below

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