G. Chambers Williams

Hyundai’s compact Elantra sedan updated for 2017 with new exterior, more technology

Hyundai's popular compact Elantra sedan has been redesigned for 2017, with a more-refined exterior based on the brand's Fluidic Sculpture design language.
Hyundai's popular compact Elantra sedan has been redesigned for 2017, with a more-refined exterior based on the brand's Fluidic Sculpture design language.

Hyundai’s bread-and-butter car, the affordable and stylish Elantra compact sedan, returns for 2017 with some major changes, including new exterior styling, a redesigned interior, and lots of new technology.

The exterior is yet another example of Hyundai’s so-called Fluidic Sculpture design language, which the automaker has been introducing across its product lines for the past couple of years, trying to give the brand its own signature style.

It includes a hexagonal grille that’s also a part of all recent Hyundai redesigns. The overall look is one of luxury, rather than the stark econobox look that defined some earlier generations of the Elantra.

The upscale look carries into the cabin, as well, with refinement and attention to detail evident throughout. Hyundai isn’t alone in this effort at moving its mass-market cars upscale – it’s happening across the industry as consumers’ tastes become more refined. Cars that once radiated “value” and “simplicity,” and had prices to match those themes, are now much more elegant-looking. But their prices aren’t necessarily rising in conjunction with their refinement.

For 2017, the new Elantra is offered in three trim levels, with base prices beginning at $17,150 (plus $835 freight) for the base SE model, and topping out at $22,350 for the Limited model, which we tested for this report.

In between is the new Eco model ($20,650), designed – as the name suggests – to operate a bit more economically than the other two versions.

SE and Limited models come with a new 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque. The Eco model gets a new turbocharged 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder, rated at 128 horsepower and 156 foot-pounds of torque – and fuel economy ratings of 32 mpg city/40highway/35 combined.

The SE model comes with a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox (standard) or a six-speed automatic, while the Limited comes only with a six-speed automatic with the Shiftronic feature, which allows for manual shifting using paddles on the sides of the steering wheel.

The Eco model has its own seven-speed direct-shift automated manual transmission, which can shift itself or be manually shifted – but does not require a clutch.

All Elantras have front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is not offered.

EPA ratings for the 2.0-liter engine with the six-speed automatic are 28 mpg city/37 highway/32 combined, and with the manual gearbox, 26/36/29.

SE and Limited models with the 2.0-liter normally aspirated engine also have what Hyundai calls “Active Eco,” which, when chosen using the Eco switch on the dash, can increase fuel economy up to 7 percent by limiting acceleration, shifting more quickly, and reducing fuel flow during deceleration. There are three Drive Mode settings – Normal, Sport and Eco.

The new dash layout has revised heating and air conditioning, navigation, and audio controls, which have been made easier to see and use – particularly from the driver’s seat.

With the redesign, the Elantra has grown slightly. It’s now nearly an inch longer (179.9 inches) and a full inch wider (70.9 inches), but retains the same height (56.5 inches) and wheelbase (106.3 inches).

Surprisingly, the compact Elantra has slightly more interior space than the midsize Cadillac CTS sedan (110 cubic feet versus 110.2 for the Cadillac), and even has a bigger trunk (14.5 cubic feet versus 13 for the CTS).

Its interior space is nearly on par with that of its biggest competitors, the Toyota Corolla (110.5 cubic feet) and the Honda Civic (112.9 cubic feet). But the Elantra is considerably roomier than its Ford Focus counterpart, whose interior volume is just 103.9 cubic feet.

Even the base Elantra SE is well-equipped. Standard are 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, a six-speaker AM/FM/satellite/CD audio system with USB port, cloth seats, manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, six-way adjustable driver’s seat (with height adjustment for driver and front passenger), map pockets in the front and rear doors, a lower console box with sliding cover, a center armrest with storage compartment, rear cupholders at the rear of the center console, and a compact spare tire.

Eco models come with special 15-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, a hands-free trunk lid, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist.

The Eco also comes with a 3.5-inch driver-information display, a seven-inch color touch-screen audio display with rearview camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, Bluetooth hands-free phone, heated front seats, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, proximity key with pushbutton start, dual automatic climate control with ionizing filter system and auto defogging, auto-up driver’s window, sliding center armrest, and an emergency tire-puncture repair kit in place of a spare.

Moving up to the Limited, you’ll get most of the premium features of the SE and Eco models, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, approach lights in the door handles, chrome trim in the exterior door handles, a chrome grille, Blue Link Connected Car Telematics, dual/charging USB ports and more.

Our test vehicle was the Elantra Limited with a Quartz White Pearl exterior color and black leather interior.

A Tech Package ($2,500) on our Limited brought an upgraded Infinity eight-speaker audio system with navigation and an eight-inch touch screen, subwoofer, and Clar-Fi Music Restoration technology; a 4.2-inch color instrument cluster display; power sunroof; heated front and rear seats; and self-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage/gate opener and compass.

We also had the Ultimate Package ($1,900), which added adaptive HID headlights with “dynamic bending light”; automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; radar cruise control; Lane-Keep Assist; and a memory system for the driver’s seat and outside mirrors.

The only other option was the carpeted floor mats ($125).

Total sticker price for our Elantra Limited with these options and freight was $27,710, but this car surprisingly looks and feels like it’s a lot more expensive than that.

There was never any lack of power from the 2.0-liter engine, and the automatic transmission shifted smoothly and mostly at just the right spots. We didn’t load the car down with people and gear, though.

Front seats are quite comfortable, with plenty of leg and head room. The rear seat was roomy enough for three average-size folks, but is best left to two adults, with at most a kid in the middle. But there was enough knee and leg room even for bigger adults in the two outboard positions.

The Elantra Limited handled well, with precise steering and very little torque steer from the front-wheel drive. The ride was relatively soft for a car in this class, and the interior was as quiet as any of the competitors we’ve tested.

This newest Elantra offers outstanding value in a sedan that is both economical to buy and operate, yet feels like it should cost much more.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan.

Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2017, the Elantra is Hyundai’s compact sedan, assembled in Montgomery, Ala. Besides having great styling and fuel economy, this is a surprisingly delightful car to drive, and it seems more like a small luxury car than the affordable compact it is. Added for 2017 is a new special Eco model with higher fuel economy.

Negatives: Back seat a tight fit for three people (common in this segment).

Engine: 2.0-liter normally aspirated inline four-cylinder (SE, Limited models); 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (Eco model only).

Transmission: Six-speed manual (SE only); six-speed automatic (SE and Limited); seven-speed automated manual (no clutch; Eco model only).

Power/torque: 147 HP./132 foot-pounds (2.0 engine); 128 HP./156 foot-pounds 1.4 engine).

Length: 179.9 inches.

Curb weight range: 2,767-2,976 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock (SE, Eco); disc/disc, antilock (Limited).

Trunk volume: 14.0 cubic feet.

Air bags: Front; front knee; front seat-mounted side; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 14.0 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg city/36 highway/29 combined (SE, manual; 29/38/33 (2.0, automatic, 15-inch wheels); 28/37/32 (2.0, automatic, 16- and 17-inch wheels); 32/40/35 (Eco, 1.4 automatic).

Major competitors: Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer.

Base price range: $17,150-$22,350, plus $835 freight.

Price as tested: $27,710, including freight and options (Limited model).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.