The Hyundai Elantra remains one of the best choices in the compact segment, combining unique design and practicality in a fuel-efficient package. Elantra comes in three basic body styles: four-door sedan, two-door coupe, hatchback GT.
Refreshed for 2014, the Elantra lineup debuts redesigned front and rear styling, interior changes and a new Sport trim level for the sedan.
Elantra Sport gets an all-new 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine good for 173 horsepower (25 hp more than the previous generation 1.8-liter model) and 154 pound-feet of torque, along with retuned steering and stiffer suspension. Standard features on the Elantra Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, aluminum pedals, projector headlights and LED tail lamps.
Elantra LE and Elantra Limited are powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 145 horsepower.
Elantra Coupe and GT models are also powered by the new 2.0-liter engine. Coupes get sport-tuned steering, a new rear spoiler and a standard blackout front grille. One well-equipped trim level now replaces last year's two trim level choices. GT models now come with optional LED taillights. As before, Elantra GT offers three selectable steering modes, which offer heavier or lighter steering feel depending on preference.
We have found all the Elantra variants enjoyable to drive. The Elantra sedan's smooth ride and responsive handling make for a plush, but not numb, driving experience. Elantra Coupe and Elantra GT models feel more connected to the road, without sacrificing road-trip comfort. We drove an Elantra Sport and found the new 2.0-liter engine had plenty of power and pull, even while climbing up steep mountain ranges at highway speeds. However, the stiffer suspension made for some fatigue after a long road trip on less-than-smooth surfaces, and we found the new engine's direct injection quite noisy at idle and at slower speeds.
Inside, the 2014 Elantra gets subtle tweaks, including new air conditioning controls and vent placements, and a repositioned center armrest. We found the standard air-conditioning system with manual knobs easy to use, though it has only four fan speeds.
A new 7-inch touchscreen is optional on top-of-the-line Elantra Limited trims, along with a retooled interface that includes improved voice recognition and Pandora integration. Unfortunately, this screen, along with navigation, is not available on base trims. Instead, the only option is a smaller, 4.3-inch touchscreen (standard on Sport and Limited trims), which displays audio, phone and vehicle information, and serves as the display for the rearview camera.
Despite recent controversy over Hyundai's fuel economy ratings, the 2014 Hyundai Elantra still achieves very good fuel economy figures for its class, even after the EPA adjusted its numbers downward for Elantra models. Elantra sedans achieve 27/37 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual and 28/38 mpg with the 6-speed automatic. Elantra Sport sedans are rated at 24/34 mpg with the manual and 24/35 mpg with the automatic. Elantra Limited sedans are rated at 27/37 mpg City/Highway, and only come with the automatic transmission. While driving these cars, we achieved better fuel economy than the EPA figures.
Elantra Coupes are rated at 24/34 mpg City/Highway with the automatic transmission. GT models are rated at 24/34 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual and 24/33 mpg with the 6-speed automatic.
Competitors to the Elantra sedan include perennial favorites like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. The Elantra Coupe takes on the Honda Civic coupe and the Kia Forte Koup, along with larger, more expensive two-doors such as the Honda Accord. The five-door Elantra GT goes up against popular hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and the recently redesigned Volkswagen Golf.
The Hyundai Elantra looks swoopy and busy compared with the larger Sonata, which was redesigned for the 2015 model year in a much more conservative design language that Hyundai dubs Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. But although the Elantra retains most of its styling cues from the previous year, it still looks contemporary, and subtle styling updates for 2014 keep it looking fresh.
A new front end feature a lower open-mouth bumper and redesigned foglights. In back, there's a new rear diffuser. Elantra Coupes get a unique blackout grille with chrome surround and a rear spoiler.
Base Elantra sedans get 15-inch alloy wheels instead of the previous 16-inch steel wheels with covers. Elantra Sport models get two-tone 17-inch wheels and a chrome exhaust tip and rear decklid spoiler.
The Elantra Coupe has a sleeker, wedgier shape than the sedan, without infringing too much on Genesis Coupe territory. Because the coupe is still decently sized, its doors are awfully long, which is most noticeable when getting in and out in tight parking quarters. In back, the rear spoiler, wraparound taillights and dual chrome exhaust tips accentuate the sportier character.
The Elantra GT hatchback design began in California, then was finished off in the studios of Europe, its biggest market. The five-door hatch has a slightly friendlier look, with a large black insert across the signature Hyundai hexagonal grille turned upward into a faint smile. The overall length of the GT is nine inches shorter than the sedan, and also several inches shorter than the Limited model it replaces. But it doesn't by any means look diminutive. Although still a compact hatch, the lines and proportions of the Elantra GT resemble those of larger, more luxurious crossovers. It, too, uses fluid shapes such as wraparound head- and taillights that make it clear the GT is part of the Elantra family.
Hyundai Elantra's interior is good for the price, marrying style with interesting materials. For example, the headliner employs a mix of material that includes volcanic rock to an interesting effect more attractive than fuzzy cardboard or plastic.
There's a lot of plastic on the inside, and although it doesn't exactly look cheap, it is evident that you're not in a luxury car. Base and Sport models don't feel as luxe as the top-of-the-line Elantra Limited. Still, the layout of the center stack is relatively intuitive, and we were able to find the settings we needed without staring too long.
The instrument cluster and center stack design on all Elantras are clean and simple. Manual air conditioning has only four fan speeds; we'd prefer a wider range of adjustment. While driving an Elantra Sport, we found it took a while for the AC to get cold.
Optional on the Elantra Sport and Limited models is a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation. Standard on the Sport and optional on the base is a smaller screen that displays audio, phone and vehicle information. We didn't much care for the smaller standard display screen on our Elantra Sport, and would much prefer the new (although pricier), 7-inch touchscreen with navigation.
One thing we particularly liked about our Elantra Sport: When plugged in via USB or paired via Bluetooth to a compatible smartphone, voice directions for navigation apps like Google Maps play through the Elantra's speakers, which is a reasonable solution for cars not equipped with navigation.
The sedan has a lot of passenger volume, and particularly roomy up front. Front seats will fit a range of body types from petite to tall, even with a sunroof. Rear seats are also comfortable, with a center floor that's nearly flat and a well-padded center seat that sits slightly higher.
On the coupe and GT models, drivers and front passengers of just about any size will be comfortable, but a steeply raked roofline significantly reduces headroom in the rear. As such, backseat passengers taller than 5 feet, 7 inches will most likely find the tops of their heads rubbing against the volcanic-infused headliner.
The sedan and GT versions offer good outward visibility, despite wide D-pillars, which are a function of new safety regulations. However, rear visibility on the coupe is significantly reduced due to its radically sloped rear window.
All variants of the Elantra boast interior storage that is ample and conveniently located. Door pockets are practical but not cavernous, cupholders will carry everything except Big Gulps, and electronics plugs aren't right next to the cup holders waiting to fill with spilled coffee or cola. Those who prefer to keep their iPods and phones concealed will like the coupe's covered storage area aft of the shifter, while the GT's open console space offers quick access.
Leather upholstery on models so equipped was a bit disappointing and was more akin to vinyl than butter. In some areas, stitching appeared to buckle ever-so-slightly in certain places on seat cushions. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find real cowhide on other cars for the price.
Trunk space in the sedan and coupe measures nearly 15 cubic feet, more than the Civic or Kia Forte, but shy of the Chevrolet Cruze and Mazda3. The trunk opening on both cars is not huge but sufficient, with 60/40 folding rear seats that increase capacity, although they do not fold completely flat.
The Elantra GT's hatch shape gives allows for a roomy 23 cubic-feet of trunk space, with a maximum of 51 cubic feet with the seats folded down. That's more than the five-door versions of the Ford Focus and Mazda3.
All Elantra models are fun to drive, though the Sport sedan, Coupe and GT versions, powered by the new 2.0-liter engine, are by far the peppiest. With the base sedan's 1.8-liter engine, there isn't much oomph right off the line. This engine must be revved to get the most out of it, and it's fairly happy and unobtrusive doing so.
With our Elantra Sport test car, the 2.0-liter inline-4 had plenty of power and pull, even up the steep hills of the Southern California Grapevine, where many cars struggle to keep up. We did have to keep the pedal mashed firmly to the floor, though.
The Elantra's 6-speed manual is easy to shift, yet isn't too slushy. The 6-speed automatic is just as good, holding gears as needed in most driving applications. However, we found that on demanding uphill roads, the transmission often settled on a higher gear than we'd like, prompting us to slide the shifter over to manual mode to find sufficient thrust. For the GT and Coupe models equipped with the larger wheels and sport-tuned suspension, we'd like to see the addition of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Electric-assist steering points the car where you want to go with minimal effort, reasonable feedback and U-turns in less than 35 feet. On GT models, a selectable steering feature allows drivers to choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport. In Comfort mode, the steering feels lighter at higher speeds but doesn't feel much different otherwise. In Sport mode, steering becomes more weighty, and almost too heavy when logging miles on twisty roads. We found it odd that the Sport mode modified steering feel only; we longed for a true sport mode that combined steering adjustments with enhanced throttle response and shift patterns. Also, the Elantra Sport sedan does not have the adjustable steering feature; it's tuned on the heavier side and feels about equivalent to the GT's Sport setting.
Disc brakes all the way around come standard on all models and are more than capable. Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard across the board, as is steering assist. The latter won't steer for you in case of a slide, but will help you steer in the correct direction.
The Elantra's structure is very stiff so the car feels solid, tight and squeak free. Suspension on the base and Limited sedans is tuned more for ride comfort than outright speed. We found there was some body lean in hard cornering, but it remains controlled and makes the driver aware the car is working near its limits.
Elantra Sport models come with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension. On smooth pavement, it feels good, but on rough roads, especially high speeds and for long drives, it can be teeth-chatteringly numbing, especially after hours on California's poorly paved portions of Interstate 5.
The Elantra Coupe and GT also use a sport-tuned suspension, which makes for a stiffer chassis and reduces body roll around corners compared to the four-door base and Limited models. Two-and five-door models equipped with the larger, 17-inch wheels are tuned for an even sportier feel. Those who like a cushy ride might wish to stick with the traditional four-door. On the other end of the spectrum, enthusiasts looking for a two-door sports car might be more titillated by the Genesis Coupe.
For 2014, engineers improved sound insulation in the Elantra cabin. Though the ride in our test car was relatively quiet, we did notice some road noise from our Elantra Sport, especially at higher speeds, which presumably were also in part from the 17-inch wheels and tires. And the new 2.0-liter engine's direct injection system is noisy at idle and slow speeds; one could almost mistake the clatter for one of the newer clean diesels.
Fuel economy figures for the 2014 Hyundai Elantra are an EPA-estimated 27/37 mpg City/Highway for the base sedan with 6-speed manual, and 28/38 mpg with the 6-speed automatic. Elantra Sport sedans are rated at 24/34 mpg with the manual and 24/35 with the automatic, though, after one week of primarily freeway driving, ours averaged 27 to 29 mpg, according to the on-board computer. Limited sedans are rated at 27/37 mpg City/Highway, and only come with the automatic transmission.
The Hyundai Elantra remains among the best in the compact class with stylish exterior design, plenty of standard interior features and admirable fuel economy. The addition of the Elantra Sport offers drivers a stiffer ride while retaining the practicality of a four-door.
New Car Test Drive correspondents G.R. Whale, Mitch McCullough and Laura Burstein contributed to this report.