2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited Review - Striving for Better

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
Fast Facts

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four cylinder (147 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm, 132 lbs-ft @ 4,500 rpm)
Six-speed automatic
28 city/37 highway/32 combined (EPA rating, MPG)
33.5 (Observed, MPG)
Base price
: $17,985 (SE, U.S.) / $17,694 (L Manual, Canada)
As tested (Limited + Ultimate Package)
: $27,585 (U.S.) / $30,594 (Canada)
All U.S. prices include a $835 freight fee. All Canadian prices include $1,795 freight and PDI fees and A/C tax when equipped.
2017 hyundai elantra limited review striving for better

Sometimes, circumstance hands you a perfect metaphor.

While driving Hyundai’s redesigned and all-around updated 2017 Elantra, a brand-spankin’-new Honda Civic bolted out from a side street, led me for a short while, then put the hammer down before it took off into the distance.

Up ’till that moment, the electric blue Elantra tester (in option-heavy Limited form) had proven itself a comfortable, roomy, good-handling compact by soaking up the worst potholes, frost heaves and patches that early spring could throw at it. But here, all of a sudden, was its main competitor — the award-winning Civic, the car to beat in the compact class — and I could almost feel the worry emerge from the Korean plastic and steel that encased me.

No car exists in a vacuum (thank you, capitalism!), so the Elantra’s mandate can’t simply be to improve on its own past — it must present a compelling argument against the Civic. Is it up to the task?

Longer, wider, angrier

The 2017 Elantra keeps a profile that’s similar to its predecessor, but adds that healthy dose of visual aggression its previous generation lacked.

The 2017 model now presents a real face to the world, ditching its upper and lower air slots for an honest-to goodness horizontal slat grille. Gaping, angry fascias are in, and the Elantra doesn’t disappoint.

Flanked by HID projection headlamps and vertical stacks of LED fog/running lights, the overhauled face is a vast improvement that boosts its impression of width.

For good or bad, the previous generation Elantra took aerodynamic styling to new compact-car heights. To some, it looked like a soft-serve cone that managed to hit 60 miles per hour during a heat wave. Well, the new Elantra isn’t so phobic of straight lines or non-spherical shapes.

Bodyside character lines have become more horizontal and pronounced, making the beltline seem higher, and we all know that higher beltlines = scary powerful Mafioso dangermobiles. The beltline still sweeps upward to meet the C-pillar, but it now has the desired athletic effect.

The taillights retain a similar shape, though Hyundai drops the elongated teardrop lenses in favor of six trapezoidal LED clusters. These points of light are sharp, and look great at night. Above them, the entire trunk lid has shaped itself into a subtle spoiler that overhangs the taillights, keeping the sedan profile intact now that the roofline terminates further aft.

Turn signals integrated into the side view mirrors and chrome door handles on the Limited (illuminated up front) add some upscale flair, while the 17-inch aluminum wheels look decently sporty.

The overall package still looks slippery, but now cleaner and more refined. Hyundai says that with a 0.27 coefficient of drag, the Elantra now slips through the wind better than a Leaf.

Cabin of contrasts

For 2017, the Elantra’s passenger cabin gets a slight boost in size, though its interior volume was already rated midsized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s classification system.

In front, legroom is generous even for my gangly 6’4” frame, while space behind the front seats grows by 2 inches to provide more room for your friend’s knees and your lower back. Front headroom suffers in our tester due to the optional power sunroof, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a problem. My scalp rubs the headliner while sitting in the back, but it does that in an Impala, too. Sacrifices have to be made for a sexy roofline, but the tradeoff is usually only felt by tall people like myself.

The interior layout is uncluttered and inoffensive with some upscale touches — but there are caveats.

First, the good stuff: The front seats are broad and supportive and come with standard heating up front in Limited models (optional in the back). The steering wheel is leather wrapped, heated, and festooned with easy to thumb audio, trip menu and Bluetooth controls.

Keyless entry and a push-button ignition adds convenience, while the optional blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and a backup camera are must-haves for terrified commuters.

The dual-zone climate control is easy to use and the gauge cluster easy to read. The infotainment and navigation systems, mounted in an attractive center stack, are responsive and easy to navigate, and the 8-inch screen didn’t leave me squinting. Voice controls on the Android Auto-equipped system functioned flawlessly both times I tested it, and yes, you can call Siri.

If your entourage is gadget-heavy, or you’re a part-time P.I., there’s plenty of connectivity hookups up front to satisfy your electronic needs.

Where the interior falls short is in the doors, the upper parts of which are flat, plasticky, and look like they immigrated from the 1990s. Despite their comfort, the leather seats look and feel rubbery. The width of the center stack leaves some media controls hidden from view by the steering wheel and wiper stalk, and those on the right side of the wide center stack must be groped for.

Hard plastic covers the front seat backs, which I found low-end, though a female friend pointed out easy-to-clean surfaces are appreciated by those with children.

The eight-speaker Infinity audio system sometimes sounds tinny, especially at low decibels, while the surround sound — even when center-weighted — always seems to emanate from the dash.

True, these gripes don’t come close to describing a manual labor camp, but they’re the type of thing you’d pay attention to the more you paid for the vehicle, especially on a loaded Limited model ($27,585 USD MSRP) like this one; probably not so much on a carefully optioned entry-level SE ($17,985 USD MSRP to start).

Public works hero

An El Niño winter full of freeze-thaw cycles laid a perfect proving ground for the Elantra’s beefed up architecture and redesigned suspension. The patchwork of craters and temporary mountains blanketing nearly every road surface rivals a World War One battlefield — or at least Detroit.

Hyundai says the Elantra now uses 53 percent high-strength steel in its body, up from 21 percent last year, and piles on 40 times more structural adhesive. This means a 29.5 percent increase in torsional rigidity without excess weight.

Cushioning the newly rigid body is a rejigged rear suspension that sees shock absorbers aligned more vertical and coil springs repositioned atop its torsion beam axle. An increase in rear bushing diameter has long-term endurance in mind.

With these changes, plus a McPherson strut setup up front, the Elantra does an admirable job insulating the driver from the road surface, and turn-in is always flat and drama-free. No hop, shimmy, bounce or undue vibration were noticed, nor were there any squeaks or rattles in the body.

Nicely weighted steering adds to the driving comfort and the vehicle’s sense of stability, and is welcome when attempting to have some fun.

Efficiency over muscle

For 2017, the Elantra receives the “Nu” 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder, making 147 horsepower and 132 pounds-feet of torque. There are many C-segment vehicles that make more power, but Hyundai is aiming for efficiency with this mill. A six-speed automatic is the only choice on the Limited (a six-speed manual comes standard on the base SE), but it has been recalibrated for better fuel efficiency and responsiveness.

Engine noise is muted at speed, buzziness is kept to a minimum during acceleration, and its transmission doesn’t need to be begged to downshift while in top gear. Wind noise intrudes into the cabin, however.

The drivetrain makes for pleasant day-to-day driving, but the transmission’s gear-holding “sport mode,” manual shift gate, and solid steering and suspension don’t fully erase the desire for more low-end grunt. For most trim levels, the drivetrain is just fine, but — at the top of the price range — a driver dreams of the performance and exclusivity a higher-output engine could bring (note: the Civic Touring’s 1.5-liter turbo four makes 174 hp and 162 lbs-ft).

Hyundai rates the Elantra Limited’s fuel consumption at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway. After several days of city driving in all three drive modes (Eco, Normal, and Sport), the tester returned 28 mpg. A 60 mile, two-lane highway jaunt (averaging 55 mph) returned an impressive 49 mpg under ideal conditions, and two low-traffic freeway trips returned 40 and 43 mpg, respectively.

The Elantra was shod with 225/45 R17 Michelin X-Ice winter tires during the test period.

The Verdict

Meaningful upgrades in equipment and appearance show that Hyundai takes its compact segment competitiveness seriously. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited is an easy car to live with, especially if comfort and technology are number one and two on your list of must-haves.

Most buyers, of course, will opt for an SE and feel good about satisfying the urge that drew them to the Hyundai showroom.

But if sport ranks high on your list, especially if you’ve got the cash to venture well above base trims, the Elantra’s modest power will make it easy for one to be wooed into a Civic Touring or Mazda3 GT, both of which offer more horses and a top-level manual tranny (later this year, in the case of the Civic).

Disclosure: Hyundai Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

[Images: © 2016 Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

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3 of 93 comments
  • Redliner Redliner on Apr 12, 2016

    $27,000?! Holy moly. Either my perception of reality is really warped, or this thing is crazy expensive. Yes, I know it's well equipped, but at that price I would just march over to the Ford dealer and get a Focus ST or perhaps a loaded Mazda 3.

    • MazdaThreeve MazdaThreeve on Apr 13, 2016

      For that asking price, Mazda3 all the way. I know Hyundai makes a good car, but this is steep given the presence of the 3 in this segment.

  • 300zx_guy 300zx_guy on Apr 12, 2016

    The silver trim in the HVAC control area looks a lot like a Honda H.