Hyundai’s 2017 Elantra sedan, like many other small cars, is attempting to pass itself off as a luxury-badged compact car rather than a plebian commuting pod. Its sharply creased appearance and high-tech interior, especially in higher trim levels, both succeed in projecting an upmarket image. However, the Elantra hasn’t forgotten that it’s still a budget car, and it now offers a hybrid version with remarkable EPA ratings of up to 54 mpg combined.
The Elantra’s drivetrain is most similar to the gas-electric combination featured in the Ioniq hatchback, and it’s one of several new hybrid cars Hyundai has lately unveiled. A 104-horsepower Atkinson-cycle gasoline inline-four combines with a 43-horsepower electric motor and a compact battery pack to produce 139 horsepower, which is somewhat less than the 2.0-liter inline-four in the nonhybrid Elantra. We got the Elantra hybrid to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, which isn’t fast but isn’t as slow as the ponderous Toyota Corolla hybrid’s 10.7-second slog (we haven’t tested a nonhybrid 2021 Elantra yet).
The Elantra’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sets it apart from hybrid rivals like the Honda Insight and Toyota Corolla hybrid, all of which feature a CVT. This allows it to accelerate much more like a regular car. We liked the Elantra hybrid’s evident but not obtrusive shifts that help avoid the engine drone when you step on the accelerator.
Our test vehicle was a fully loaded Limited model, which has lower EPA fuel economy estimates than the lighter Blue base trim. Even the decreased projections of 50 mpg combined, 49 mpg city, and 52 mpg on the highway were not enough to match. The Elantra returned 40 mpg overall and 48 mpg on our real-world 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop in our hands. In the same test, the Corolla hybrid achieved a stunning 56 mpg, and Hyundai’s larger Sonata hybrid even outperformed its smaller brother with a 51-mpg result. However, the Sonata’s hybrid powertrain, which combines a 2.0-liter inline-four with a conventional torque-converter six-speed automatic, wasn’t as smooth as the Elantra’s in our tests, with clumsy low-speed operating that made us question if the engineers hadn’t finished the tune calibration.
The Elantra hybrid is surprisingly quiet and elegant for a compact sedan, and it cruises along the road with assurance. Although its 0.85 g skidpad result and 171-foot stopping distance from 70 mph aren’t particularly impressive, we liked the perfectly weighted steering and composed ride quality.
In comparison to the nonhybrid variant, Hyundai claims that the hybrid sacrifices no passenger or cargo room, and the rear seats still fold in a 60/40 split. Because of the clear view out front, the Elantra’s cabin feels open and bright, and the driver’s seat is pleasant. The clean, modern-looking graphics on the optional digital gauge cluster and 10.3-inch infotainment screens, as well as the buttons and knobs, appear and feel high-quality.
The hybrid’s high price is the only item that makes us think twice about buying an Elantra. The Blue model starts at $24,555, but it misses several of the features seen in our Limited test vehicle, which cost $29,260. We think it’s difficult to justify buying the hybrid based on its mpg bump alone because the nonhybrid Elantra Limited ($26,455) and the 201-hp, turbocharged Elantra N Line ($25,105) are both several thousand dollars less.
That’s not to say the Elantra hybrid isn’t worth its money; rather, it exemplifies the value found throughout the Elantra series. Regardless of whatever version we’re talking about, Hyundai has succeeded in improving the curb appeal, technology features, and driving experience of its small car. We won’t judge you if you believe the hybrid is worth the extra money if you want to get as close to 50 mpg as possible.