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2017 Hyundai Elantra First Drive Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/1/2016 Manufacturer, Nate Martinez
2017 Hyundai Elantra First Drive Review

Hyundai may have the solution to the challenging question of "How does one win over the compact sedan buyer?" The time when small four-doors got plucked off dealer lots because they offered functionality, fuel efficiency, and value are quickly waning. Those are still fundamental traits for anything in the segment, yes, but many customers are opting for compacts by choice now, not simply because of need. Their small-car paradigm now encompasses style, cutting-edge amenities, safety features, and high levels of comfort. For such discerning consumers, the all-new Elantra could be their most amenable option yet.

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Arriving at this juncture took Hyundai many years and much research, of course. Consumer focus groups and internal discussions deemed an evocative exterior absolutely necessary. Designers tweaked their existing design into a cohesive, modern form. A large trapezoidal grille—a staple on nearly everything nowadays—serves as the handsome front end's centerpiece. High-intensity discharge projector headlamps flank the grille, while vertical LEDs accent the nose's lower half. Integrated air curtains behind the LEDs benefit the car's aerodynamic efficiency (0.27 Cd). LED-accented taillamps and a small integrated trunklid spoiler dress up the tight rear. The Elantra grew in size only slightly—0.8 inch in overall length (179.9 inches) and 1.0 inch in width (70.9 inches). Height (56.5 inches) and wheelbase (106.3 inches) have stayed the same.

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Total interior and cargo volumes may have suffered marginally by 0.2 cubic foot (to 110.2 cubic feet) and 0.4 cubic foot (to 14.8 cubic feet) in the redesign (it is still classified as a midsize car by the EPA), yet in sitting inside, you wouldn't know it. It's an airy space offering uncompromised visibility for driver and passengers. The dash's driver-canted position—a new arrangement for 2017—makes accessing the optional 8-inch navigation and infotainment system easy. A redesigned three-spoke steering wheel brings sportiness, while a minimalist configuration ("Wide Design," Hyundai designers called it) of soft-touch materials is both attractive and expressive. All seats feel cushier thanks to revised padding (the front seats have more bolstering), and the 60/40 split second row has a center armrest and can be folded down for easier cargo carrying.

Cruising on San Diego's mountain routes put the Elantra in a challenging yet telling position. Punching its throttle reared the 147-horse, 2.0-liter four-cylinder to life without any fuss or hesitation from computer brains or electronic safety nets. Its new-generation six-speed auto (having a revised valve body, multi-disk torque convertor, and a smaller oil pump) shifted seamlessly and had little trouble tapping the powertrain's limited 132 lb-ft of torque. There's an initial peppiness when accelerating hard in Sport mode, then the meatiness of the powerband slowly dwindles as RPMs rise. Long gone are the days of extra-sensitive Hyundai throttles. The same goes for extremely numb steering. Feedback through the helm is meager at best, but the return calibration for Eco (lightest return; least amount of throttle responsiveness; early upshifts), Normal, and Sport (heaviest return; quick-shift gearbox mapping; most responsive throttle map) modes is spot on. Those wanting to select their own gears can opt to do so with Shiftronic shifting.

2017 Hyundai Elantra rear three quarter in motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Hyundai Elantra rear three quarter in motion 01

The Elantra didn't embarrass itself in the esses, mostly because of a bevy of structural and suspension changes. Engineers used more high-strength steel in the structure (up to 53 percent from 21 percent) as well as more structural adhesives (up to 394 feet from 10 feet) to improve rigidity. The car's front end now uses an isolated front sub-frame and a hollow stabilizer, both of which are helpful in reducing interior noise and improving handling. Dip the helm and you will notice controlled body movements on all axes—no flopping side to side or fore to aft here. The all-season 225/45R-17 Nexen N'Priz AH8 tires gripped very well when pressing near ten-tenths on the road. Brake pedal feel was excellent and progressive. Granted, although the lack of substantial grunt doesn't make the Elantra a pocket rocket (there's a six-speed manual-equipped Sport version coming soon, we hear), it's still surprisingly a hoot to flow.

The Elantra also impressed on city streets, where it should feel more at home. Its revised underpinnings absorbed bumps with no abrupt rebounds or ricocheting even on biggish bumps or potholes. The Elantra feels solid, controllable, and weighty in a good way. (Curb weight is up a hair to 2,976 pounds from 2,943 pounds, per Hyundai.) Changes to the Elantra's hot stamping assembly, a reduction in the amount of holes in its dash panel, thicker floor carpeting and sound insolation, and a new rear wheelwell sound-dampening liner successfully cocoon passengers from engine, wind, road, and idle noise.

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Hyundai has stuffed an extremely long list of amenities inside. As the Limited is the top trim, it arrived with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-change assistance, rearview camera, dual auto climate control, power driver's seat, leather surfaces, multifunction steering wheel controls, Blue Link Connected Care, two USB inputs, AUX/CD capability, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 7-inch audio system display. There's a new proximity key with push-button start and hands-free Smart trunk opening to aid convenience. Two amenity packages—Tech ($2,500) and Ultimate ($1,900), both of which were on our tester—give the Limited an eight-speaker Infinity audio system with an 8-inch navigation screen, a 4.2-inch color driver's display, heated rear seats, power tilt/telescoping wheel, smart cruise control (SCC), automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning (LDW), lane keep assist system (LKAS), forward collision warning, and HID headlamps with dynamic bending light. You'll need the Tech Package to get the Ultimate Package, says Hyundai.

2017 Hyundai Elantra front three quarter in motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Hyundai Elantra front three quarter in motion 01

Our drive provided many opportunities to try the vegetable soup of safety technologies, and SCC, AEB, LDW, and LKAS all performed almost flawlessly. Smart cruise control and lane departure warning were slightly confused when traffic abruptly cut in and out ahead of the Elantra's nose, particularly while mid-corner. The LKAS impressed me most because of its smooth and gradual automatic repositioning of the car. If I ever veered too close to a lane's designated edges, it gently corrected course and reminded me with a visual message to put my hands on the wheel. (Drivers can opt to shut off or lessen the correction nudges via menus.)

Having a newer, lower-power Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter powertrain (codenamed Nu), aerodynamic profile, and tuning has upped the Limited's fuel economy by 1 mile-per-gallon in the city and combined cycles (28/37/32 city/highway/combined mpg) compared to the outgoing model. And for those buyers looking for something with not as many bells and whistles, a base SE trim (starting at $17,985; topping out at $21,085) is available and is a smidge more efficient (29/38/33 mpg) when rolling on its standard 15-inch wheels. It's the only trim that can be had with a six-speed manual, though it's the least fuel-efficient— but likely most fun—trim (26/36/29 mpg). The SE is anticipated to represent the bulk of model sales, around 70 percent, says Hyundai.

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And in the second quarter of 2016, an Eco trim that's powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder (codenamed Kappa) with a seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox will split the two existing trims and will emphasize— you guessed it—fuel efficiency. Its 128 turbocharged horses will arrive at 5,500 rpm, but as I experienced on a short prototype drive near our hotel, it's the Eco's 156 lb-ft at just 1,400 rpm that make it the most zippy of the Elantras (until the Sport arrives, that is). Engineers have recorded a combined cycle of 35 mpg in the Eco. Looking for a hatchback? Expect a revision to the current GT to arrive in 2017. Until then, the current hatchback will be sold alongside the new sedan.

Hyundai's answer to the complex question is clear: Give the consumers everything, but do it well and do it stylishly. It is without a doubt, then, that the case for the Elantra, the anti-penalty box, the embodiment of Hyundai's solution, can be considered immensely compelling.

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