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2015 Hyundai Elantra Test Drive Review
Once a discount-bin special, the new Hyundai Elantra is priced in line with key competitors, and rightfully so.
The 2015 Hyundai Elantra is a great-looking small car with generous space, useful features, and a compelling value equation. While it is due for an update, especially in terms of available safety technologies, it easily remains competitive in the compact car segment.
Look and Feel
Five years ago, Hyundai set off a veritable hand grenade in the compact sedan segment when it introduced the completely redesigned, fifth-generation, 2011 Hyundai Elantra. Sure, previous Elantras had proven themselves to be practical and affordable small cars that seemingly ran forever. But it wasn’t until the swoopy, sexy 2011 Elantra seduced the public that people significantly shifted their opinions of the oft-dismissed automaker, switching from sheepish admittance of ownership (“Yeah, I have a Hyundai”) to an enthusiastic embrace (“Hell yeah, I have a Hyundai!").
Okay, maybe that never actually happened. But even now, a half-decade later, I think the Elantra remains one of the best looking small sedans on the road. In the years since this current version debuted, we’ve seen new iterations of the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Corolla roll onto showroom floors, none quite as attractive and appealing as the Elantra when it comes to their exterior sheetmetal. Age has not diminished the Elantra’s outward charisma.
Neither have rising prices. Once a discount-bin special, the new Hyundai Elantra is priced in line with key competitors, and rightfully so. My test vehicle for the week was the Elantra Sport, which has a more powerful standard engine and other dynamic tweaks intended to make it more fun to drive. Equipped with an automatic transmission and a Tech Package that adds a navigation system, an Infinity premium audio system, and Blue Link connectivity and services, the price of my test car came out to $24,750 including the $825 destination charge.
No, the Elantra is no longer a cheap car, and it shouldn’t be, given that it compares so favorably to class sales leaders. With that said, for the money, the Elantra offers a huge incentive in the form of value. In addition to a roomy interior constructed of decent materials arranged in an appealing layout, you’ll get an industry-leading warranty and roadside-assistance program that gives you the most intangible of features: peace of mind.
Press the Elantra Sport’s accelerator pedal to coax a robust 173 hp from this model’s exclusive 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. While this is not a fast vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, it does represent improvement over the 145-hp, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine installed in the Elantra SE and Elantra Limited. Think lively, not quick. It’s not the most refined powerplant, either, getting loud and raucous as engine revs rise.
A 6-speed automatic delivers power to the front wheels. Crisp, speedy shifts characterize this transmission, and it is easy to take matters into your own hands thanks to a manual shift gate. Alternatively, you can attempt to coax greater fuel economy from the Elantra Sport by engaging the Active Eco driving mode. It dampens the car’s spirit, the transmission upshifting ASAP and downshifting sluggishly to discourage energetic driving.
As I was not a fan of the car’s behavior with Active Eco engaged, I left it turned off and averaged 25.3 mpg during a week heavy with city and suburban driving. On my usual test loop, with the Active Eco system engaged for the highway driving sections, the Elantra Sport averaged 28.7 mpg. That’s better than the 28-mpg, combined-driving rating the EPA gives this version of the Elantra, but remains short of key competitors.
If you want to maximize your fuel economy, stick with the Elantra SE or the Elantra Limited for their more efficient 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. The Limited model also supplies Hyundai’s Driver Selectable Steering Mode technology, which offers a choice between Comfort, Normal, and Sport driving modes. My test car had a sport-tuned version of the SE model’s steering, and it just didn’t feel right. It was too hard to dial in minor steering corrections on the highway, and when driving on a twisty road, it felt leaden and vague at the same time. No fun.
More impressive, especially given the Elantra’s rather remedial solid rear axle suspension design, was my Sport test car’s ability to combine a commendable ride with impressive back-road handling. Bigger bumps did tend to unsettle the vehicle a bit, but the Elantra Sport’s overall athleticism is commendable.
Form and Function
Slide into the Elantra Sport’s 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and you’ll find a comfortable perch from which to pilot the car. In combination with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel and sliding center-console armrest, this seat provides the Elantra with a perfect driving position. My long-limbed husband even found that the car supplied enough seat-track travel for his 33-inch inseams. The front passenger’s seat doesn’t offer a height adjuster, but is mounted high enough off of the floor that it wasn’t a significant source of complaint.
Rear seat passengers will find a surprising amount of hip room (the Elantra is classified a midsize sedan by the EPA), but the bottom cushion is mounted a bit low, and the hard front seatback covers are unkind to longer legs. Considering that the Elantra competes with several truly compact vehicles with much less space (like the Ford Focus and Mazda 3), it is nevertheless a relatively roomy sedan. Also, though my test vehicle didn’t have this particular upgrade, the Elantra’s optional heated rear seats are a rarity in this class.
You’ll find lots of hard plastic sprinkled throughout the Elantra’s cabin, along with faux aluminum trim and stiff leather to cover the seats. While this Hyundai lacks the same level of sophistication that bedecks a Mazda 3’s interior, the automaker successfully minimizes econo-car impressions via pleasing textures and tastefully matched tones.
While I found my test car’s black-on-black color scheme to be a bit dark and dull, artfully swept character lines similar to those on the outside of the car help to make the cabin pleasing to behold. More importantly, the controls are clearly marked, intuitive and easy to use, and visibility is decent despite thick windshield pillars. You’ll also discover numerous storage bins, nooks, and crannies to fill, and Hyundai thoughtfully provides a covered storage space with USB connectivity, perfect for storing your smartphone.
Pop the trunk to reveal 14.8 cubic feet of space, an amount that nearly matches most midsize sedans. A hidden bin beneath the trunk floor is useful for keeping things out of sight.
Think of the Elantra Sport’s optional Tech Package as providing everything you need and nothing you don’t. While Bluetooth connectivity is standard and almost every Elantra is equipped with a reversing camera, it is the Tech Package that provides goodies like a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system display with a navigation system and a premium sound system.
In addition, the Tech Package includes Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics service. Pair a smartphone to the system to run various apps, or use the programmable safety features to keep tabs on people you trust enough to let use the car, but not enough for you to relax completely while the Elantra is absent from the driveway.
For instance, you can set a curfew alert, a speed alert, and program geo-fenced boundaries that deliver an alert if the car travels beyond a prescribed area. Your daughter said she was “just dropping off a friend,” but the car winds up on Interstate 15 headed toward Vegas? Ding-ding-ding.
Blue Link also includes automatic collision notification and SOS emergency service access, and reminds you about maintenance intervals. You can even perform a monthly vehicle diagnostics scan, obtaining information about your vehicle in a “health report.” When it is time to visit the dealership, Blue Link makes it easy to schedule a service appointment, too. And if the Elantra is stolen, Blue Link can help you to find and retrieve the vehicle.
Where the Tech Package could use improvement is with regard to safety technologies. Personally, the only thing I missed was a blind-spot warning system, one feature I find indispensable. However, compact cars are now available with features like active cruise control, forward-collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking systems, and the aging Elantra is unavailable with such systems. Strangely, while Hyundai does install a blind-spot mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the passenger-side mirror does without. Hmmm.
In the event that a collision can’t be avoided, the Elantra is a good place to be. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2015 Elantra an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars, the highest one possible. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety pins the Elantra with a Top Safety Pick badge, albeit with a grade of Acceptable rather than Good in the tough small overlap, frontal-impact test.
As I write this review, Hyundai dealers are clearing out remaining stocks of the 2015 Elantra sedan in order to make room for the essentially identical 2016 model. In my area of Southern California, this means cheap lease deals, rebates of up to $2,750, or no-interest financing for up to 66 months. Heck, you can even defer your payments for up to 90 days.
Combine these deals with the Elantra’s excellent warranty and roadside assistance programs, an impressive 4-star depreciation rating from ALG, and favorable reliability predictions and cost-of-ownership projections from Consumer Reports, and it's clear that this Hyundai’s beauty is more than skin deep.
Don’t let the Elantra’s age deter you, or any vestiges of inaccurate brand perceptions sway you. This is, for the most part, an excellent little car. My recommendation would be, however, to take a pass on the Sport trim level, and go with the SE or Limited model. Neither will be quite as zippy, but both are likely to be more satisfying to drive and own over the long haul.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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