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2016 Hyundai Elantra Test Drive Review
Neither smooth and refined nor rough and gruff, the Hyundai Elantra impresses far more than it distresses.
Look and Feel
Form and Function
Although its design is now 6 years old, the 2016 Hyundai Elantra remains an impressive entry in the compact car class. Stylish sheet metal that still looks futuristic rather than dated is just a part of the Elantra’s appeal. Roomy, efficient, simple, and safe, the Elantra is loaded with value.
Look and Feel
Let’s cut right to the chase. This review is about the 2016 Hyundai Elantra Value Edition, a new version of the car that exists solely to deliver, umm, value. Add a set of floor mats, and my test car costs $20,660. That’s the sticker price. Including the destination charge.
You’re not going to pay that much, of course, and we’ll go into greater detail as to what an Elantra Value Edition actually costs in the final section of this review, but let’s just say that this Hyundai’s name reflects reality, not fantasy.
There are other versions of the car available, ranging from the even more affordable SE ($19,085 with an automatic) to the sporty Sport ($22,085 with an automatic) and the upscale Limited ($22,535). Personally, my favorite is the Limited, despite the fact that the Elantra Sport is more powerful and has a tighter suspension. The reason for my preference is that I can’t stand the artificiality that is ever-present in the Elantra Sport’s unique steering system.
Clearly, any version of the 2016 Elantra delivers value. Better yet, this car doesn’t look cheap. As a part of the Value Edition trim, my Elantra test car had 16-inch aluminum wheels instead of the plastic wheel covers that are common on entry-level vehicles. You know, the ones that wobble and make it look like the wheel is about to fall off if they’re installed even just a little bit off-kilter? Yeah, aluminum wheels go a long way toward making an inexpensive car look better.
Hyundai also hit the ball out of the park in terms of the Elantra’s styling. Although this car has been on the road for 6 model years, it still looks fresh, modern, and contemporary. Drama doesn’t work for every car design, but in the Elantra’s case, it helps the car stand out in a good way.
Inside, my Elantra Value Edition test car’s tan cloth seats contrasted sharply with the black carpets and portions of the dashboard to create a pleasing two-tone effect. The pinched center control panel appears a bit dated, but otherwise the cabin has matured gracefully. At night, the primary instrumentation glows white while secondary controls emit a soothing blue hue, making the Elantra a joy to drive after dark.
All Elantras except the Sport trims have a 145-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard in the SE trim, while the Value Edition and Limited versions get a 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate and an Active Eco setting.
Nothing about this setup is groundbreaking. There’s no turbo. There’s no dual-clutch automated transmission. And guess what else? There’s no aggravation. Neither smooth and refined nor rough and gruff, this drivetrain impresses far more than it distresses.
Around town, the transmission is geared to provide decent acceleration, even if the driver is using the Active Eco setting to help improve fuel economy. Simply press a little harder on the accelerator pedal and the Elantra concludes that you want more power, fuel economy be damned.
Busted a few years ago for overstating fuel-economy estimates, Hyundai appears to be taking a more accurate, even conservative, approach to fuel-economy numbers. The official EPA ratings are 28 mpg city/38 highway/32 combined. On my 70-mile test loop, the Elantra averaged 33.8 mpg, and I used the Active Eco mode only during a portion of my city-driving route.
Just as the engine and transmission perform exactly as the driver expects, the Elantra’s ride and handling characteristics rarely call attention to themselves. The electric steering is resolute on-center with consistent weighting and response off-center. It doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback, but neither does it exhibit the aggravatingly disconnected on-center and weirdly resistant off-center feel of the Elantra Sport’s driver-adjustable steering.
During a rousing run down a mountain road, the 4-wheel disc brakes operated exactly as the driver would expect, the pedal proving easy to modulate and feeling perfectly natural underfoot. Test temperatures in the low 70s, combined with fairly moderate speeds, meant that fade was not an issue during the mountainous portion of my route.
Although the Elantra handles securely and body roll is well controlled, the P205/55R16 all-season tires provide moderate grip in higher-speed curves but succumb to understeer in hairpin turns. You won’t be encouraged to hustle this Hyundai down a favorite back road, but at the same time you’ll be surprised by how quickly an Elantra covers ground. This car is predictable, if not quite enjoyable, to drive.
Ride quality reflects the car’s taller sidewalls and less aggressive suspension tuning. The Elantra Value Edition has a softness to it, one most obvious over larger bumps and dips, where excess vertical body motion is evident. Otherwise, it soaks up the road, serving as the buffer most people prefer to have between their butts and the ruts.
Form and Function
When it comes to small cars, quality is tough to pin down. For example, a Toyota Corolla is probably bulletproof in terms of durability, but the interior is loaded with cheap, shiny plastic. Does that represent quality? Not when there are plenty of vehicles that deliver reliability combined with pleasing interior materials.
The Elantra Value Edition doesn’t lead the small car class in this respect, but it wouldn’t take much to resolve that. Hyundai's extra-long warranty is in place, the one that hasn’t bankrupted the company since it first offered industry-leading protection against defects 15 years ago. All Hyundai needs to do is refine a few of the interior details.
Specifically, it would be nice if the material covering the upper portion of the door panels were soft rather than hard. It would also be swell if I could drive an Elantra over pitted pavement without accompaniment by a cacophony of buzzes and rattles. The driver’s door panel shouldn’t creak every single time my leg puts pressure on it, either.
Otherwise, the Elantra demonstrates impressive levels of quality. For example, the shifter feels remarkably robust and refined when used, and this is critically important, because with every single trip it imparts to the driver that he or she owns a solidly engineered piece of machinery. Additionally, and this might just be silliness on my part, but the smooth plastic covering the inside of the glove box is unusually refined in terms of its feel and appearance.
Driving the Elantra Value Edition made me realize how much I miss the simplicity of older cars. Aside from pairing my smartphone to the Bluetooth connection and having to use tiny little touchscreen radio-station pre-set buttons, this Elantra Value Edition is blissfully free of complication. No proximity-sensing this. No programmable that. Nothing works automatically except for the headlights, so there is no mystery surrounding the car’s operation. Nothing beeps or flashes or tries to steer for the driver without explaining why.
Oh man, that is fantastic.
Simplicity isn’t the Elantra Value Edition’s only benefit. The driver’s seat is quite comfortable, wrapped in quality fabric, and features supportive padding and a manual seat-height adjuster. The front right seat lacks that latter feature, positioning passengers low in the car, but it does supply a remarkable amount of seat-track travel, helping to accommodate very tall people.
Rear-seat passengers will be comfortable, with adults enjoying an impressive amount of legroom. Foot space is a bit snug, though, and the hard plastic front seatback panels show lots of dirt and scratches from kids kicking their feet.
In addition to providing a surprising amount of rear seat room, the Elantra’s trunk is big for the small car class at 14.8 cubic feet. And a 60/40-split folding rear seatback is standard, increasing the Elantra’s utility.
If you’re looking for the latest in automotive techno-gimickry, don’t bark up the Hyundai Elantra’s tree. Even a loaded Elantra Limited is, umm, limited in this regard.
Optional for the Elantra SE and standard in other versions, a touchscreen radio system with Bluetooth employs a mix of knobs and tiny touch-sensing buttons to which the owner can save favorite radio stations. When driving on anything but a glass-smooth surface, my finger frequently stabbed the wrong button, making this the sole source of technological irritation from the Elantra Value Edition.
Nevertheless, pairing to Bluetooth and making/receiving calls was really simple. Upgrade to an Elantra Sport or Limited for a touchscreen infotainment system with a 7-inch display, Pandora access, a navigation system, a premium sound system, and Blue Link subscription services, which includes a number of important safety and convenience features.
Allergy sufferers will want to note that the Elantra Limited can also be optioned with a dual-zone automatic climate-control system with a Clean Air ionizer. Typically, this sort of thing is reserved for luxury models.
My Elantra Value Edition had a reversing camera, which is standard for all but the base Elantra SE. What it sees is shown on the 4.3-inch infotainment system display, and if you suffer from failing vision, it might as well not even be installed in the car. If I must live with a screen this size, I think I’d prefer to have the reversing camera's display embedded into the rear-view mirror.
While the Elantra is not available with modern driver-assistance and crash-avoidance technologies, and despite the age of its underlying engineering, it is nevertheless a safe car. In crash testing conducted by the federal government, the Elantra earned an overall rating of 5 stars. The car also aced most of the assessments performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), receiving Good ratings in all tests except the small overlap frontal impact evaluation. In that important crashworthiness metric, the Elantra receives an Acceptable rating.
If you’re still not convinced that a 2016 Hyundai Elantra Value Edition is a good car, consider the value inherent in this vehicle.
First, my test car easily eclipsed its EPA rating of 32 mpg in combined driving, getting 33.8 on my test loop. Now consider the Elantra’s favorable dependability ratings, low predicted costs associated with ownership, and 4-star depreciation rating from ALG.
Don’t forget the kick-ass warranty and roadside assistance coverage program. The whole car is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles, and you can even get help with a flat tire during that period of time, for free. The engine and transmission are warrantied for 10 years or 100,000 miles. It just doesn’t get better than this.
As good as this already sounds, here's what should convince you to buy an Elantra: Hyundai dealers are giving these cars away.
While it's true that a redesigned 2017 Elantra will debut at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, this older design remains compelling. If you’re in the market for basic transportation that isn’t, check out the Elantra Value Edition.
Alternatively, put every single option and accessory on the Elantra Limited, and you’ll find that the price barely rises past $26,000. And that’s the sticker price. Remember, you’re not gonna pay anywhere near that amount of money for this impressive car.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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