2017 Hyundai Elantra: Taking the Honda Civic Head On

Strong points
  • Great automatic gearbox
  • Competitive price
  • Excellent value
  • Good Warranty
Weak points
  • A little short on power
  • More powerful version not available yet
Full report

For years, the Honda Civic has been Canada’s top-selling vehicle, but the Hyundai Elantra is hot on its heels. In fact, the Korean car very nearly stole the first-place title two years ago. It’s easy to understand why crowning the category is so important to the Elantra. In response to the brand-new Civic, Hyundai is now introducing the six-generation Elantra. It has been fully revamped and has everything it takes to beat the reigning champ.

Heated seats in all Elantras

The 2017 Elantra will be available in just a few weeks for a starting price of $15,999, which is $200 more than in 2016. The increase isn’t significant when you take into account that buyers are getting much more equipment, including factory-standard heated front seats. For the time being, just the sedan has been updated, but the GT five-door hatchback will follow next year. Wondering about the coupe? It’s been nixed due to slow sales, which may be attributed to the fact that Hyundai also offers the Veloster.

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is built on the Super Structure chassis. They’ve doubled the amount of rigid steel compared to 2016 for enhanced stiffness, soundproofing and safety. It may not seem like much, but this change gives the vehicle a much better starting point. It’s noticeably quieter on the road and feels much more robust and rigid.

A more mundane exterior

The new Elantra’s exterior design is a serious departure from the old one. It’s now inspired by the recently redesigned Sonata. Some people are sure to find it too bland, but you really have to see it in person. In this segment, niche styling doesn’t sell well and Hyundai’s aiming to please a broad cross-section of buyers. The Mazda3 stands out from the crowd with a more expressive style, but the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla aren’t exactly show-stoppers. These models are more about reason than passion. 

Up front, we immediately noticed the trapezoid grille, which is much like the ones on the Tucson and Sonata. Some nice touches were added, like LED daytime running lights. The wheels offer a shot of dynamism, but the rest is sober, not sporty. Yet, the updates have improved the drag coefficient to 0.27, putting the Elantra on par with the Nissan Leaf.

Nicely crafted passenger compartment

The interior is more convincing. It includes everything you’d expect, except the sense that this car falls into the low price range. The instrumentation is more modern, simple and effective, but we were particularly impressed with the new dashboard layout. It’s at more of a right angle oriented toward the driver. The ergonomics are excellent, allowing you to get your bearings within seconds—and operate the various features without losing your cool.

There’s a touchscreen that lets you view and control most of the vehicle’s systems. It’s underscored by a strip with the most common controls (volume, radio station selector, source). Once again, the result is much more effective than what the Elantra’s main rival offers.

The 2017 Elantra is longer, wider and taller than the previous generation. In fact, the EPA considers it a mid-size sedan. The good news is that the cabin is more spacious and is now more comparable to those of its top two competitors.

New Atkinson-cycle engine

The Elantra comes with an all-new drivetrain this year and it’s the first to include a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine. Atkin-who? This is nothing new, actually. The Atkinson cycle modifies the amount of time the valves stay open and the way the piston moves in the cylinder. This increases the expansion ratio while using the same amount of fuel. As a result, you get the power of a bigger mill while enjoying the fuel efficiency of a smaller engine.

The engine produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque. A little on the low side, torque is the Achilles’ heel of this type of engine. That’s why it’s used in hybrid cars, because electric motors can compensate for the reduced torque. Hyundai has nonetheless minimized the problem using various technologies, including multipoint fuel injection. We can expect to see more and more of these engines in the future.

The engine relays power to the front wheels by way of an excellent six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a much more pleasant than the CVTs offered by competitors. What about the manual transmission? Manuals have never been Hyundai’s forté. Fortunately, it’s only available on the base trim.

Not sporty, but still a nice ride

So how do all these changes play out on the road? First, the Elantra is now more comfortable. The enhanced rigidity is evident, as is the improved soundproofing. Hyundai achieved this by adding adhesive to reinforce the chassis components. It’s also noticeable when you close the doors; the sound is more robust and not as hollow as before.

With 147 horsepower, the Elantra’s engine isn’t the most eloquent. Hyundai has kept mum about the fact that the former 2.0-litre four-cylinder offered 173 horsepower and 154 lb.-ft. of torque—which is significantly more than the new drivetrain.

Despite the drop in output, power is decent. Plus, the car is now lighter even though it increased in size and the automatic transmission makes good use the available power. Where the new engine is expected to really shine is fuel efficiency. A more athletic Elantra is in the works, however, to challenge the other compacts with sporty aspirations. Turbo engine? It remains a possibility. 

If you’re so inclined, the Elantra comes with a Sport mode for increased engine speed and a more dynamic ride. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Eco mode for improved fuel economy (and at the expense of enthusiastic performance).

The new Hyundai has many of the ingredients needed for a winning recipe. Anyone who thinks that Korean cars are affordable but low-quality will have to think again!

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