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Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra

Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra

By Christian Wardlaw, January 31, 2016
Although Lexus marketers may have coined the phrase, it is Hyundai that appears to be relentlessly pursuing perfection. Evidently ingrained in the company’s character, perseverance and vision have led the automaker from its 1967 founding to become the fourth-largest global automaker in 2013.

In the United States, Hyundai’s tenacity and indefatigable drive to design, engineer, and produce exceptional vehicles has led consumers to buy the company’s products because they want to and not solely for the industry-leading warranty that, in 1999, began the arduous task of convincing customers that “Hyundai” was synonymous with “quality.”

Today, Hyundai’s cars and crossover SUVs exude quality. In the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS), Hyundai ranked 4th among 33 nameplates with Porsche, Kia, and Jaguar the only car brands to rank higher. Within the Compact Car segment, the 2015 Hyundai Elantra ranked second in a tie with the Toyota Corolla, both models narrowly eclipsed by the Nissan Sentra.

Now, a redesigned 2017 Elantra is on sale. About the same size as the car it replaces, but more aerodynamic and equipped with a robust new architecture constructed mainly of high-strength steel, the all-new Elantra is charged with advancing Hyundai toward its goal. Based on a day’s drive in the redesigned Elantra, we think it takes that role seriously, even if it falls short of perfection.

Likes
Initially available in SE and Limited trim levels, with a fuel-efficient Eco version joining the lineup by summer and a sportier variant arriving thereafter, the 2017 Elantra is about the same size as the car it replaces, though dimensions increase a little here and decrease a little there.

Wrapped around the car’s robust new architecture, clean and contemporary sheetmetal draws design inspiration from the Genesis sedan, which is renamed the Genesis G80 for 2017. The look is more conservative and tailored than the previous Elantra, but is also more aerodynamic and should age well over time. Plus, to my eye, the Elantra is more attractive than the larger Sonata midsize sedan.

Inside, the Elantra’s cabin mimics the Sonata, and this is a good thing. Quality materials blend with modern forms, appealing tones, refined textures, and sophisticated detailing. The front seats provide a wide range of adjustment to suit people of all shapes and sizes, and seat-height adjusters for both front seats are standard equipment. Rear-seat comfort levels are high, but taller people will want the folks riding up front to slide forward a bit.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited dashboard photoInstrumentation and controls are simple, clear, and intuitive to use. Notably, Hyundai sticks with what works: stalks, buttons, and knobs prevail. The available dual-zone automatic climate control system even purifies the Elantra’s cabin with a Clean Air ionization system.

A touch-screen infotainment system is included for most trim levels, equipping the Elantra with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection systems, Siri Eyes Free compatibility, reversing camera, and more. Choose the Limited version and upgrade to the infotainment system with navigation and a larger 8-in. display and the Elantra offers an Infinity premium sound system with Clari-Fi music-restoration technology. It sounds terrific.

Both infotainment systems offer access to Blue Link subscription services. Automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance are free for the first year, and owners can upgrade Blue Link with features that encourage safer teen driving habits, including speed, curfew, and boundary alerts as well as the ability for parents to remotely find the car via smartphone app.

Additional safety features include a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert and a lane-change assist function. Lane-change assist can identify when traffic is closing in at a high rate of speed and advise against a lane change. A lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist is also available, as well as a forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. Buy an Elantra with all of these features and the price rises to $27,585, almost $10,000 more than the most basic version of the car.

A new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard for the Elantra SE and Limited, producing 147 horsepower and paired with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Refined and eager to rev, the engine supplies enough power to satisfy the average driver, and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly. A drive mode system gives the driver a choice between eco, normal, and sport settings, and when placed in sport mode the Elantra feels more eager and responsive.

Overall, Hyundai has refined the Elantra’s driving dynamics. The car is quieter, stiffer, and exhibits improved ride and handling qualities. However, the company could have gone even further in terms of perfecting the steering, brakes, and suspension.

Dislikes
Trade-offs are an inherent part of auto manufacturing, but Hyundai’s decision to use drum-style rear brakes for the Elantra SE is a questionable one, especially because this is predicted to be the volume-selling version of the car. Similarly, and in spite of changes that improve its performance, the choice of a torsion-beam rear suspension instead of a more sophisticated independent rear suspension appears shortsighted.

Most people won’t notice or care about these cost-saving measures. They might, however, take issue with the Elantra’s electric steering. In my estimation, the new steering represents a substantial improvement over the previous Elantra, but remains less satisfying to use than what’s found in competitors such as the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Drive Mode Select adjusts the steering feel and heft. Pick the sport driving mode and it gets heavier but not sharper, which is why normal mode’s lighter assist and crisper feel is more satisfying. However, the drivetrain proves more responsive in sport mode, giving the car a more energetic character. It would be nice to be able to choose sport mode for the drivetrain and simultaneously select normal mode for the steering.

Aside from these minor dynamic quibbles, Hyundai elects to use hard plastic rather than soft material on the Elantra’s upper door panels and front seatbacks, locations where occupants frequently come into contact with the cabin. Also, the car’s optional forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking is available only for the most expensive Limited trim level, and only in the most expensive package of options. Given how effective this technology has proven, it should be offered for the Elantra SE, and packaged at a lower price.

Conclusion
With the redesigned 2017 Elantra, Hyundai fields a potential segment leader, and in more ways than just quality. Good looks, a roomy and comfortable interior, modern infotainment and safety technologies, and generally enjoyable driving dynamics should serve Hyundai well as it steadfastly pursues perfection.

Additional Research:

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