2020 Hyundai Elantra Review

Christian Wardlaw | Jan 24, 2020

Introduction

Value is the name of the 2020 Hyundai Elantra sedan’s game. In addition to its competitive pricing and generous equipment list, this compact car boasts longer warranty and roadside assistance programs than nearly any competitor. Plus, Hyundai typically offers cash rebates and zero-interest financing on the model, making it even more irresistible.

Last redesigned for the 2017 model year, the Elantra sedan received a refresh for 2019 that brought angular new styling and other upgrades. For 2020, a new intelligent continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard in the Elantra SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited. The turbocharged Eco and Sport trim levels continue to use a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), but the Sport trim loses its standard manual gearbox.

Additionally, Hyundai makes dual-zone automatic climate control standard in every 2020 Elantra, and equips every example of the car with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and a driver monitoring system.

2020 Hyundai Elantra Sport blue front view

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Elantra Limited equipped with the Ultimate Package and carpeted floor mats. The price came to $27,440, including the $955 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Elantra, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to all compact car owners, people who buy the Elantra are more often female (46% vs. 43%), are older in terms of median age (54 years vs. 49) and have a lower median annual household income ($66,000 vs. $71,751).

Elantra owners are price sensitive. They are more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (77% vs. 67% at the segment level) and are more likely to agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (82% vs. 78%). At the same time, they are less likely to strongly agree that they’ll pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (9% vs. 15%).

J.D. Power data also shows that Elantra owners are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (58% vs. 64% for the segment), while they are more likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (62% vs. 55%). Elantra owners are less interested in driving dynamics, with 81% agreeing that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs. 86%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Elantra are (in descending order) the exterior styling, storage and space, seats, interior design, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Elantra are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, infotainment system, fuel economy, engine/transmission, and climate system.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Hyundai Elantra measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Elantra owners love the way their cars look, so Hyundai can call the geometric-themed 2019 styling update a success. No doubt, the revised design details give the car more personality, and the Limited trim’s larger 17-inch aluminum wheels look especially appealing.

Interior

Interior design is also high on Elantra owners’ lists of their favorite things about the car. Equipped with plenty of silver contrast trim, including handsome accents on the air vents, it is easy to understand why.

Beyond the way the interior looks, it works well. Controls are laid out in logical fashion, are clearly marked, and are easy to use. At night, they glow in a soothing blue hue.

As you should expect in an affordable compact car, the Elantra’s interior is largely paneled in plastic, and not all of it looks good. But this is a common issue in the Elantra’s segment, noted here to set your expectations more than to criticize the vehicle.

Seats

Wrapped in leather, the Elantra Limited’s seats are quite comfortable, front and rear. The driver’s seat features 8-way power adjustment, and, like every 2020 Elantra, the front passenger’s seat offers a height adjuster. This is fantastic because it helps to make the car easier to get into and out of.

If there is a comfort-related complaint, it pertains to the plastic Hyundai uses to panel the backs of the front seats. Taller rear-seat passengers will not like how it feels against their knees and shins.

Climate Control System

For 2020, all Elantra models get a standard dual-zone automatic climate control system with a Clean Air ionizing filter and an automatic defogger. Whether or not this change will help to improve owner sentiments about the climate control system remains to be seen.

During testing in Southern California in December, the climate system faced no serious challenges. However, the lack of rear air conditioning vents sparked negative comments from my 9- and 11-year-old children. As far as the controls are concerned, they’re about as simple as it gets, with large knobs governing temperature and fan speed while big buttons activate other functions.

Hyundai also installs heated front seats in every version of the car except for the SE and SEL, helping to make it more comfortable during winter months.

Infotainment System

Equipped with the optional Ultimate Package, the test vehicle had a larger 8-inch infotainment system touchscreen display and a navigation system. Other trim levels use a 7-inch display, except for the base SE, which has a 5-inch display.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio are standard with SEL trim and higher, while the Value Edition and Limited include a generous 3-year trial subscription to Blue Link connected services. Limited trim further includes a wireless smartphone charging pad and an Infinity premium sound system. Blue Link, wireless charging, and premium sound are options for the Sport trim level.

Thanks to stereo knobs and a row of shortcut buttons to main system menus, the Elantra’s infotainment system is intuitive to use. Sound quality is good, too, thanks in part to the Infinity system’s Clari-Fi digital music restoration technology.

Storage and Space

While the Elantra’s 14.4 cubic-foot trunk isn’t as large as that of a midsize car, it comes really close. For comparison, a Toyota Camry’s trunk holds 15.4 cu.-ft. of cargo.

Inside, the Elantra offers plenty of storage space for the driver and front passenger. A big glove box, decent-size center console storage area, and large door panel bins complement numerous nooks and crannies. Rear seat storage is lacking, but that doesn’t prevent Elantra owners from giving this car high marks in this area.

Visibility and Safety

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Hyundai Elantra is an exceptionally safe car. You’ll need the full LED headlights on the Limited and Sport trim levels to benefit from the Top Safety Pick+ rating, but in crash tests all versions of the Elantra earn top marks.

For 2020, the Elantra is even safer because forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist are standard on all trim levels. All but the SE trim include blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning.

These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) work well on the road, and if you’d prefer to drive without lane keeping assist engaged, you can turn it off using a button on the dashboard.

Engine/Transmission

Unless you get the Elantra Sport, this car doesn’t make much power. The standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder offers 148 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque.

This year, Hyundai swaps out the previous 6-speed automatic for an intelligent continuously variable transmission (CVT). The company asserts that its new CVT is better than what you’ll find in the competition, from its broader range of operation in combination with simulated gear shifts like those of a traditional automatic. The game changer, according to Hyundai, is use of a chain belt instead of a push belt design.

On the road, the new CVT impresses. It doesn’t completely eliminate this transmission type’s characteristic drone under hard acceleration or occasional sense of slack in the driveline, but it does limit it. Otherwise, you won’t even know it has a CVT.

Alternatives include a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder in the Elantra Eco, and a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder in the Elantra Sport. Both are paired with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which is an automated manual transmission.

The Eco’s engine makes less power than the standard 4-cylinder, but more torque across a wider rev range. The Sport’s engine is significantly more powerful, whipping up a satisfying 201 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

Fuel Economy

The goal of the new CVT is improved fuel economy. According to the EPA, numbers are up across the board, culminating in a rise from 32 mpg to 34 mpg in combined driving. Unfortunately, on the testing loop, the Elantra Limited returned 29.3 mpg, falling well short of expectations.

Driving Dynamics

Like other compact cars, the Elantra displays more road noise than you might prefer, but otherwise it feels solid and refined from the driver’s seat. The steering and the brakes are well calibrated for daily driving, and the CVT keeps engine racket to a minimum.

Where the Elantra stumbles is with regard to ride quality. It’s firm to start with, but that’s not the problem. The solid rear axle suspension design is the problem. This is an affordable engineering solution that helps to keep the car’s price low, but you end up paying for it with a busy ride quality.

You can avoid this by getting the Elantra Sport, which has a more sophisticated independent rear suspension.

Final Impressions

Elantra owners seeking an affordable, practical, value-rich car have made a smart choice. But this Hyundai’s appeal extends beyond the basics to include technology, safety, and performance (Sport trim). And if a 5-door hatchback is preferable to a 4-door sedan, be sure give the Elantra GT a look.

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