2021 Hyundai Elantra Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Feb 09, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Hyundai deals!

In recent times, the Elantra has been Hyundai’s best-selling car. While some automakers have stopped selling compact cars as many buyers migrate to SUVs and crossovers, Hyundai believes there is a core constituency that prefers them, and the redesigned 2021 Elantra is more than just competitive. It could come to define the small sedan segment.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra lineup expands to include base SE, volume-leading SEL, and range-topping Limited versions of the standard car, while adding a first-ever gas-electric hybrid and a sporty, turbocharged N Line that replaces last year’s Elantra Sport. Soon, a performance-tuned Elantra N debuts as one of the hottest affordable sports sedans you can buy. The Elantra Eco sedan and Elantra GT 4-door hatchback are discontinued. 

All versions of the new-generation 2021 Elantra sedan seat five passengers, have a 4-cylinder engine, and feature front-wheel drive. Longer, lower and wider, the new Elantra adds interior room in key areas and offers a larger canvas for its decidedly more evocative, streamlined shape. The ramped-up design, highlighted by a longer wheelbase, dramatically creased sheet metal, and a sloping 4-door coupe roofline, is critical to attract the younger and more urban buyers Hyundai believes are crucial to the sedan’s success.

What Owners Say About the Hyundai Elantra - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Data gathered from verified owners for the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study shows that 55% of previous-generation Hyundai Elantra owners are male (vs. 54% for the segment), and the median age of an Elantra owner is 54 years (vs. 49).

Owners indicate their favorite things about the previous-generation Elantra were (in descending order) the:

  • Fuel economy
  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Powertrain

Owners say their least favorite things about the previous-generation Elantra were (in descending order) the:

  • Setting up and starting
  • Infotainment system
  • Interior design
  • Driving comfort
  • Getting in and out

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Elantra ranked number six out of 11 compact cars.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Hyundai Elantra - Find the best Hyundai deals!

In the following sections, our independent expert gives an analysis of the sporty Elantra N Line (red car above) and the range-topping Elantra Limited (white car in all other photos). Both came with standard equipment plus the following option:

  • Carpeted floor mats

The price of the N Line came to $24,255 while the Limited stickered for $26,600, including the $995 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited Front Seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

Continuing the expressive design of the new Elantra’s exterior is a cabin that looks like it belongs in a larger, more-expensive sedan. The low-and-away horizontal-themed dashboard sweeps into the doors, giving a feeling of spaciousness. Major controls above the center console and the infotainment screen tilt slightly toward the driver for a cockpit effect. A large passenger “cornering grip” (as Hyundai calls it) delineates the driver and front passenger areas.

There are two available driver instrumentation displays. A 4.2-inch screen flanked by traditional analog gauges is standard with SE, SEL, and N Line trim. A configurable 10.25-inch digital display is standard fare in the Elantra Limited. Likewise, the new Elantra is available with two different high-resolution infotainment screens. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard with SE, SEL, and N Line trim and a 10.25-inch touchscreen comes with Limited trim.

Front seat comfort is par for the compact sedan class with a good balance of comfort and support. Cloth seats in SE and SEL trims give way to leather coverings for Limited and more aggressively bolstered leather-and-cloth-clad sport buckets for the N Line. The seats are manually adjustable except for the driver’s seat in the Elantra N Line and Limited. Limited and N Line also get heated front chairs and upgrade from a urethane to a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All but the base SE have standard dual-zone automatic climate control.

The new Elantra’s rear seat offers generous legroom courtesy of the 2021 model’s extended wheelbase. Despite the lower sloping coupe-like roof, rear-seat headroom is comparable to other compact sedans courtesy of a lower bottom cushion. Although a tall person’s knees will be sticking up a bit, two six-footers can sit back there for a long drive. 

The rear seatback folds down offering access to the voluminous-for-the-class 14.2 cubic-foot trunk. On Limited and N Line models, the seatback is split 60/40, great for situations where you need more space for longer items in the trunk but still need to seat a passenger back there. A pair of convenient rear seatback release levers is located just inside the trunk opening.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Infotainment System Review

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited Infotainment System

Photo: Ron Sessions

Depending on the trim, the new Elantra is equipped with one of two infotainment systems. In the SE, SEL and N Line, highlights of the system include:

  • 8-inch high-definition touchscreen display
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dual charge ports (one USB-A and one USB-C)
  • Blue Link connected car services (except SE)
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones (N Line only)

Although this system has the smaller of two available touchscreens, its major advantage is standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which cleans up the console clutter of snaking USB cords and allows smartphones to stay stashed away in a briefcase, backpack or purse. Connecting a phone for mirroring is as easy as clicking on the onscreen widget. 

Easy to use, the Elantra’s standard infotainment system includes familiar analog volume and tuning knobs as well as physical shortcut buttons for quick access to major on-screen functions. Hyundai also provides volume and tuning toggles on the steering wheel. The base system has a 4-speaker audio system, while SEL and N Line get a 6-speaker system and SiriusXM satellite radio.

The premium infotainment system is standard and only available with Limited trim. Its highlights include:

  • 10.25 high-definition touchscreen display
  • Wired (via USB cable) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dynamic voice recognition
  • Dual USB charge ports
  • Blue Link connected car services
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones

In addition to a larger display (the biggest currently available in the compact sedan segment) and a wide-screen format, the 10.25-inch system has a faster processor. It’s also the only way to get embedded navigation in the Elantra, and it also comes with a 3-month trial of SiriusXM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports and Stocks. This system includes a significantly richer-sounding 8-speaker Bose premium audio system that is also available for lower trim levels. Though the larger screen currently offers only wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Hyundai says a wireless system is coming. 

Dashboard controls for the big screen look elegant, as if they were lifted from a Genesis product. A rotary analog volume knob takes center stage, equally accessible to both the driver and front passenger. Less elegant, though, are the on-screen graphics in radio mode. Super small type, lots of black space, and hokey-looking station tuning numbers that appear to be encapsulated in old radio vacuum tubes do not produce a satisfying user experience.

One of the neater features of the system is the “Sounds of Nature” function. Accessible by selecting the media button, front seat occupants can decompress to the sound of rain forest bird calls, a crackling fireplace, gentle waves breaking on an ocean beach, and more.

All 2021 Elantras come with voice recognition for simple commands, but the Limited adds Dynamic Voice Recognition that better understands natural language commands, context and can use the user’s current location to generate a response. Using the push-to-speak button on the Limited’s steering wheel, requests to find places like the nearest coffee shop or hospital were quickly and correctly executed and generated helpful (and perhaps life-saving) map directions and voice prompts. 

The voice recognition system can handle a wide gamut of voice requests to adjust climate control settings as well as more esoteric queries like “what is the temperature in Cucamonga?” I had less luck asking it to “play French hip-hop music,” but probably would have a better result searching for something more mainstream.

There’s a lot more in the new Elantra’s kit bag that involves your smartphone. The Blue Link connected car system allows drivers to lock and unlock doors, find the car in a parking lot, start the engine, and set the climate control remotely using the MyHyundai smartphone app. Plus, Hyundai offers full access to Blue Link at no cost for the first three years of ownership.

Digital Key turns any Android smartphone, even those of friends or family, into a vehicle remote using Near Field Communications. Like Blue Link, Digital Key allows the holder to lock and unlock doors, and to start and drive the car, but only in near proximity to the vehicle. The owner can also set the amount of time the Digital Key remains active and it can be remotely revoked.

What It’s Like to Drive the 2021 Hyundai Elantra

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited White Side View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Although the 2021 Elantra’s two available gas engines and overall suspension layout continue from the 2020 model with minimum changes, they’re bolted to an entirely new K3 vehicle platform that’s not only lighter for improved fuel economy but also stiffer and offers reinforced suspension mounting points to reduce compliance and improve response.

A naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with SE, SEL, and Limited trim, offering 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque. That bests the output of the Toyota Corolla’s base 1.8-liter four, but delivers less oomph than the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powerplants in the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra. It is paired exclusively with a wide-ratio continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that’s been revised for greater efficiency.

The 2.0-liter is no barn-burner, but is up to dealing with the ebb and flow of urban traffic and has enough zip for highway driving. It can accelerate from rest to 60 mph is just over 8 seconds. What is particularly satisfying about this engine is how smooth and quiet it is. You can barely feel it running at idle. And the CVT’s simulated step shifts keep the engine from droning on at wider throttle openings.

With SE, SEL, and Limited trim, Hyundai uses a tried-and-true strut front/torsion-beam rear suspension layout with conventional twin-tube hydraulic dampers up front and single-tube gas shocks at the rear. The Elantra Limited test car, shod with 225/45R17 Kumho Majesty Solus all-season tires, provided an agreeable ride and handling balance, firm enough to make you feel in control but never jarring or harsh over rough pavement. Despite the torsion-beam rear axle setup, balance in corners is commendable with minimal body roll. 

Hyundai has also ditched the rear drum brakes from last year’s base SE model, upgrading all 2021 trims to 4-wheel discs. Brake pedal response is crisp and confidence-inspiring.

For a more thrilling drive, the new Elantra N Line turns up the performance wick just a bit. It gets the 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder from last year’s Elantra Sport, paired exclusively with a slick-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) or a 6-speed manual gearbox. With 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque on tap from just 1,500 rpm, the Elantra N Line has the juice to run with the Honda Civic Si. 

The N Line also upgrades to a multi-link independent rear suspension for better control over uneven and high-crown roads, plus slightly stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, and grippier 225/40R18 rubber. Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires are standard with manual-transmission models while Hankook Ventus S1 all-seasons are packaged with the DCT. Larger front brakes, stiffer powertrain mounts, and dual exhausts are also part of the package.

At a time when manual transmission offerings are disappearing, it’s nice to see Hyundai bring this choice back for the Elantra. While fun to drive, the manual shifter isn’t up to the standards set by the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Golf GTI, each of which have shorter throws, better-defined gates, and smoother actuation. A better choice, except for manual-gearbox diehards, is the 7-speed DCT which, even though its dry clutch can lurch a bit when initially accelerating from a stop, makes for a smoother driving rhythm and better overall performance.

Hyundai SmartSense Review

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited Backup Camera

Photo: Ron Sessions

SmartSense is Hyundai’s suite of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) for the 2021 Elantra. This group of technologies expands for 2021 and offers improved functionality. Standard features on all models include:

  • Forward-collision warning
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Lane-centering assistance
  • Automatic high-beam assistance
  • Driver-attention warning
  • Backup camera with dynamic guidelines
  • Blind-spot warning and collision-avoidance assistance (can attempt to prevent unsafe lane changes)
  • Rear cross-traffic warning and collision-avoidance assistance (automatically brakes if necessary to avoid a collision)
  • Safe exit warning (tells car occupants when it is not safe to open a door)
  • Reverse parking collision-avoidance assistance

Limited models add more SmartSense features, including:

  • Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and speed-sign recognition
  • Enhanced forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking with cyclist and junction-turning detection
  • Reverse parking distance warning
  • Highway Drive Assist (combined adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance to reduce stress during highway drives)

Hyundai is one of the leaders in democratizing ADAS in its products, and the sheer volume of technology offered in the 2021 Elantra’s price class is notable.

For the most part, you’ll never know how good these systems are until that split second when you need them. Forward-collision assistance with automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning with collision avoidance are must haves that no driver should leave home without. 

In general, it’s amazing how accurate and sophisticated these systems are. There are minor quibbles, though. The warning triangle in the side mirrors for the blind-spot system is too small and may go unnoticed at first. Depending on the following distance setting you use, the adaptive cruise control can sometimes wait until the last minute to slow down for traffic stopped ahead, resulting in an abrupt stop. 

Conversely, when the light turns green and traffic begins to move, the Elantra can sometimes be slow to accelerate. Lane-keeping and lane-centering assistance usually help maintain the car in its lane, but in the absence of well-defined lane markings can sometimes let the car wander off course. And the speed-sign recognition system sometimes displays the wrong speed limit, even in the presence of clearly visible signs.

Still, in spite of the flaws, it’s better to have this technology than not, keeping in mind that the best safety feature is an alert driver.

2021 Hyundai Elantra FAQ - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

How much trunk space does the 2021 Hyundai Elantra have?

At 14.2 cubic feet, the Elantra’s trunk is generously sized, offering as much luggage space as some midsize sedans have. Additionally, the Elantra’s rear seat folds flat, creating space for longer items such as a step ladder or big-screen TV box.

Does the 2021 Hyundai Elantra get good mileage?

According to the EPA, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gets 34-35 mpg in combined city/highway driving. On our testing loop, we saw an average of 36.5 mpg. When multiplied by the car’s 12.4-gallon fuel tank, that gives this version of the Elantra a maximum driving range topping 450 miles.

The N Line model with the 1.6-liter turbo is EPA-rated at 28-31 mpg in combined driving, with the DCT proving to be the more efficient transmission choice. Keeping in mind the more performance-minded character of the N Line, we got 27.5 mpg with the manual transmission. With the same 12.4-gallon tank, that equates to a still respectable driving range in excess of 340 miles.

Is the 2021 Hyundai Elantra safe?

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had published crash-test results for the 2021 Hyundai Elantra sedan as this review was published.

That said, the previous-generation 2020 Elantra was an IIHS Top Safety Pick and the NHTSA gave last year’s Elantra four out of five stars overall. The 2021 Elantra’s new K3 platform incorporates multiple load paths for improved crash performance, so it’s likely the new car will at least match the scores of the previous model if not improve upon them.

How much is the 2021 Hyundai Elantra?

Prices for the gas-powered Hyundai Elantra are $19,650 for the base SE, $20,900 for the volume SEL and $25,450 for the top-of-the-line Limited. The performance-oriented turbo-powered N Line is $24,100 with manual transmission and $25,200 equipped with the dual-clutch automatic. The destination charge for all models is $995.

What are the 2021 Hyundai Elantra competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the previous-generation Hyundai Elantra was the second highest-ranked model in the compact car segment. The Kia Forte was the highest-ranked model in the segment. 

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study (APEAL), the previous-generation Elantra didn’t rank among the top three models for overall appeal. The Nissan Sentra was the top-ranked model.

Other competitors to the 2021 Elantra include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited White Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

With the 2021 Elantra, Hyundai has made its compact sedan better in nearly every conceivable way. 

On looks alone, the sleek and stylish new Elantra advances the case that small cars can be aspirational. Equipped with the same advanced infotainment and safety tech that’s available in larger, more expensive sedans and crossovers, the 2021 Elantra offers tremendous value. While the hatchback Elantra GT is now gone, Hyundai expands the footprint of its compact sedan to include the model’s first ever hybrid and an exciting turbocharged N Line model to court more performance-oriented buyers.

And it’s all backed up by one of the best vehicle warranties in the business with 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 5-year/unlimited roadside assistance, and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage. Hyundai also provides free scheduled vehicle maintenance for the first three years and 36,000 miles of driving.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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