2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid first drive review: Effortlessly efficient


The new Hyundai Elantra launches with a pretty strong hand, but this Hybrid model is the ace up its sleeve. It has the same standout styling, comfortable accommodations and long list of tech as the standard Elantra but it ups the ante with better on-road manners and a real mic-drop detail: 54 miles per gallon combined.

That makes this Elantra more efficient than the Honda Insight and Toyota Corolla Hybrid, and it even bests some versions of the Toyota Prius. With the aforementioned accolades backing up that great efficiency, the Elantra Hybrid isn’t just the most economical of the bunch, it’s also the most compelling.

The Hybrid’s drivetrain consists of a 1.6-liter I4 engine, 1.3-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and 34-kilowatt electric motor. All told, 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque are sent to the Elantra’s front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The battery isn’t large enough to give the Elantra any real electric range, but it can store enough energy to offer gas-free operation at parking lot speeds, and the engine can shut off when you’re coasting. Sure, the Elantra Hybrid is kind of slow, and the gas engine is a little buzzy when you lay into it, but the six-speed DCT is great. And don’t forget, what’s mission critical here is fuel economy.

In its most efficient SEL trim, the Elantra Hybrid is estimated to return that impressive 54 mpg combined figure, broken out to 53 mpg city and 56 mpg highway. Step up to the Limited trim and you’ll suffer a small penalty for that added luxury, with the city, highway and combined figures dropping to 49, 52 and 50 mpg, respectively.

That said, those ratings might be a little conservative. Obviously your mileage may vary, but at the end of a day of testing the Elantra Hybrid in southern California, on a route that included going up and over Malibu Canyon, lots of time hanging out on the 101 and 405 freeways and a few city miles to get back to West Hollywood, I saw 54 mpg combined in my Limited tester — a 4-mpg improvement over Hyundai’s estimate, and without making any changes to my I-just-want-to-go-home driving style.

A 1.6-liter I4 and 1.34-kWh battery combine to produce 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.

Drew Phillips

Depending on trim, the Hybrid is anywhere from 240 to 340 pounds heavier than the standard Elantra, but the bigger battery and electric motors don’t impede on passenger or cargo space. The battery is housed underneath the rear seats, and to accommodate, the Hybrid eschews the gas-only Elantra’s torsion beam rear suspension in favor of a more sophisticated multi-link independent setup. This actually gives the Hybrid nicer road-handling abilities than the base Elantra models, with better composure and more confidence through turns. A slightly quicker steering ratio (12.2:1 instead of 12.9:1) makes the Hybrid more responsive, as well.

Regenerative brakes can recuperate stopping energy and send it back to the battery, but the regen isn’t so strong that you’ll really feel it working. On downhill sections through the canyons, I can see the gauge needle fully in the regenerative part of the dial, but the Elantra just coasts like normal. There’s no way to dial in stronger levels of regen, either.

Limited models get a leather-wrapped steering wheel and 10.2-inch touchscreen. 

Drew Phillips

The Hybrid is a quiet commuter, with very little wind or road noise making its way into the cabin. A number of active driving aids are standard, including forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver attention monitor. If you want things like forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian and cyclist detection, parking sensors or full-speed adaptive cruise control with Hyundai’s Highway Drive Assist tech, you have to pony up for the Elantra Hybrid Limited.

Inside, the SEL has cloth seats while the Limited gets leather. The SEL also uses Hyundai’s 8-inch infotainment system, which is weirdly the only way to get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Limited has the flasher 10.2-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation, but smartphone control requires a wired connection, even though this is the only version of the Hybrid that has a wireless charging pad. Opting for the Limited also nets you the Elantra’s super-cool 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster, which is worth it just for the cool animation that plays when you switch between the Normal, Sport and adaptive Smart drive modes.

With up to 56 mpg highway, you’ll be able to do this for a very long time.

Drew Phillips

On the outside, the only real way to spot a Hybrid model is by checking for a badge on the trunk. The gasoline-electric version looks just like any other Elantra (except the N Line, natch), with the SEL riding on 16-inch wheels and the Limited getting some snazzy 18s that match the sedan’s angular, geometric design.

The Hybrid only costs $2,650 more than the equivalent gas models, with the SEL starting at $24,545 and the Limited topping out the Elantra range at $29,095 (both prices include $995 for destination). That’s more or less what you’ll pay for an equivalent Corolla Hybrid or Insight, but neither of those cars look as cool or drive as well, and Hyundai appears to have ’em beat on fuel economy, too.


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