Once relegated to the bottom tier of mainstream economy cars, the Hyundai Elantra has made some epic leaps in quality and performance over the last few years. In addition, Hyundai piles on the standard equipment and offers an outstanding warranty to compensate for what the Elantra may lack in reputation.
Like the Hyundai, the Nissan Sentra wasn't always at the top of its game, and sometimes got lost in the mix of competitive small cars. But in 2013, it got an all-new design, whipping it into prime shape. It has a conservative design, with mini-luxury car styling and a mature interior that would look at home in a much larger sedan.
Which of these comeback kids has come back the most?
Why the Hyundai Makes Sense
The Elantra is so much better than its predecessors, one wonders why Hyundai didn't bless it with a new name. Buyers don't have to make any sacrifices when choosing the current model. It delivers commendable fuel economy at a bargain price, and you also get a roomy cabin, distinctive styling inside and out, and surprising standard features like heated mirrors and satellite radio.
The Elantra carries a 1.8-liter four-cylinder under its hood with a healthy 148 horsepower. Buyers have a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, both offering six speeds.
Where Nissan Gets it Right
The Sentra aims for above-average refinement for its class, and certainly achieves it. The understated styling will remind you of more expensive cars and is likely to wear well over time. There's more passenger space than before, even though weight dropped a bit with its 2013 upgrade. Fit and finish are excellent throughout, well beyond anything found in previous Sentras.
Underneath the skin, the focus is efficiency. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder makes 130 horsepower, actually less than its 2012 predecessor, but fuel economy is up– a sign of the times seen in many recent redesigns.
Which Works Better?
Buyers stepping down from a larger car will undoubtedly appreciate the refined Sentra. Its grown-up personality combined with strong fuel economy gives it a unique identity in the market.
The Elantra adds its own flair to the economy car formula with expressive styling and a relatively sophisticated interior. We consider it a fine example of what can be accomplished in an inexpensive sedan.
Our Verdict: Hyundai Elantra
While both cars succeed in terms of quality and efficiency, the well-rounded Elantra meets the demands of a broader swath of buyers.