A new look. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is all new, and it returns with a bold exterior. The styling is the first thing most buyers will notice about the car, and it’s one of the main factors differentiating it from competitors like the Honda Civic or Mazda Mazda3.

Fans of the previous generation may not appreciate the daring redesign, but we like it. The sides are creased into eye-catching triangles, complementing an aggressive stance and angular headlights. It’s distinctive, but stops shy of being overly busy.

The interior is less inspiring. The steering wheel gap is awkwardly large, the passenger is walled off by an oddly placed grab handle, and the rest of the cockpit is dull. Material quality is mediocre, and the abundance of plastic doesn’t help the Elantra’s case.

Efficient, but not exciting. Outside of the upcoming N Line, the Elantra’s most exciting attribute is its fuel economy. Even the base powertrain will do up to 37 miles per gallon combined, which is excellent by any standards. Hyundai has quietly become a power player in hybrid manufacturing, and the Elantra Hybrid (also joining the lineup after launch) is rated up to an astonishing 54 mpg combined.

The efficiency comes at the cost of power. The base engine feels sluggish, especially on highway passing maneuvers. The continuously variable transmission does a decent job approximating shifts, but it lags too much on launches. The hybrid has even less power than the gas Elantra, but its electric torque helps it feel more responsive around town.

The powertrain woes are a shame, because the Elantra is otherwise pleasant to drive. The suspension is improved over the previous generation, with a balanced ride and accurate steering.

For any real excitement, however, you’ll need the 201-horsepower N Line, which comes with either a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic. The ride is tighter and grippier than the base Elantra, and while it falls short of sport sedan glory, it’s good fun for the class.

Hyundai Elantra

Capacious, but not comfortable. We can’t fault the Hyundai Elantra’s packaging – it offers excellent space for people and cargo. Second-row passengers get 38 inches of leg room, which is more than some midsize sedans. Its 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space is also strong for the class.

The seats themselves, however, are a letdown. Padding is thin, and the fabric on lower trims feels cheap. Support is mediocre, even on the power-adjustable versions. Noise dampening is a highlight, but the Elantra wouldn’t be our first pick for road trips.

This generation has a lower roofline, and it sets the seats lower to preserve head room. The high beltline draws more attention to the expanses of black plastic, but the low-slung ride helps the Elantra feel more fun than the engines would suggest.

Features galore. What the Elantra loses in refinement, it makes up for in value. The options list is long, and it’s hard to find a trim that isn’t good value.

Even a base Elantra SE gets an 8-inch infotainment system with smartphone compatibility. Our favorite trim is the SEL, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, and access to perks like adaptive cruise control.

Even with those options, the Elantra checks in around $22,000, which is the starting point for a base Honda Civic. Hyundai’s stellar 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is the cherry on top. If you’re looking for maximum bang for the buck, the Elantra is a good bet.

Final thoughts. The bold exterior of the new 2021 Hyundai Elantra belies its sedate driving dynamics, but there’s still plenty to like. Fuel economy is excellent (especially in the Elantra Hybrid), the cabin is spacious, and the value is undeniable.

We wish for more comfortable seating in future iterations, but the Elantra is a modern embodiment of the “cheap and cheerful” economy car.

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