Style over substance. While rivals like the Mazda3 are handsome enough, Hyundai’s origami Elantra is outright dramatic. The light catches its diverging door creases, louvered hood, and fastback rear to occasionally spectacular effect. Those chiseled good looks lend a sense of poise and purpose even at standstill, and the tapering roofline leads into triangular taillights to superb effect.

The more cynical reader will already be wondering what that roofline does to rear passenger accommodation. In truth, the back of an Elantra is an uninspiring place to sit. Small windows and the inevitable lack of headroom contribute to a claustrophobic aura, while the lack of air vents or USB ports on base models exacerbates things. Those up front won’t be jumping for joy, either – there’s not much space to jump around in, for one thing, and the black plastic trim feels cheap. The seats also disappoint, with a noticeable lack of padding.

Electric power or electrifying power? There are two standouts in the front-drive Elantra’s engine range, but we’ll start with the more prosaic options. A 147 hp two-liter engine delivers limited performance through a lethargic CVT gearbox in base models, while the normal hybrid version generates even less power but feels smoother thanks to its 1.3 kWh battery pack and electric motor. Skip both of these and look instead at the turbocharged hybrid engine in N Line models, allied to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto box with a suitably purposeful exhaust note. For the first time, the Elantra has the go to match the show, with improved brakes and tauter suspension elevating an already impressive ride and handling combo.

If you want to be pressed back in your seat, the hysterical N is worth a test drive. Channeling 276 horses through the front wheels inevitably leaves them scrabbling for grip once the turbo spools up, but you’ll be too busy grinning like the wide-mouthed steering wheel to care. Hyundai reports a five-second 0-60 time, which is outrageous in a compact front-drive sedan, and you can boost the power even further in 20-second bursts, summoning echoes of nitrous injection. In tandem with adjustable dampers and a limited-slip diff, quicker steering, and stiffer tuning, the N is an absolute riot.

2023 Hyundai Elantra Interior

Lots of toys. We’ve established that the Elantra’s cabin is a somber and rather cheap-looking environment, but Hyundai has sweetened the pill by loading it with creature comforts. For just $21,545, SE models have the ubiquitous eight-inch smartphone-mirroring touchscreen, while $1,240 more nets you SEL’s climate control and satellite radio. This is the entry point for hybrid buyers, and it’s our preference over more expensive Limited models which sport a bigger touchscreen that requires cables to power Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Prices haven’t been confirmed for the swivel-eyed N, but bank on a small increase over 2022’s $32,925 figure.

Decent safety, strong economy. If you overlook the fact that the IIHS regards lower Elantra models as having ‘poor’ headlights, this is a Top Safety Pick in Limited mode. The NHTSA hasn’t tested it yet, but we’re impressed by the inclusion of features like automatic emergency braking and active lane control on every model. Adaptive cruise is an option, and we’d recommend adding blind-spot monitoring – over-the-shoulder visibility could best be described as challenging.

It goes without saying that hybrid models are the most efficient, achieving 54 mpg combined in the Hybrid Blue guise. Smaller engines achieve mid-thirties, while the N’s returns drop to just 23 when paired with a dual-clutch transmission. Then again, the inclusion of a five-year warranty and three years of free scheduled maintenance (subject to 60,000 and 36,000-mile caps respectively) is some compensation.

Final thoughts. The Elantra is effectively three cars in one. The base models are underpowered and underwhelming internally, belying their chiseled looks and comfortable ride. The hybrid models (especially the N Line) offer strong economy and make more sense as a buying proposition. Then there’s the N, which will wow its niche audience. It’s a ludicrously fast car, with a wealth of mechanical upgrades allied to an already pliant chassis and some fine summer tires.

Taking the range as a whole, the Elantra is as dull inside as it’s interesting outside, with high equipment levels providing some compensation for the thinly-bolstered seats and poor visibility. The warranty and build quality are as good as you’ll find, making ownership a painless proposition. Running costs are low, thanks in part to good fuel economy and a generous warranty with free servicing. Overall, there’s a lot to like – and plenty to love. If Hyundai could improve the interior and bring wireless smartphone mirroring to its bigger infotainment screen, we’d rate it even more highly.

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