Photos by Derek Mau
Compared to 20 years ago, the current crop of compact cars seem almost opulent, offering the kinds of options and features that were once only available on luxury sedans. With smaller sub-compacts filling the role of the entry-level vehicle, the compact sedan has grown in size and price, and luckily performance and comfort have increased to match.
We recently had the opportunity to drive two of the newest compact sedans back-to-back, one a relative upstart, the other a long-standing leader of the class, and both among the best-selling sedans on the market. The Hyundai Elantra and the Honda Civic are now bigger and more nicely equipped than before, but which one is the better car?
2017 Hyundai Elantra – More mature and refined, but lacks excitement
The previous generation Elantra showed that Hyundai could build a competitive compact car, with stylish good looks and respectable performance. For 2017, Hyundai has decided to take this small sedan in a different, more mature direction. Gone is the swoopy, curvy exterior, which has been replaced by a more conservative, simpler design. A much larger front grill does give the front of the car a bit more presence, but otherwise, the design is quite reserved.
Get behind the wheel and the Elantra continues its grown-up transformation, with a quiet, smooth ride and none of the sporting pretenses that others try to have. Unfortunately, this means numb steering and all-season tires that start to squeal when you attack a corner with any sense of haste but driven less aggressively the Elantra makes for a perfectly decent driving companion, and would be a good commuter car.
Hyundai has decided to prioritize fuel efficiency when it comes to the powertrain options. Our test car featured a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that runs on the more efficient Atkinson cycle. The output is a modest 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, but as long as you don’t flog it there is enough power to get around. The benefit is gas mileage that should easily top 30 mpg, and could get close to 40 mpg when cruising on the freeway. The Elantra Eco sports a small 1.4 liter turbocharged engine that is supposed to achieve even greater efficiency, but we haven’t had the chance to test that model yet.
The interior of the new Elantra perfectly matches the more mature attitude of the rest of the car, with a design that’s very similar to the interior of the recently revised Sonata. It’s more upscale than what you’d find in some other small cars, and there is a surprising amount of room. The EPA now even classifies the Elantra as a mid-size car, and sitting in the back seat you could easily believe that you’re in a larger vehicle.
Our fully loaded Limited test car came equipped with a host of features, including an 8-inch touch screen display, Infinity premium sound, and even adaptive cruise control. The days of stripped-down economy sedans are definitely in the past. And in the case of the Elantra, the price of entry is actually quite affordable. The Elantra starts at around $18k, and a fully optioned Limited model will set you back around $27,500. Given the level of equipment and overall refinement, that’s a very compelling value proposition that should ensure that the Elantra remains a popular choice.