2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL Review

Changing the affordable sedan game with premium style

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: The exterior design is like nothing else at this price, ample room for adults, stuffed with great standard features and safety tech, one of the better CVTs, an easy-driving sedan.
Negatives: Some might find the styling extreme, a lot of interior hard plastics, base non-turbo engine lacks gusto.
Bottom Line: The new Elantra will surely garner attention wherever it goes thanks to great design. It's not performance-minded, but it's a very competent daily driver. Some cheapness in interior materials is eclipsed by its overall handsome interior.
Hyundai has been lighting up the charts, if not in terms of sales, at least in terms of automotive design. No longer content to make "nice-looking" vehicles, they're in the process of transforming their lineup to a slew of head-turners. First with the bold Palisade 3-row SUV, then the slippery new Sonata family sedan. The edgy new 2022 Tucson is coming soon, too. Before that vehicle emerges, the similarly designed Elantra is already in showrooms, and it is dramatic. Hyundai did a ground-up redesign, and the difference between last year's model and the 2021 is about as drastic as it can get. Not only does it look different, it gets premium tech and features that belie the segment. We drove it in midpack SEL trim for a week to see how much better it is than the last one. Read our full review below.

Driving Experience



The Elantra's base gas engine isn't going to set your hair on fire, but it is still an enjoyable car to drive because it feels more put together and better built than the old Elantra. While it's not quick, the CVT is one of the better ones out there.

Ride Quality: Our tester had the optional 17" wheels with wider rubber, so the ride was likely firmer than the base vehicle. It's still compliant and comfortable without being too cushy over road surfaces. There's some mild wheel hop over gaps while taking curves, but it settles down nicely and feels competent most of the time.

Acceleration: Although throttle response is good, the Elantra, with its 2.0-liter four (non-turbo) isn't especially quick. At least the CVT manages torque well, and the Elantra feels livelier than its humble output would indicate.

Braking: The brakes felt good with no mushiness or dead spots, and we had no problem bringing the Elantra to a stop.

Steering: Steering is very good. There's mild effort, and the turn-in is quick. It also has good precision, and we had no trouble pointing it where we needed the Elantra to go.

Handling: The chassis feels composed, and body roll is managed very well. It feels agile and doesn't fall prey to its mild understeer.




It looks like a small Mercedes C-Class when it comes to the tech. The large 10.25" instrument cluster is optional on the SEL, but it's worth the money. There isn't a small sedan in this segment that can match the layout.

Infotainment System: Both the large TFT instrument cluster and the 8" infotainment screen look great and provide easy legibility. The infotainment screen is responsive, and menus are simple to navigate.

Controls: There are well-sized buttons for virtually all controls, including climate, infotainment, and drive modes. We're grateful for the conventional shift knob that looks like it belongs in an Audi, as well as the large climate control knobs.




The Elantra carves its own design path with some of the most radical styling we've seen on an affordable sedan (and on pricier vehicles, too). The sinewy angles work on the Elantra, making it the best-looking affordable small sedan on the market right now. It'll turn more heads than a Mercedes A-Class, to be honest.

Front: Not everyone will like the enormous grille that takes up what seems to be about 90% of the front fascia, but no one can deny its boldness. It's a good thing there's not much other complexity going on in the rest of the front end. The headlights integrate nicely, as well as the thin foglights.

Rear: The edgy back end looks great with its big ducktail-style spoiler, the angular wraparound taillights, and wide E-L-A-N-T-R-A lettering.

Profile: There isn't another car that looks like this from the side with its strong cut-lines, and its deep sculpting that looks a bit like origami. The dart-like ends of the head and taillights that creep into the body help cement the look.

Cabin: The cabin looks sporty and refined with the sweeping dash, the unique steering wheel spokes, and the large grab handle on the center console. There's a bit too much hard plastic, and we would've like to see synthetic leather instead of the fabric, but the fabric quality is up to snuff.




We give the Elantra high marks for interior space and ergonomics, but it could've attained a higher score if it had better seat cushioning. The result is harder-than-necessary surfaces that could prove uncomfortable on longer drives.

Front Seats: The seatback and cushion width are good, as is the bolstering. They could use a bit more padding.

Rear Seats: Rear legroom jumps from 35.7 in the old car to a robust 38.0 inches in the 2021 model. Headroom is the same, but since the roofline is angled more steeply, Hyundai lowered the seat position.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Elantra is well built and quiet, even at highway speeds. Wind noise is also kept at bay, and the build quality is very good.

Visibility: The seating position is aided by the sloping front nose. Ony the rear sides are compromised by the raked C-pillars.

Climate: The climate control system works well, but the lack of second row vents means rear occupants have to wait a little bit to get to temp.




The 2021 Elantra is very new and, as such, has not been crash tested yet. The good parts are the fact that the 2020 model did very well, and standard safety features on the new model are robust.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The Elantra is pumped full of safety tech including Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist w/ Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist & Lane Following Assist, and Safe Exit Warning & Driver Attention Warning.

Optional Tech: Our tester was outfitted with upgraded tech such as Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist w/ Pedestrian/Cyclist/Junction-Turning Detection and an adaptive cruise control system with stop-and-go.




The Elantra has some convenient cabin storage areas, and its trunk space is on par for the segment. It also has the benefit of a split folding back seat, providing versatile cargo and seating options.

Storage Space: There's a large charging pad tray in front of the shifter, easily-accessible center console cup holders and a deep, medium-sized center armrest. Door pockets are moderately sized but not huge.

Cargo Room: Trunk space is flat and wide, while overall capacity is good. The 14.2 cubes are larger than the Toyota Corolla but slightly smaller than the Honda Civic sedan.

Fuel Economy



The Elantra is tremendously efficient with a combined EPA of 35 mpg. We actually drove it primarily on suburban roads of 40 mph or less, and we were able to beat the 31 city by a significant margin. We also drove it in Sport mode and weren't especially judicious with the throttle, so it's even more impressive.

Observed: 37.1 mpg.

Distance Driven: 96 miles.




Our tester came with the $2,100 Premium Package that includes the excellent Bose premium sound system. It provides clear, full sound that's a pleasure to listen to. We like the fact that you can get a mid-pack trim level and upgrade. The package also provides far more than just the premium stereo, which is a great deal.

Final Thoughts

We really love the new Elantra because it really sets itself apart from the rest of the segment in terms of forward-thinking design. Even though it might not be especially quick, it does drive well and will suit most buyers to a T. The interior is handsome but has some hard surfaces and a bit too much piano black trim. What does stand out is the great in-car tech, the rear legroom, and the Elantra's excellent gas mileage. We can't wait to experience the N Line with its 1.6-liter turbo engine and improved dynamics.

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