It might come as a surprise, but the Hyundai Elantra has been around for 21 years. It has grown up significantly over the years and now follows the same design language of its bigger sibling, the Sonata. Just like the Sonata, the 2021 Elantra comes loaded with standard features that would cost extra – even on some luxury brands. For 2021, the new Elantra is two inches longer, one inch wider and one inch lower than the model it replaces, and has also been named the 2021 North American Car of the Year. But which Elantra is the car of the year? Technically, there are three 2021 Elantras, and they are all wildly different from an engineering perspective.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited. It’s Hyundai’s contender in the compact car segment and is the seventh generation that Hyundai has produced since the car’s introduction in 1990. Our Limited trim tester came with a naturally-aspirated 2.0 liter four-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0 is mated to everybody’s favorite transmission – a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) – but Hyundai has gone a step further by calling it an “IVT.” Instead of internally being driven by a belt as traditional CVTs, Hyundai’s IVT variant is driven by a chain. Hyundai claims 1.2% better fuel economy compared to a traditional CVT, and I personally averaged 40 miles per gallon without even trying to be efficient on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited weighs in around 2,800 pounds, and its chassis carries a torsion beam rear suspension. My Elantra Limited tester came in fully-loaded for just under $27,000.
There’s More Than One Elantra?
Here is where things get interesting. Our 2021 Elantra test car is the Limited trim, but you can also get a 2021 Elantra Hybrid or a 2021 Elantra N-Line. Yes, these are all just technically different trim levels of the same Elantra and entirely different cars. However, these three dueling Elantras offer different engines and options packages plus completely different rear suspension architecture and transmission offerings.
The 2021 Elantra Hybrid ditches the torsion beam rear suspension design for an independent rear suspension. The internal combustion portion of the Hybrid powertrain uses a naturally aspirated 1.6 liter four-cylinder with a dual clutch transmission, compared to the Elantra Limited’s 2.0 liter and IVT. In other words, the eco-friendly car got what most would consider the performance-oriented transmission.
By comparison, the 2021 Elantra N-Line is actually the most performance-oriented Elantra you can buy right now. It inherits the independent rear suspension of the Elantra Hybrid, but uses a turbocharged version of the 1.6 liter four. The Elantra N-Line is the only 2021 Elantra you can get with a manual transmission, though a dual-clutch automatic is an option. Interestingly, the dual-clutch is not the same wet-clutch eight-speed we’ve tested in other models. Given the choice, I’d likely opt for the manual.
To recap, that’s three completely different drivetrain options riding on what should almost be considered two different chassis. We love variety, and the new Elantra surely has plenty to offer. But there’s no denying all of these Elantras have much bigger differences than what meets the eye.
How Does the 2021 Elantra Limited Drive?
I make it a point to bring up the differences between these Elantra models, because on paper they shouldn’t drive the same at all. I’d love time behind the wheel of the Elantra Hybrid and N-Line, but right now I’m focusing on how the 2021 Elantra SE, SEL, and Limited drive.
From the start, the new Elantra clearly drives better than any previous model. The steering is light, but tactile. There’s a good amount of feel that makes its way through the electric rack that is accompanied by a responsive front-end. The initial turn-in and around-town feel of the entire chassis feels more sporty than I, or anybody else, was probably expecting for an Elantra.
Probing the limits is when the story changes a bit. The torsion beam rear makes itself known on anything but smooth pavement. Living outside Philadelphia, the torsion beam always makes itself known. My outgoing Ford Fiesta ST also had a torsion beam, but it was controlled in such a way that no lateral movement took place in the rear end. There was some vertical bounce, but the car felt planted side-to-side. The lateral body control on the 2021 Elantra Limited is where it falls a bit short and where the torsion-beam chassis starts to feel easily upset.
Even though the Limited trim is already the most expensive option, I wish Hyundai would have completed the top of the line trim with top of the line suspension design like those found in the Hybrid and N-Line. It would go a long way towards making this car feel more refined at all times.
Otherwise, the drivetrain in our tester was not the most exciting option, but it got the job done. The naturally-aspirated two liter seemed to be happiest high in the rev range, but the IVT didn’t like to send it there. However, it did its job well when it came to smooth operation and returning good fuel economy.
The 2021 Elantra’s Value is Technology-Focused
The average buyer of this 2021 Elantra Limited won’t notice anything about the handling, nor will they care. They will notice Hyundai’s easy-to-use technology, though.
In a nod to enthusiasts, the entire interior of the Elantra is focused around the driver. The Limited comes standard with two 10.25 inch digital displays, one for the gauge cluster and another touch-screen infotainment display on the dash. Even with the driver-oriented focus, passengers are also able to comfortably use the majority of those controls. While I’m not a fan of many all-digital gauge clusters, the one in this Elantra is sweet, simple and easy to read.
The Limited trim gives out as many standard features as Oprah does entire cars. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and so is wireless charging. Also standard is Hyundai’s excellent suite of driver assistance features. Radar-guided cruise control and lane centering are available at the literal click of one button on the steering wheel, and they function better than some cars with six figure MSRPs.
Car(s) of the Year?
Overall, the 2021 Elantra Limited delivers exactly what Hyundai has always represented in this segment: value for money. This car sports a never-ending list of standard features and technology that aren’t an annoyance, but instead enhance the daily usability of the car. The high-quality digital displays mesh perfectly with the heavily-upgraded interior. It appears Hyundai’s benchmark is now the German competition, and their efforts are apparent on almost every touch point inside.
Having not yet driven the other Elantra offerings, it’s easy to see how this chassis in Limited form can be improved. Luckily, Hyundai has already done that for us. Not disregarding the value of our tester, I think something us enthusiasts are more likely to consider “Car of The Year” is the Elantra N-Line. We are hoping to get a go in the N-Line or the full-on Elantra N in the future. Until then, if value and technology are what you crave in your commuter, the 2021 Elantra Limited gives you a healthy portion of both that won’t leave you wanting more.