It was a dark and stormy day as we made our way through the tight, dirty streets of New Orleans. Although the weather was ominous and the local radar had the day’s route blanketed in red boxes, it wasn’t about to stop us from embarking on our trip. No, this isn’t the opening paragraph of a dramatic novel; it’s what was going through my head as we left downtown New Orleans, driving the all-new Hyundai Elantra for the first time. If nothing else, we’d see if the car makes a good storm chaser.
The route was straightforward: head out of downtown New Orleans on I-10, cross the border into Mississippi and aim for the Gulf Coast to a restaurant — in Long Beach, Mississippi — overlooking the massive body of water. Personally, I haven’t driving in this part of the country, so I was looking forward to the scenery and good roads. In total, Hyundai’s event team had planned a 140-mile round trip and a solid day of driving, enough time (and miles) to get a good sense of how the car would be as a daily commuter.
Exterior: Walking up to the fleet of Elantras Hyundai had shipped to NO, the first thing you notice is the new design – and how striking it really is. While Mazda’s marketing team reminds us that driving matters, Hyundai has also proven that design matters; it seems with every year and every new model generation Hyundai keeps upping their game in the design department. Standing prominent in the front of the car is an even bolder signature hexagonal grille. The grille is wrapped on each side by stylized headlamps and LED daytime running lights. Coming around the side of the car the profile reminds me of the Audi A3 with a very sporty profile and integrated decklid spoiler. At the back the HID and LED taillights look like they come straight off the much more luxurious and expensive Genesis sedan. Overall, I think it’s definitely the best looking car in its respective segment – and possibly better looking than cars costing double the money.
Interior: Of course, it doesn’t mean much to have a great looking exterior if your interior isn’t on the same page. Thankfully the interior was also well designed, with lots of little attention to detail, including materials chosen and the intuitiveness and layout of controls. Usually on an event like this the manufacturer will bring multiple versions of the cars, letting us experience everything from the bottom of the line to the top dog. This wasn’t the case on this trip, as all of the cars were spec’d the same and all were basically top-of-the-line Elantras. That’s nice, as no one had to fight to get in a top spec model – but it’s always helpful to experience some of the more base-trimmed vehicles, also; typically, those aren’t put into the press fleets. Needless to say, we were riding in comfort with leather seats, and enjoying features like radar-guided cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot detection and automatic emergency braking. These are all great features that have started life in Hyundai’s flagship cars (Genesis and Equus), and have now trickled down into the Elantra.
In addition to a thoughtful design, the Elantra interior was also comfortable. During roughly six hours of driving I never felt cramped or fatigued, making the time invested seem fairly effortless. The interior volume of the new Elantra is on par with that of the Cadillac CTS and is larger than an Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series. The whole car has been made wider by an inch and 0.8-inches longer, figures that seem incidental but add up exponentially when calculating comfort.
Our cars were also equipped with Hyundai’s newest Blue Link technology and an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation system. This also made available Apple’s CarPlay and Android’s Android Auto. While I didn’t get a lot of time to play with the system, nor did we have any time to play with the Blue Link features like remote start or Find-My-Car I was able to play with the navigation interface; it felt pretty smooth and easy to use.
Under the Hood: The Elantra comes in three trims: SE, Eco, and Limited. Both the SE and the Limited come with Hyundai’s new 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder engine pushing 147-hp @ 6,200 rpm and 132-lb.ft. of torque @ 4,500 rpm. The Eco model comes with a 1.4-liter GDI engine, presumably giving you the best fuel economy of the bunch, although no official numbers have been released. In Q4 of 2016 Hyundai will also be releasing a Sport trim, and although there aren’t many details it should have a more responsive 1.6-liter turbo engine – along with some unique design cues.
The new 2.0-liter engine can be paired up with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The Limited trims we drove were all automatics, and the combination of this engine and transmission worked really well together. The car never felt underpowered on the highway, even as we climbed or passing slow 18-wheelers. Neither did it overpower the front wheels, leaving you worried about wheel spin on a slick road.
The Drive: So I’ve laid out for you our pretty easy route, on which there was but one big distraction; the bad weather. The morning drive headed into Mississippi went really well with only a few stints of heavy rain slowing us down. The new Elantra seemed to handle the highways with ease, allowing very little road noise to enter the cabin and making for a smooth trip. As soon as we exited the highway and found some roads with a few more twists we were able to feel the sturdy chassis and the benefits of a wider stance. The car stuck to the road well and took turns like a champ. The people at Hyundai had already explained that this car was designed to be a more comfortable drive rather than a stiff, sporty one, so that’s what we expected – and that’s what we got.
After leaving lunch the storm had really materialized, the rain and wind really coming at us. I decided against the longer, pre-planned route back to the hotel and instead chose to take the quicker route, getting myself and driving partner back quickly and safe. Making this drive reminded of another adventure I took in another Hyundai from just about 2-years ago, when I drove a Sonata full of people back from Memphis to Dallas through a raging storm. At least this wasn’t an 8-hour trip.
Once we made it back to the hotel, and heard about multiple tornados touching down along the path of our drive, I spent some time reflecting on the new Elantra. The previous generations had never been anything that got me too excited, although I really liked the Elantra GT for many reasons. After driving the new Elantra I wasn’t left drooling and wanting for more. It’s definitely a great drive and great value but there was nothing I could put my finger on that really stood out and blew me away – except, of course, its design.
But then I started thinking about other cars in this category and what would I buy with my money. The Ford Focus is a decent car, but much less comfortable than the Elantra. The Mazda3 also has a great design, and is matched with equally great driving dynamics. The new Corolla is decent but doesn’t excite. At the end of the day, I think if you can have a car that looks as good as an Audi A3, drives comfortably, and is packed with tech that most competitors don’t have it really becomes a no-brainer.