Visiting the rental-car world recently, we learned what “basic” means in today’s parlance. “Basic” used to mean a heater, three-on-the-tree transmission, manual brakes and steering, maybe an AM radio. Of course, our rental car was a Hyundai Elantra, so “basic” included several features that were luxuries not so very long ago.
Our gray Elantra SE, fresh off the lot with just 1,000 miles on its odometer, was the Korean automaker’s most basic 4-door compact sedan. Like all Elantras going back a quarter-century or so, it strived for, and achieved, adequacy where performance was concerned. The unexpectedly comfortable cloth seats supported and pampered us around town and during 2-hour highway trips. Its fuel economy fell short of its 38-mpg highway rating, but at 1,000 miles, the engine wasn’t fully broken in.
Though small on the outside, the Elantra is quite big and roomy inside. The 14.4-cubic-foot trunk is spacious for the compact sector. And Elantras have fared well in crash tests, earning the Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
What about features? Hyundai is known for giving away electronic and mechanical extras other automakers place on their options lists. Our Elantra came with power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, audio controls on the steering hub, tilt and telescoping steering column, air conditioning, 60/40 fold-down rear seatbacks, Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition, and an exterior mirror insert designed to warn the driver of cars in the Elantra’s blind spot. We were surprised to discover the car could be placed in regular, sport or economy mode at the press of a button on the center console. The cruise control and audio controls came with the optional automatic gearbox; choosing the 6-speed manual transmission shaves $1,000 from the sticker price.
The last Elantra we test-drove, a 2017 Limited model, had a very long standard-equipment list, but it also had a list price of $27,710 – about $9,000 more than the SE with no options.
Some drivers may be happy with the SE; others would prefer something more upscale. But if you like the Elantra, it’s a near certainty that you’ll be able to find just the combination of luxury, electronic or performance features you want. Hyundai, which builds Elantras in Montgomery, Ala., and usually sells 200,000 to 240,000 units in the United States every year, offers six trim levels – SE, SEL, Value, Eco, Sport and Limited. They essentially fall into four categories: basic, fuel-efficient, sporty and luxurious.
The SEL and Value Edition trims seem to make the most sense, adding high-value features like rear-view cameras, blind-spot warning systems and even heated front seats. The higher-end badges push the Elantra into competition with the likes of the Honda Civic and Mazda3 – more engaging cars in most respects.
2018 Hyundai Elantra SE
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 147 horsepower, 132 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 2,811 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, coupled torsion beam axle rear
Wheels: 15×6-in. alloy
Tires: 195/65R15 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 14.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14 gal.
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.