Test Drive: Popular Elantra is efficient, well-equipped

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco.
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco.

In its early days, people gravitated to the compact Hyundai Elantra sedan because it was inexpensive, acceptably reliable and durable, and well equipped even at the base level. Cheaper than the popular Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, it couldn’t match the leaders in any major performance or fuel-economy category, but the low price was alluring.

Today, the attraction is far more deep and broad. Nearly a quarter million Americans buy one every year, and there hardly can be any doubt that many simply like the Elantra better than the alternatives.

In addition to keeping the price down – $17,150 in base SE trim – Hyundai has improved the car’s look, ride and fuel economy.

The version we tested was the fuel-economy-focused 2017 Elantra Eco, rated at 32 mpg city, 40 highway. We did a little better than 40 in straight highway driving in western and central Connecticut. Fact is, we had the Elantra for a week, using it for commuting and local trips, and barely nudged the gasoline gauge to the left of the three-quarter mark.

auto-elantra INT 6-30Our Eco had a sticker price of $21,610 with almost no optional equipment. But the standard-equipment list included features often excluded or even unavailable on inexpensive econoboxes: blind-spot warning, rear-view camera, alloy wheels, 7-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, heated front seats and push-button start.

Hyundai boasts that it offers a number of high-tech features on the Elantra that can’t be added to competing models: automatic emergency braking, headlights that turn with the front wheels, hands-free trunk opener, smart cruise control, heated rear seats and more.

We’ve viewed with some skepticism the emergence of emergency tire puncture repair kits in place of spare tires. Our Elantra had both – a “doughnut” spare tire and a repair kit.

Relatively long at 15 feet, the Elantra doesn’t quality as an urban runabout, but it makes up for this deficiency by comporting itself admirably in highway and rural driving. It’s smoother, quieter and more composed than any previous Elantra.

The front bucket seats are comfortable, and controls are easy to decipher. Despite the car’s length, knee room and headroom in back are tight for tall passengers.

Our biggest complaint was the way the engine and transmission brought the car from a dead stop to traffic speeds. Seemingly, that’s the price paid for the Eco’s exceptional fuel economy. The car seems to have plenty of power, but response is inconsistent. We’ve never been fans of the dual-clutch automated gearbox, and the Elantra, so equipped, didn’t bring us around to this technology. Other Elantra models provide a choice between a 6-speed stick shift and 6-speed conventional automatic; either would deliver more consistent acceleration than the 7-speed.

Data on safety and reliability aren’t available on this redesigned model. The 2016 Elantra’s reliability was above average, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2016 Elantra its top “Good” rating in all categories except small-overlap-front crash (“Acceptable”).

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Price: $21,610

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 128 horsepower, 156 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed EcoShift dual-clutch transmission with Shiftronic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,857 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: 32 mpg city, 40 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline