Since its 2011 redesign, the Hyundai Elantra has been the darling of many car reviews and has quickly earned its place as a force to be reckoned with in the compact car segment. But now that the competition has had a couple years to catch up, does the Elantra still have its edge? Well, I was handed a brand-new, loaded to the hilt, 2014 Hyundai Elantra Limited to find out.
On the outside, the only changes for 2014 are new front and rear fascias, new 17” rims for the limited, and similar to the Elantra’s close cousin, the Kia Forte, the top line models now come with projector beam headlamps with LED accents and LED tail lights. While the last two changes only appear on the Limited and Limited Tech trim levels, they do give a more premium look to the already handsome Elantra. The gorgeous new alloys are particularly noteworthy, and may just be enough to move some customers up into the higher trim levels.
The biggest selling feature of the Elantra Limited is that it is now available with the 2.0L direct injection 4-cylinder that was previously only available in the Elantra Coupe and GT models. This is also the same engine in the 2014 Kia Forte SX, and the extra power the engine offers over most other contenders in the compact car segment does give it a bit of an edge. The 6-speed automatic, the only transmission available in Limited trim, does a good job of utilizing that extra power. Off-the-line acceleration feels particularly brisk. The only exception to this is when “Eco” mode has been engaged. Much like in the Forte, this mode sucks any trace of passion out of the drivetrain focuses on maximizing efficiency. As far as 4-cylinders go though, the 2.0L is surprisingly smooth and refined, rarely ever making its presence known to those inside the car, and for that reason alone it may be worth the extra cash to upgrade from the standard 1.8L. The tradeoff however, would be reflected in your fuel economy numbers; I averaged 7.4L/100km in my mixed rush hour commute, exactly the same numbers I got in the Forte SX.
Engine aside, the Elantra remains one of the nicest driving compacts out there; the suspension is just the right level of firmness to handle corners with minimal body roll, but still manages to be comfortable and composed. The 17” rims and low-profile tires do add a little harshness on the weather beaten spring roads, but that’s easily forgiven once you’re out on the highway. At higher speeds the Elantra is remarkably composed and actually feels rather German in its stability and confidence. The steering is well-weighed, in fact maybe a little too heavy for some, but I enjoyed it along with the quick response and sense of nimbleness. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest it feels as good as the Mazda3 GT, but it certainly comes close.
Where I believe the secret to the Elantra’s success lies is within its interior. Where the new engine and overall on the road feel may be important to enthusiasts like myself, the truth is that a strong percentage of compact buyers really wouldn’t notice or care about either of those factors. The feature list in my Elantra Limited Tech, with an MSRP just over $25,000, reads more like that of a full-sized luxury sedan at two or three times the price, and that is impossible to dismiss. Heated seats all the way around, seven-inch touchscreen with navigation, rear-view camera, power moonroof and an excellent 360-watt sound system all help the Hyundai spoil both the driver as well as passengers. The luxury doesn’t stop with just an extensive feature list; it’s actually all packaged into a very sharp-looking and functional interior. The center stack is one of my favorites in the business; it’s very easy to use and each button’s function is clearly distinguished. The dashboard and interior panels are mostly soft-touch plastic, so although the materials may not be confused with those of the latest Mercedes S-Class the overall fit and finish is very well done. Of course, the seats are trimmed in black leather, but I did find them rather hard, and the leather is certainly not top-shelf, but that is a small sacrifice to make for the comfort and ease of use built into the Elantra. Even the menus on the touch screen and Bluetooth setup are very intuitive, making it easy to jump into the Elantra and get yourself comfortable almost right away.
It’s clear that the Elantra Limited has a lot to offer, and in my eyes still has enough of a luxurious edge to set itself apart from the crowd in this segment. The question is then; does anyone really need all this in a compact? Well, my week with the Elantra also happened to be the first reasonably warm week we’ve had in Toronto in months, and I must admit, being able to open the sunroof and enjoy some music on a high-quality stereo felt good! So at $25,000, why not enjoy some of the finer aspects of motoring?
The new Hyundai Elnatra makes it possible to have all the toys and luxuries of a significantly more expensive car, in an affordable and efficient compact. That not only makes it an attractive option for the typical compact buyer who may want to step into something that feels a little more upscale, but also a potential option for luxury car owners looking to move away from their bigger and more costly sedans and into something a little more practical, without giving up the luxuries they’ve grown accustomed to.