By some odd circumstances, I wound up with a 2017 Hyundai Elantra for an evening over the week. If you’re looking to buy a new sedan for cheap, this one will likely be part of the search. Based on my short time with the car, it may steal the top spot on your list—and some of your money—pretty quickly.
(Full disclosure: The warranty on my 2012 Hyundai Elantra went out on Thursday and I managed to get a new compressor for my A/C the day of, but the dealership told us it was ready when it was still on the lift. Everyone in the shop had gone home for the day, so they handed me a 2017 Elantra tester with 14 miles of fuel in the tank. I paid for my own gas and drove it home. In other words, there really is no disclosure to give you.)
Since I got the car at about 8 p.m. local time and needed to pick mine up the next morning, I only spent about an hour, if that, driving it. But when you’ve got some experience in reviewing cars, efficiently managing time behind the wheel is just something you get used to. Anyway, let’s talk about it.
The 2017 Elantra is a new generation of body style for the car, replacing the swooping look of my beloved vehicle with a more rigid, angled style than the 2011 through 2016 models featured. Naturally, I spent most of my time in the car comparing it to mine—Hyundai’s made a lot of progress on the car that’s second from the bottom on its price chain, but there are some features that it probably shouldn’t have left behind.
In the realm of features Hyundai shouldn’t have let die off with the last set of Elantras, aspects of the look are near the top of that list. While I’ve noticed that people are generally split on their opinions of the exterior on that generation—which is to be expected, because it’s a pretty out-there design—it does call far more attention than the new style.
While front end isn’t my favorite, the back of the 2017 Elantra is pretty sleek. It kept a lot of the design elements of the most recent generation, only making the taillights slightly more angled. The wheel spokes are sporty, which adds to the overall appearance of the car.
The new look is pretty basic, but it grows on you after driving it a few times. It’s nothing that would grab my attention while going down the road, but for a car that starts at $17,150, no complaints here.
The 2017 Elantra is considered part of Hyundai’s “sedan” lineup, but it feels noticeably smaller than the last generation of the car and it sure doesn’t have the elbow room that a typical sedan has. The A-pillars seem to be too close to each other from the driver’s seat, making the windshield feel squished and the car seem smaller.
Just like the exterior, the interior feels like it took a step back. It’s boxy and somewhat tight, but it isn’t the worst place to make a commute. The stereo system isn’t great, and hopping back into my 2012 was a sigh of relief in that respect.
This relatively bare had a large touch-screen radio and infotainment system, which was a nice feature. The touch-screen limited model in 2012—which had push-to-start, unlike the 2017 I had—was between $24,000 and $25,000 in 2012 if I remember correctly, so Hyundai has made a huge leap in lowering the price of its fancier amenities. In that same boat are automatic headlights, which weren’t even standard on the limited model five years ago.
But if you’re like me and not the best with poking screens while driving, the tune button for the radio is an uncomfortable stretch from the driver. Every time I got sick of one radio station and needed to change it, I felt like I needed several more inches of arm to do so. (That’s coming from a former swimmer with a long wingspan, too.)
The strangest part about the interior on this particular car was its smell. It didn’t have a new-car smell, and with an odometer of under 40 miles when I got in, I’d have to assume that the smell is the norm. If not, the dealer gave me a weird one.
It had an overwhelming odor of cheap, warm plastic, which was so nauseating that my boyfriend—who is, in the interest of full disclosure, prone to getting carsick anyway—had to lay down for about 20 minutes after we got out of it.
For its price, the features this car had were impressive. Half of the infotainment screen is reserved for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and just like my older model, the car has handsfree calling. Because I got a lemon of an iPhone 6S earlier this year, I wasn’t able to try these out for fear that my phone wouldn’t connect back to my car when I traded the two out.
Connecting CarPlay, Android Auto and all of that good stuff seems to be fairly easy to do, even if I didn’t get to carry it out. The screen has a lot of options, but its design is simple enough to make navigation of those options simple. As a result, everything is much more self explanatory and easy to adapt to than the infotainment screens I’ve experienced on higher-end vehicles.
There’s also a backup camera that’s about the image quality of the flip phone I owned in 2004, but it gets the job done if you would rather not twist your head around to check out the landscape. (I just turned around, because I’m old school and that’s how we do it. I tend to opt out of screens in cars anyway.)
The car also has a bar to show live fuel mileage, which ranges from zero to 50 miles per gallon. It’s a cool feature in any car to see how much fuel mileage you are—or aren’t—getting at different parts of the drive. On the 2017 Elantra I had, though, the fuel mileage only did live updates in eco mode. I could only handle the slowness of eco mode for about two minutes at a time.
In sport and normal, the bar was at zero while the car was stopped and at 50 while it was moving. If only that were the truth.
The (Surprisingly Cushy) Drive
Since someone had to pull the sales car up to the office before I drove off in it, the car was already running when I first got in. It wasn’t until the next time I started the new Elantra—after I nervously coasted into a gas station, because my 2012 model is notorious for magically going from 40 miles of fuel to dashes that passively aggressively tell you to “pull into a station before I strand you in the road”—that I realized just how much quieter Hyundai has made the process of starting the engine. It was almost dead silent when I cranked the key, which felt oddly luxurious in a $20,000 car.
Also on the topic of noise, the sound-dampening capabilities that the new Elantra has are shockingly good for its price. Actually, they’re good for almost any price. I enjoy being able to feel and hear the road a bit more—which I certainly can in my car—but the dampening in this Elantra would be a dream for anyone who wanted a luxury feel without having to pay that much for it.
As far as what’s under the hood, you get what you pay for. The Elantra’s six-speed automatic transmission is smooth, but you wouldn’t want to nickname it “Zippy” or anything. The car has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower, and like its predecessors, the car is certifiably slow—or so I thought.
Since I didn’t expect anything of the sort in such a cheap car and I didn’t have much time to look over the features beforehand, I’d already driven the Elantra a couple of times before I looked down and realized the “Drive Mode” button.
“It couldn’t be...” I thought.
I punched it right into sport mode, and off we went—much quicker than before. Sport is one of three options, with the other two being normal and eco mode.
Even with a measly 147 horsepower, sport mode is noticeably more peppy than the other two. About five minutes after switching from normal to sport, I also lost, on average, three miles per gallon in the city.
If you’re into saving gas money, eco mode in a four-cylinder car is about as sluggish as it gets. There were no real handling differences between the three, but the suspension in the new generation of Elantras is much more cushy than the last. The car takes turns well, but don’t expect to make many sharp ones—it doesn’t exactly “turn on a dime,” as they say.
The steering is incredibly sensitive overall—so much so that as the driver, it’s easy to forget that you’re telling the car where to go. And if you tell the car to go in a direction that may get it whacked by another vehicle, the horn is so weird that you’ll probably embarrass yourself.
Here, listen for yourself:
If you don’t have much money to spend and you want that new-car smell—OK, maybe not the one you’re imagining—this car has just about everything you could want (and with a manual, it’s naturally even cheaper). It’s a fun drive in sport mode, and the Hyundai warranty is solid at five years or 60,000 miles.
With the average fuel mileage sitting at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway, it’s a decent buy on fuel economy as well. I averaged about 32 in the city on normal mode and 29 in sport, but my time with the car was too short to extensively test how it did in eco mode—it was just so slow, too.
This particular car has a lower sticker price than mine—a “limited” model compared to this SE—did five years ago by about $2,000. But that lower price buys more features and a quieter cabin, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The loaner I drove had a price of $20,015 with handling fees, which is an absolute steal to drive this car off of the lot considering all the features it has. It’s a money-saving vehicle that won’t make the owner feel like he or she is losing out on modern amenities in a car. I enjoyed my time in the car, even if it did have an odd smell.
That smell will wear off as time goes on, though, and you’ll be able to save enough money to splurge on a new car-scented air freshener once it does—then, you won’t feel like you missed out on anything.