The redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra comes in three trim levels (with an Elantra GT being introduced mid-year). These new models feel like completely different sedans and now there is a hatchback. I first had a drive in the Limited Elantra and felt like I was driving a much more expensive car.
The leather seats, color-matching trim, and additional amenities made for a nice highway cruiser with some bling around the edges. The revised 2.0-liter four-cylinder naturally-aspirated engine and smooth 6-speed automatic transmission ran strong on the streets and got onto the freeway onramps well. In fact, if a motorcycle rider had not lost control and hit the door of my test Elantra Limited, I would have loved another 500 miles in this loaded version of Hyundai’s Elantra.
However, Hyundai delivered their 2017 Elantra Eco the next day (Automotive Journalists are a spoiled bunch), and I was impressed all over again. The Eco model feels like a unique car, even though it is still the same solid platform, sheet metal, and suspension. The Eco model comes with its own seats, drivetrain, wheels and tires, and trim package. Furthermore, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco price starts at $20,650, which makes this the mid-range model. Unlike most of the typical economy-based models, this trim level called “Eco” refers to the fuel efficiency and not the MSRP.
The Hyundai Elantra Eco used a smaller displacement “Kappa” 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This motor looks a sewing machine but generates some decent power- producing 128 horsepower after it revs up to 5,500 rpm. However, Hyundai has done a decent job of mitigating the delayed power. The turbocharged torque comes early at 156 lb.-ft. which begins at 1,400 rpm.
Like most turbo-boosted intake systems, it takes some engineering to get the power spun up quickly to avoid “turbo-lag”. However, when the extra boost comes, this car gets up and pulls with power. Due to standard traction control, the front-wheel driven tires do not get too loose, and torque steering (too much power to one wheel or the other) is controlled. Overall, this makes for some fun driving.
Hyundai’s engineering advancements in engine technology have been aggressive in recent years. For example, they have combined the cylinder head intake and exhaust manifolds into a single unit, allowing for better air delivery- which increases horsepower and decreases fuel consumption. I have toured their engine factory in Alabama and have been impressed with how quickly Hyundai retools and redesigns their engine manufacturing process with innovations and quality controls. Engines are often manufactured right next door to the assembly plant.
There is a new 7-speed EcoShift® dual-clutch transmission (DCT) completing this powertrain. The Europeans have been using double clutch “automatic” transmissions for years due to their efficient use of power. The glitches inherent to DCT’s are rough shifts on startup and slower speed traffic situations with computer-controlled “gear hunting”. Hyundai has taken time with this gearbox to work out some of the kinks and has come a long way in dialing in the shifts. In a recent drive in the new Kia Soul Exclaim Turbo with a 7-speed DCT, the gear-hunting is more prominent than the Elantra’s gearbox. Engineers should be able to solve these issues through software adjustments.
The EPA ratings for the 2017 Elantra Eco are 32 city/40 highway/35 combined miles-per-gallon. These estimates are fairly accurate to the gas mileage I was able to record over my short week in the Elantra Eco. There are three drive modes to be selected (Eco, Normal, Sport) which modify power output and steering control. Wanting to compare the Eco with my time in the Limited, I ran in “Normal” and still was able to get 41 mpg on the highway. The “Eco” mode felt a little scary in heavy traffic on some long uphill grades. Also, the “Sport” mode did not improve performance enough to make this a daily preference. Efficient and ecological performance is not always measurably enhanced through these driver’s modes. I also believe in the economy of the mind, so it is less stressful just to get in, buckle up, and drive- forgetting all the extra settings modern automobiles offer these days.
The interior of the Elantra Eco is not harsh. Although the lighter seats help with the reduced overall curb weight, they are reasonably comfortable and supportive on longer trips. The controls and instruments are clear, logical, and similar to Hyundai’s other vehicles. Some consider Hyundai’s dash design to be too upright and austere. I consider their ergonomic design to be functional, logical, and easy to use. What is wrong with simplifying the driver’s controls to keep the eyes on the road? I also applaud Hyundai’s use of large buttons with letters that are easier to reach when driving over rough pavement.
There is a 7.0-inch digital display for the infotainment system.
This touchscreen includes audio, Apple™ CarPlay and Android™ connectivity, and a rear view camera. Thus, navigation, live-stream music, and internet radio are easily provided through the cellular services. The duplicate audio controls on the steering wheel are also easy to use and read in case one forgets which finger goes where. Some different tactile surfaces for various electronic controls would be helpful when the driver should be looking at the road. The voice controls are also very helpful, although some voice recognition commands were repeatedly missed. I think this was due to addition road noise in the cabin of the Elantra Eco sedan.
As with most new sedan models, LED daytime running lights are standard. Hyundai has also included some door handle lights and their automatic trunk lid when the key is nearby for more than 3 seconds. The Hyundai Elantra Eco comes with new 15-inch alloy wheels. The P195/65R15 low-rolling resistant tires are designed for mileage, and some stickier rubber would be welcome on wet surfaces. However, the wheel/tire combination looks good and works well for most common driving situations.
Unfortunately, Hyundai decided to save some money by using discs brakes in the front and only 8.0-inch drum brakes in the rear, through which stopping power is diminished. I would have preferred them including the most basic safety feature- 4-wheel disc brakes. Hyundai has included Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, and a rearview camera. Other nice safety features include their Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), and Brake Assist (BA) which increases brake pressure in emergency stops. Advanced airbags are abundant in the front seats, with more airbags on the sides and even under the steering wheel on the driver’s knees.
For a great commuter car that will leave some cash in the account, choose the Elantra Eco with solid road manners and a solid platform that is void of squeaks and rattles. There is not a sports car, but it gets the job done and keeps the passengers comfortable while getting there. There are enough safety features to give the owner some confidence- knowing that higher mileage and a lower price does not mean a sub-standard vehicle.