2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid: Which one to get

Compact cars are trying very hard to win a spot in your garage. With so much attention going to SUVs, models like the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Elantra are doing everything to get your attention. In addition to the Ioniq, Hyundai has another electrified sedan that promises exceptional efficiency: the Elantra Hybrid. With so many alternatives, the Prius isn’t the only game in town anymore. Should you still get it? Or does the new kid on the block make a better proposition?

2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid exterior

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Neither the Toyota Prius nor the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid blends in with the crowd. Just look at them; bold, daring, and packed attitude. Even after a refresh, the Prius still looks angry thanks to its angular face and wedge-shaped profile.

FIRST DRIVE: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

The Elantra Hybrid, on the other hand, is full of creases and triangles. From the grille to the rear to the door surfaces, there’s something shaped like a diamond or a triangle everywhere you look. Neither car will please everyone’s senses because of how unconventional they are. At least you won’t mistake either vehicle for anything else on the road.

2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid interior

Photo credit: Hyundai

Although both the Prius and Elantra Hybrid are super unconventional on the outside, things couldn’t be more different once you get inside. The Prius continues the quirkiness with its two-tiered dash layout featuring a digital speedometer and power-flow gauges. On the second tier is the main 7.0- or 11.6-inch touch screen, the former of which is flanked by physical shortcut buttons.

REVIEW: 2021 Toyota Prius

In comparison, the Elantra Hybrid sports traditional gauges or a digital cluster on the Limited trim. Like the Prius, the Elantra’s standard 8.0-inch display has physical shortcut buttons around it while the larger 10.25-inch unit has them just below the center climate control vents.

In terms of build quality, both vehicles are about even. The materials are what you expect out of a compact mainstream compact car. There are lots of hard plastics in the rear cabin and most of the softer bits are found in the front. Just don’t expect generous swathes of soft and padded surfaces, though.

Where the Hyundai takes the cake is in attention to detail; buttons and knobs all operate with a level of tactility more akin to vehicles wearing premium badges.

Practicality is where the Toyota Prius shines. Despite the sedan-like profile, the Prius has a hatch and plenty of space behind the rear seats for all of your gear. Folding the rear seats turns the Prius into a cavern even with a quickly descending roofline. The Elantra’s lithium-ion battery is placed under the rear seats just like the Prius, preserving the 13.2-cubic-foot trunk. Even with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, the Hyundai still has less space than the Prius.

Passenger space, on the other hand, is nearly equal between both cars. The only measure the Prius has an advantage in is headroom thanks to its taller greenhouse.

2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid tech

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Hyundai remains one of the most consistent when it comes to tech features. Both the standard and optional infotainment systems are user-friendly, quick to respond, and have crystal clear graphics. The available digital cluster has cool animations and layouts to suit your liking. You don’t get that kind of customizability in the Prius even with the 11.6-inch display. Toyota’s unit isn’t as snappy as Hyundai’s either and the graphics look dated and grainy.

Hyundai’s audio systems are superior, too. The optional Bose unit on the Elantra Hybrid distributes sound evenly. Toyota’s systems, including the optional 10-speaker JBL unit, tend to be more biased toward the front occupants.

Both the Elantra Hybrid and Prius offer comprehensive driver assistance features as standard equipment. Hyundai’s lane-centering features are slightly more accurate than Toyota’s, reacting gently as it brings you back to the center. Toyota’s tends to take action a little later and isn’t as smooth in re-centering you. Things start to differ further in adaptive cruise control operation because Toyota is way more conservative in its calibration. The system leaves more room between you and the vehicle ahead, allowing others to cut you off even in the closest setting. Hyundai’s is the opposite, providing enough space to make evasive maneuver but not enough that another car can squeeze their way in.

2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid driving experience

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Although neither the Prius nor the Elantra Hybrid is a performance superstar, they still provide the driver plenty of confidence. There’s a bit of a character difference between the two, though. The Elantra is composed while the Prius is smooth. Both cars offer good handling and will easily tackle twisty roads without much fuss despite wearing eco-focused tires. The Prius, however, rides better thanks to slightly superior impact harshness absorption and a slightly softer suspension.

In comparison, the Elantra Hybrid is taut and you get a little more road feel. This is most apparent over broken pavement where harder impacts are a little more noticeable on the Hyundai than in the Toyota. Steering feel, on the other hand, is superior on the Elantra Hybrid; you know exactly what the front wheels are doing and inputs immediately lead to reactions from the car. The Prius’ steering is noticeably slower; it’s not as responsive as the Hyundai’s and can feel disconnected.

Both the Prius and Elantra Hybrid have similar power outputs from their respective hybrid systems. Let’s not kid ourselves, at 121 and 139 hp for the Toyota and Hyundai respectively, neither one is a rocket and won’t offer you thrilling acceleration. They are, however, still able to get around that Sunday driver hogging the fast lanes thanks to their electric motors’ instant torque. Just make sure you don’t wind them out because their power tapers out quickly.

PLUG-IN ALTERNATIVE: 2021 Toyota Prius Prime

The powertrains reveal each car’s character. With its conventional six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the Elantra Hybrid feels like a standard non-electrified compact sedan. Even when it’s operating in EV mode, you still get gear changes. In most driving situations, the transmission operates smoothly and shifts quickly. However, it can get a little clunky in city driving, especially from a standstill.

The Prius, on the other hand, shows just how far ahead Toyota is when it comes to hybrids. Power delivery is smooth and wavelike because it doesn’t use a conventional gearbox. You don’t get any rubber bandy operation associated with CVTs either.

Automakers have mostly banished the jolty brake operation of hybrid vehicles and that’s apparent on the Prius and Elantra Hybrid. Both have consistent and smooth transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking, allowing you to stop without getting your head bobbed around.

2021 Toyota Prius vs 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid pricing

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Hyundai undercuts Toyota in pricing with the Elantra Hybrid checking in at $24,545 and the Prius at $25,520. Load both vehicles up and the Hyundai still undercuts the Toyota at $30,035 for the Limited trim Elantra Hybrid and $33,645 for a Prius Limited without the sunroof. Each car has a feature that you can’t get in the other; the Hyundai has ventilated front seats, a digital gauge cluster, and driver’s seat memory while the Prius has a head-up display and an automatic parking system.

Verdict

Picking a winner comes down to personal choice here because it’s super close between the two. The Hyundai Elantra Hybrid is packed with tech and has a sportier kick while the Prius offers smooth motoring. Regardless of which one you get, you’ll be happy with either car. Toyota’s hybrid systems are so far ahead that it gets the Prius major points for operating so seamlessly. However, Hyundai makes up for the slight lack of refinement with user-friendly tech features and better handling.

TL;DR

  • Get the Elantra Hybrid for the tech and more responsive road manners.
  • Buy the Prius for space and refinement.
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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