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2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid first drive review: The eye-catching compact hybrid sedan

Remember that kid who was unknown in high school and grew up into a smart, sophisticated adult? Well, you can say the Hyundai Elantra was that person. Once bought for the low price and long warranty, the 2021 Elantra has evolved into a compact car wearing many hats. There’s the humble, tech-savvy standard version, a super-efficient hybrid, and soon, a fire-breathing N variant. Each iteration has a distinct personality and the hybrid stands out as the calm, collected friend that you can reliably lean on for your daily commute.

2021 Hyundai Elantra exterior

Photo credit: Hyundai

Mention hybrid or any electrified vehicle to the average consumer and they’ll usually think of a car that looks like a spaceship. The Elantra bucks that notion with a head-turning design, featuring a lot of angles and a low, swoopy roofline to give it a sleek coupe-like appearance. Beyond the hybrid badge on the trunk lid, there’s nothing in the Elantra Hybrid’s exterior that screams “I’m eco-friendly!” It’s just a compact sedan that’s also extremely efficient.

2021 Hyundai Elantra interior

Photo credit: Hyundai

Step inside the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid’s cabin and you’re greeted by an overload of tech features. The available dual-screen layout, which features two 10.25-inch displays, gives the Elantra a futuristic feel yet it’s not intimidating to use. Intuitive controls and a logical menu layout make using the infotainment system a cinch. Skip the voice command feature, though; while responsive, there were times that it struggled to understand you, especially if you speak quickly. The Bose audio system, on the other hand, is crisp and well-tuned for the size of the vehicle.

Limited trim Elantras get cool interior materials that help spruce up the overall atmosphere. Dressed up in two-town black and gray, the leather gets paired with woven fabric accents, adding a nice upscale feel. If only the dash and top of the door cards had soft, padded surfaces. Those hard bits detract from an otherwise classy interior that will likely stand the test of time better than many of its rivals. More sound deadening could help too because you get a good bit of wind and tire noise at highway speeds.

2021 Hyundai Elantra driving impressions

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Hybrid models get several upgrades versus the standard Elantra. An independent rear suspension replaces the torsion beam found in the regular model. Instead of a 2.0-liter I4 and CVT, you get a 104 hp 1.6-liter I4 coupled to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, a 1.32 kWh lithium-ion battery, and a 43 hp electric motor. Limited grade Elantra Hybrids also get driver’s seat memory and ventilated front seats.

The result is a car that feels familiar despite all the complexity underneath. With a total system output of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, there’s plenty on tap for daily commuting. you won’t need to plan your passing maneuvers nor will you struggle going up a hill. Power, however, tapers off quickly, so don’t wind the powertrain out. The six-speed dual-clutch offers quick shifts and responses when you put your foot down. However, it can be slightly rough from a standstill and in city driving.

Adding an independent rear suspension imbues the Elantra Hybrid with a more sophisticated ride versus the standard version. Bumps and road imperfections are dispatched promptly even with the 17-inch alloy wheels shod in 225/45R17 tires on the Limited trim. All of that isolation doesn’t come at the cost of composure, either. Body motions are well controlled, allowing the car to stay composed even through Los Angeles’ poorly maintained roads (Editor’s note: Try driving in Michigan). Accurate steering gives the Elantra Hybrid a confident feel during the daily commute. The brake pedal is firm, progressive, allowing you to make precise inputs. Transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking are seamless, making slowing down smoothly a breeze.

Further making the Elantra’s driving experience pleasant are well-calibrated driver assistance technologies that have the potential to put systems in pricier vehicles to shame. Together with the steering assist, the lane-keeping assist does a fantastic job centering the vehicle and only starts to get flustered when the road gets too twisty. The car will even warn you with a slight tug on the steering wheel if it deems a turn too sharp. Adaptive cruise control operates wonderfully, leaving enough distance between you and the vehicle ahead without tailgating or space for another vehicle to cut you off. Even in traffic, the system functions smoothly — braking, and accelerating — without getting jerky.

2021 Hyundai Elantra final verdict

Photo credit: Hyundai

Despite the complexity under that beautifully (or wildly) styled exterior, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid is a friendly, easy to approach sedan. Between the chill driving experience and the superb interior layout, consumers new to electrified vehicles won’t get intimidated when interacting with the car. At $24,545 for the SEL grade and $29,035 for the range-topping Limited including the destination fee, the Elantra Hybrid retains Hyundai’s strong value play. Only this time you get it in a dressy, tech-laden package that’s nice to drive and gets 50 mpg or higher.

 At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Hyundai
  • Model: Elantra Hybrid
  • Trim: Limited
  • Type: 4-door compact sedan
  • Combined horsepower: 139
  • Combined torque: 195
  • MPG ratings: 49/52/50 mpg city/highway/combined (SEL: 53/56/54 mpg)
  • Pros: Drives like a normal car, futuristic design
  • Cons: Transmission can be rough at slow speeds, some hard plastics in the interior
  • Base: $24,545
  • Price as tested: $29,035
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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