Throughout The Car Industry
Review of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra: The $100 Million Question
In recent years, carmakers have been under tons of pressure to develop more fuel efficient vehicles. They have been obligated by the government to get their corporate EPA numbers up however possible. So that’s what they’ve been doing… Or saying that’s what they’ve been doing anyway. In 2014, however, Hyundai (along with its subsidiary Kia) were hit with the single biggest fine in the era of the Clean Air Act. Why such heavy discipline? Well, it seems that Hyundai sort of… embellished… the ability of a few models' ability to achieve 40 miles per gallon on the highway. And by “few”, we mean around 1.2 million vehicles in all. The Elantra actually got closer to 38 mpg, not the 40 as advertised. And while that small two-mile-per-gallon discrepancy may not seem like a big deal, when you are lying to customers who are basing their purchasing decisions on cars that are very similar and one edges the other out, or seems to anyway, in fuel economy and then doesn’t, you’re going to have quite a few angry folks knocking on your door. The fine levied by the government was enormous—$100 million in total—and beyond that Hyundai lost another $200 million in greenhouse-gas emissions credits it got for claiming to have high-efficiency vehicles. After they got kicked in the teeth for lying, Hyundai downgraded the Elantra’s highway mpg to 38 mpg, and made the decision to build a car that lived up to its claims.
Fast forward three years. Hyundai has redesigned the Elantra and will be unveiling it as the sixth generation of the model; you can bet they are going to make damn sure their math is correct this time around. There are three models to choose from, the base SE, the Eco, and the Limited. The SE and the Limited share the same engine—a 2.0-liter inline aluminum 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve with D-CVVT that produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. The Eco, on the other hand, comes to party with a 1.4-liter turbo inline-4 that sports direct-injection and produces only 128 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. Backing up those engines come a variety of transmissions. The SE comes standard with a 6-speed manual and has an optional 6-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC and Active ECO System. That 6-speed auto comes standard on the Limited, and is the only transmission you can get, in fact. The Eco gets a 7-speed EcoShift Dual Clutch automatic also with SHIFTRONIC.
There are a few other differences between the trim levels of the next Elantra, with the Eco standing apart more than the other two. The Limited is the only trim that comes with 4-wheel disc brakes, while the other two still go with the front disc/rear drum set up. The SE and Eco come standard with 15-inch wheels (steel for the SE and alloy for the Eco), with 16-inchers being optional on the SE. The Limited comes standard with 17-inch alloys. The SE can range from 2,767–2,976 pounds, while the Limited ranges from 2,811–2,976 pounds, both depending on options chosen. The Eco comes in at a set weight of 2,857 pounds.
When it comes to safety features, that’s how they get ya. The Limited is the big winner by far, and more than justifies its higher price. The Limited gets Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, and a rearview camera standard, while things like Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Smart Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam Assist are all optional. Only the Blind Spot Detection and Rearview camera are standard on the Eco and optional on the SE, while all of those other fun goodies are not available on either the SE or the Eco. That’s not to say that the SE and Eco are completely devoid of features; they get things like Tire Pressure Monitoring, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, airbags galore, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist. Of course, the Limited also gets all of these features as well. But all things considered, those are some pretty amazing features for a car that has a base MSRP of $17,150 for the SE, $20,650 for the Eco, and $22,350 for the Limited.
In terms of performance, the Eco is actually a little quicker than its siblings making the sprint from 0–60 mph in 7.8 seconds while the other two accomplish the same feat in 8.3 seconds. 0–100 mph takes 21.9 seconds in the Eco, while it takes half a second longer in the SE/Limited, through the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds in the Eco, while again taking another half-second for the others. Around the skidpad the SE/Limited gains some points versus the Eco, pulling a 0.84 g vs. 0.80 g respectively. All models are limited to 120 mph top speed. And the all-important EPA numbers: The Limited/SE models get 28/37/32 city/highway/combined, while the Eco gets 32/40/35 respectively. And from what we can tell, unlike the last time Hyundai tried this, the Eco numbers may actually be slightly underrated.
It seems like maybe Hyundai used its 2014 hiccup as a solid learning experience, and answered the $100 million question: Is the Elantra what it claims to be? They have created a car in the sixth-gen Elantra that is actually a wonderful value that gives you a lot of car for a little money. The SE is the consummate base model, entry-level commuter car. The Limited is still a basic car, but offers a ton of options that could make you feel like you’re piloting a vehicle that cost twice as much. The Eco is finally the fuel-efficient car it has been touted to be, and actually may over-deliver this time around on its claims. So the answer may be that no, the Elantra isn’t what it’s claiming to be… It may just be more.
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