Just call the Hyundai Elantra the comeback kid. Introduced in the early '90s, the economy-priced sedan didn't exactly get off to a good start, earning a well-deserved reputation for overall shoddiness and unreliability. But two decades later, the Elantra is now a class leader buoyed by better reliability, agreeable performance, handsome styling and a long list of standard features. Take it for a spin and you'll likely be impressed with its smooth ride and responsive handling. Throw in a roomy cabin, solid build quality and a lengthy list of safety features, and the Elantra is a formidable competitor in its segment.
Shortcomings? Newer models have quieted the cabin some, but older Elantras let in enough road noise to remind you it's still a budget compact. It's also hard to find older Elantras equipped with ABS. But these blemishes fade into insignificance when you consider the great value a new or late-model Elantra represents. If you're looking for a small sedan that suits a tight budget, Hyundai's Elantra belongs on your short list of contenders.
Current Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra sedan (a coupe and Elantra GT four-door hatchback are also available and reviewed separately) is offered in two trim levels, GLS and Limited.
The GLS comes equipped with 15-inch wheels, air-conditioning, heated mirrors, full power accessories and a six-speaker audio system with iPod/USB interface. Options include alloy wheels, foglights and heated front seats. The Limited upgrades to 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery and heated front and rear seats as standard equipment, with options including keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system, a rearview camera and a premium audio system.
Power for the Elantra comes from a 1.8-liter inline-4 rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. GLS models offer a six-speed manual transmission standard, with a six-speed automatic as an option. The Limited includes the auto as standard equipment. Elantras sold in California or states with California emissions standards get a car that's SULEV/PZEV-certified, which lowers power output to 145 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque.
Slide inside the Elantra and you'll find a cabin that transcends most others in it class. A stylized center stack and controls lend some flair to the cabin, and the materials, while not best-in-class, offer a rich look. Ample headroom and a smaller-diameter steering wheel contribute to the interior's spaciousness. The Hyundai Elantra also scores points with its high fuel economy and distinctive styling. If you're looking for a new small car, the latest Elantra is a great choice.
Used Hyundai Elantra Models
The current Hyundai Elantra represents the fifth generation, which was introduced for the 2011 model year. There have been no major changes since.
The fourth-generation Elantra ran from 2007-'10. Having established the Elantra as a legitimate contender in the compact segment with its previous-generation car, Hyundai updated the Elantra's styling, improved its handling and ride quality, and revamped the interior to near-premium levels.
Two main trim levels were available: GLS and SE. The GLS came reasonably well equipped, though it lacked stability and traction control. Those came standard on the SE after 2007. The SE also had more features and a sport-tuned suspension. In your used-car search, you might also encounter the top-line Elantra Limited ('07 only) and the Elantra Blue, which was an entry-level model offered for 2010 only.
Fourth-generation Elantras came with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine good for 138 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Cars sold in California-emissions states could have cleaner tailpipe emissions (PZEV) but were rated for 132 hp.
Changes were minimal for this car. For 2009, the Elantra received enhanced suspension and steering tuning, along with new interior instrument and radio displays. A USB/iPod audio jack also became available. But in general, we were very impressed by this car and praised its roomy and comfortable interior, agreeable ride quality and value for the dollar.
The third-generation Elantra was produced from model years 2001-'06 and represented a considerable step up from the earlier cars. The sedan was bigger inside and out, and revised sheet metal gave it a more upscale look. Reliability and overall quality were also much improved. The standard features list was generous for the car's price, and included amenities like air-conditioning, full power accessories, side airbags, 15-inch wheels and an AM/FM cassette player. The 2.0-liter engine generated 135 hp (138 after 2003) and was mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic.
An Elantra hatchback, the Elantra GT, was also offered starting in 2002 and came with additional standard features, including leather seats and a CD player. Initially, the sedan was available only in base GLS trim, but by 2003, Elantra sedans could be purchased in two trims -- GLS and the top-of-the-line GT. Although it still lacked the refinement of segment leaders like the Honda Civic, the third-generation Hyundai Elantra shone as a solid choice for buyers seeking maximum value for their money.
One would probably do best by avoiding the second-generation Elantra ? built from model years 1996-2000 -- though it did at least take a turn for the better from the forgettable original. The car got a welcome boost in power with the addition of a new engine, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder capable of 130 hp and 122 lb-ft of torque. Airbags were added to the safety features list, and a wagon body style was also offered. The Elantra's engine was upgraded yet again in model year 1999, to a larger 2.0-liter. Overall, the second-gen Elantra represented a decent buy in the economy car segment. It wasn't as polished as the offerings from Honda, Nissan or Toyota, but it was well-equipped and fun to drive.
The first-generation Elantra was produced from model years 1992-'95; during this period, Hyundai's hauler was available as a sedan only. Sadly, the car's build quality and reliability reflected its bargain-basement price. Elantras from this era were notorious for being sloppy in most of the areas that matter. They were none too quick either, as all models were motivated by a 1.6-liter inline-4 good for 113 hp and 102 lb-ft of torque.
Read the most recent 2013 Hyundai Elantra review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Hyundai Elantra page.