Introduced in the early 1990s, the Hyundai Elantra didn't exactly get off to a good start, earning a well-deserved reputation for overall shoddiness and unreliability. But more than two decades later, the Elantra has become one of America's most popular small sedans. Take one for a spin and you'll likely be impressed with its smooth ride, roomy interior, high fuel economy and solid build quality. The Elantra also offers plenty of features for the money and a long warranty. While those long-ago Elantras are best forgotten, any new or used Elantra is an excellent choice for shoppers looking for a small car.
Current Hyundai Elantra
The current, sixth-generation Hyundai Elantra is a five-passenger compact sedan that offers an extensive list of standard and optional features as well as a quiet and attractive cabin. It's available in SE, SE Value Edition, Eco, Limited and Sport trim levels.
The base SE trim comes with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seatback, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and a CD player. Moving up to the SE Value Edition nets buyers alloy wheels, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera, keyless ignition and entry, a hands-free trunk opener, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, and a sunroof. All of these features (aside from the sunroof) can be added to the SE with the Popular Equipment and Tech packages. The Limited adds larger wheels and unique styling, Hyundai's Blue Link system, leather upholstery and a few other luxuries, with the option to add a larger touchscreen, heated rear seats, navigation, an upgraded sound system, adaptive cruise control, and more active safety features.
All three of these trims are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower. On the SE, it comes standard with a six-speed manual, with the option for a six-speed automatic. On the Value Edition and Limited, the six-speed automatic is standard. The Eco is equipped similarly to the Value Edition, but it uses a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that makes 128 horsepower and is paired with a seven-speed automatic for improved efficiency.
The Sport largely resembles the Limited in terms of equipment and options, but it uses a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 201 horsepower and can be had with either the six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. A sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, bigger brakes and sporty styling cues further set the Sport apart.
In reviews, we praised the Elantra for its comfortable seats, above-average ride quality and quiet cabin. Unfortunately, the base engine offers some of the slowest acceleration in the class, and the dual-clutch transmission can be clunky at low speeds. Buyers willing to trade speed for a laundry list of features at a surprisingly affordable price will want the SE Value Edition, and those looking for more oomph can check out the Sport trim with its more powerful engine.
Used Hyundai Elantra Models
The current sixth-generation Elantra was introduced for the 2017 model year. It offers more powerful engines and introduces the Eco trim with its more efficient engine. Interior design and ride quality are the best they've ever been thanks to the total redesign. Although it may not be a quantum leap, the current generation improves on the previous generation's already successful formula in every way.
The fifth-generation Hyundai Elantra was was produced from 2011 to 2016. From 2011 to 2014, only two trim levels were available: GLS and Limited. A refresh for the 2014 model year added styling tweaks, upgraded touchscreen displays and increased sound insulation. The Sport trim level with a more powerful engine was also added, and the GLS trim was replaced with the SE trim. After 2014, the trim level range included the SE, Limited and Sport. A coupe and Elantra GT four-door hatchback were also available, and are reviewed separately.
The GLS, Limited and later the SE were powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 145 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission was standard on the GLS and SE, while a six-speed automatic was optional. The Limited came only with the automatic. The Elantra Sport had a 2.0-liter four that made 173 hp. With the Sport, the manual transmission was standard, while the automatic was optional.
The Value Edition was only introduced for 2015. Before that, the SE had similar upgrade packages, but the touchscreen was only a 4.3-inch unit. Adaptive cruise control and other active safety features only became available for the Limited trim in 2015, and were not available before that. The further back in this generation you go, the less the base cars can be upgraded, and the more the features gap between the SE (or GLS) and Limited trims increases.
In reviews, we noted that the fifth-generation Elantra offered a cabin that matched or bettered most others in its class. Ample headroom and a smaller-diameter steering wheel contributed to the interior's spaciousness. On the road, the 1.8-liter engine proved uninspiring, but the six-speed shifted smoothly. A compliant ride and a quiet cabin made the Elantra a comfortable choice for daily driver and road-trip duty alike. The only significant downside to this Elantra is a lack of rear headroom compared to that of some other top small sedans. While the SE and GLS can be counted on for reliable transportation, buyers who want more features should stick to the Limited trim or shop for a car from after 2014. Those who want cellphone integration and other technology upgrades should also stick to post-2014 models.
The fourth-generation Elantra ran from 2007 to 2010. 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 (2007 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 generation. 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 2001-2006 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 such as 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 hp 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 such as the Honda Civic, the third-generation Hyundai Elantra shone as a solid choice for buyers seeking maximum value for their money.
You'd 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 with 140 hp. Overall, the second-gen Elantra represented a decent buy in the economy car segment, though it wasn't as polished as the offerings from Honda, Nissan or Toyota.
The first-generation Elantra was produced from model years 1992 to 1995; during this period, Hyundai's compact 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 since all models were motivated by a 1.6-liter inline-four good for only 113 hp and 102 lb-ft of torque.