The 2014 Hyundai Elantra is the latest Hyundai to make our job a little more difficult. Hyundai has a knack for improving things that we complained about in the previous year's review, and with the revised Elantra, it's at it again.
Fundamentally, this is the same car that debuted in 2011, but the changes for 2014 make it tougher than ever to criticize. To wit, in our review of the 2014 Elantra, we complained that it was "not as quick or refined as its rivals," so what did Hyundai do this year? For one, it introduced a new 2.0-liter Sport model with 25 more horsepower (the power upgrade is standard on the Elantra Coupe), so there goes the quickness complaint. For another, it has taken various noise-suppressing measures, so there goes part of the refinement complaint, too.
Now, just because Hyundai addressed our concerns doesn't mean the Elantra's perfect. The car's structure still feels a little less solid than the best in this segment -- you can feel a difference on rough roads -- and we're not sold on the Elantra as a driver's car, Sport model notwithstanding.
But there's no doubt the 2014 Elantra's slew of updates makes for a better-than-ever car. In addition to the revisions we mentioned, everything from the exterior styling to the dashboard layout has gone under the knife in meaningful ways. What's not to like? We'll always think of something, but Hyundai keeps making us think harder with every passing year.
What's New for 2014?
The Elantra sees numerous changes, including a new Sport trim with a 2.0-liter engine (standard on the coupe), tweaked exterior styling, available LED headlights and taillights, a 4.3-inch touchscreen display (Limited and Sport only), driver-selectable steering modes, available Pandora Internet radio, new navigation software, a mildly reworked dashboard layout and a simplified automatic shift lever. Also, last year's entry-level GLS sedan has been replaced by the SE, while the coupe now comes in a single trim level.
What We Like
Good fuel economy with 1.8-liter engine; strong value; bold styling; plenty of passenger space; available coupe model; long warranty
What We Don't
Doesn't feel as solid as some rivals; limited rear headroom
Most 2014 Elantras will be equipped with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. Two transmissions are available: a rare 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. The manual returns 27 miles per gallon city/37 mpg hwy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, while the automatic gets 28 mpg city/38 mpg hwy.
The Elantra Sport sedan and all Elantra Coupes are equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 173 hp and 154 lb-ft. Fuel economy drops to 24 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with the automatic and 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the manual.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Hyundai Elantra sedan is offered in three trim levels: SE, Limited and Sport. The Elantra Coupe, meanwhile, is offered in a single trim level.
The SE sedan ($18,010) gives you standard features such as 15-in alloy wheels, driver-selectable steering effort, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, full power accessories, a trip computer and a 6-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity.
The Limited sedan ($22,460) steps it up a few notches, providing 17-in alloy wheels, automatic headlights with LED accents, fog lights, LED taillights, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, leather upholstery, leatherette door trim, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, a power driver seat with power lumbar, heated front and rear seats, a 4.3-in information display with a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a sliding center armrest.
The SE's optional Preferred package consists of 16-in alloy wheels plus many of the Limited's standard features, including Bluetooth phone and the 4.3-in display. The Limited is eligible for a Technology package that tacks on keyless entry/ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 7-in touchscreen with a navigation system, Pandora Internet radio and a 360-watt sound system.
The Sport sedan ($23,510) shares many of the Limited's features but comes with the stronger 2.0-liter engine, unique 17-in wheels and exterior trim, a sunroof, sport-tuned steering (nonadjustable), a sportier suspension and aluminum pedals.
The Elantra Coupe is equipped much like the Sport sedan, including the stronger engine, and it's also eligible for a Technology package similar to that of the Limited sedan.
The 2014 Hyundai Elantra comes with standard stability control and 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. Those brakes are a notable perk, as economy cars sometimes employ inferior rear drum brakes. The Elantra also has six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side curtain).
In government crash testing, the 2014 Elantra sedan scored five stars out of five overall, including four stars in frontal impacts and five stars in side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concurred, awarding the Elantra its highest rating of Good in all categories except the new small overlap front test, where it received an Acceptable rating (the second highest).
Behind the Wheel
The Elantra's seats vary widely depending on whether you select cloth or leather. The cloth seats are supportive enough but a bit squishy, while the leather-trimmed versions are Euro-firm -- a bonus for long trips. Note that the Coupe has more substantial side-bolsters in front, though the difference is subtle. Now that a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel is standard on every Elantra, dialing in a comfortable driving position is a piece of cake.
The Elantra's gauges employ Hyundai's trademark crisp white illumination with blue trim, and an eye-catching LCD trip computer comes standard in every Elantra. Materials quality is average-plus. The new 4.3-in touchscreen is a nice standard feature on fancier models, but technophiles will want the full 7-in navigation system, which gets updated software for 2014.
The sedan's back seat reveals its compact roots with limited headroom for tall folks, but legroom is generous by segment standards. Trunk space, too, is generous at 14.8 cu ft. As for the Coupe, its back seat is surprisingly livable -- a couple of adults will fit just fine on short trips. Remarkably, the Coupe's trunk checks in at an identical 14.8 cu ft, which is some serious cargo space for a 2-door.
Under the hood, no one would call the 1.8-liter engine a powerhouse, but this motor does have personality, emitting a vaguely sporty growl above 5,000 rpm. We prefer the automatic transmission, as it serves up some of the most responsive downshifts you'll find at any price. The newly available 2.0-liter engine, familiar from Kia's compact cars, provides more punch, but it's not particularly refined, and fuel economy takes a hit. We'd like to see Hyundai give one of its turbocharged engines a shot in the Elantra -- the Veloster Turbo's 1.6-liter unit, for example.
On the road, the Elantra doesn't weigh much, even by economy-car standards, and that cuts both ways. On the one hand, the car feels nimble on the road, carving through corners with unexpected grace -- particularly atop the available sport-tuned suspension. But on the other hand, the Elantra's chassis quivers on rough pavement, falling short of the solidity standard set by stalwarts such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. It's not a big deal, but it does take a bite out of the car's otherwise refined character. Overall, though, we find the Elantra's driving dynamics quite agreeable.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Cruze -- The much heavier Cruze has the solidity that the Elantra lacks, and it handles like a more expensive car. However, it's hampered by a lower-quality interior and powertrain-refinement issues.
Mazda3 -- The redesigned 3 delights with its upscale interior, nimble character and fantastic fuel economy.
Ford Focus -- The Focus is still a star thanks to its Euro-style look and feel, along with great fuel economy and performance.
We like the Limited's 17-in wheels enough to pick it over the more value-oriented SE, but we'd be wary of climbing farther up the price ladder. You can easily find a nice Sonata for the price of a high-end Elantra.