Compact cars aren't the cramped, inexpensive and cheaply outfitted econo-boxes they used to be, as evidenced by the 2014 Hyundai Elantra sedan and the 2014 Toyota Corolla. Each are popular choices for people seeking a combination of affordability and fuel economy, so which is the better choice? First, let's talk about the changes for the 2014 model year.
2014 Hyundai Elantra
For this article, we're focused on the Elantra sedan, not the Elantra coupe or the Elantra GT hatchback. For 2014, the Elantra gets refreshed styling. The entry-level model is now called the SE, and a more powerful Sport model joins the lineup. All versions except the most basic Elantra SE feature a new touchscreen audio system, a reversing camera, and a new navigation system that includes a 7-inch touchscreen, Blue Link connectivity and services, Internet radio and more.
2014 Toyota Corolla
Toyota has redesigned the 2014 Corolla, giving the car modern, angular styling and a much roomier interior with a huge back seat. A new Corolla Eco model debuts with impressive fuel economy ratings, and the 2014 Corolla is offered with Toyota's latest Entune infotainment and services technology. All models come with standard LED headlights, and the Corolla S features a sporty look to set it apart from the L, LE and LE Eco versions.
When you're on a budget, reliability is really important, and the Toyota Corolla demonstrates a long history of providing it. Check out the ratings from Consumer Reports or J.D. Power, and you'll see that for the past decade the Corolla has suffered few dependability problems. That's why, even though the car is redesigned for 2014, it is expected to continue to offer trouble-free motoring.
The Hyundai Elantra's track record isn't as spotless, though the current version of the car -- introduced for the 2011 model year -- fares quite well. Nevertheless, the Elantra's predicted reliability and quality ratings are merely average. Hyundai does, however, offer superior warranty coverage in order to provide buyers with added peace of mind.
When it comes to reliability, the victor is the Toyota Corolla.
Just as reliability is important to buyers on a budget, fuel economy is also critical, and the Corolla delivers in this regard. Toyota just introduced a fuel-efficient LE Eco model for the Corolla, while Hyundai debuted a powerful, but less efficient, Elantra Sport model in the same year. Narrow the discussion down to the most popular engine and transmission choices, and the Toyota still remains the more fuel-efficient choice.
A 145-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard for the Elantra SE and Elantra Limited. In most instances, the engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission with Eco driving mode. So configured, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the Elantra will get 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.
The most common engine and transmission combination for the Toyota Corolla LE and Corolla S models is a 132-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine working in tandem with a continuously variable transmission. This combination generates 29 mpg city/38 mpg hwy, according to EPA.
Just 10 percent of Corollas are sold in LE Eco trim, but this model is more powerful and more fuel efficient. Its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is rated to make 140 hp, and EPA says it gets 30 mpg city/42 mpg hwy.
Real-world fuel economy is dependent upon how a person drives, but based on the official EPA ratings, the Corolla gets better mileage.
The good news is that both of these cars earn favorable crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The bad news is that just one of them is considered a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Starting with the Elantra, the Hyundai receives an overall rating of five stars by NHTSA combined, with a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS. The Corolla also gets a 5-star NHTSA rating, and when reviewing the Toyota's performance in individual tests, it provides superior protection for the driver in a side-impact collision. The Corolla does not, however, receive a Top Safety Pick designation from IIHS because of a Marginal rating in the small-overlap frontal-impact test.
Thanks to the Elantra's Top Safety Pick rating, it also earns the win in this contest when it comes to safety.
Beyond crash-protection ratings, the Elantra Limited model is equipped with Blue Link connectivity and services. A 3-year subscription to basic service is standard and includes automatic collision-notification technology and SOS Emergency Assistance service. Additionally, Hyundai provides a free 3-month subscription to an upgraded service package containing a car-finder feature, hands-free text-messaging capability, technology that allows the owner to set curfew, speed and boundary alerts for younger drivers in the household, and much more.
While Toyota offers some of these features in what it calls its Safety Connect technology, Safety Connect is not available for the Corolla. What the Corolla does include is available Entune App Suite technology, a subscription-free way to access Internet radio, social media, the Bing search engine, and real-time reports for traffic, weather, fuel prices, and more. Toyota also makes this technology available in most Corolla models, while Hyundai limits Blue Link to the most expensive Limited trim level.
Beyond this, both cars can be fitted with Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming, a reversing camera, a navigation system, a premium sound system and keyless passive entry with push-button engine starting. Additionally, the Corolla offers standard LED headlights and a USB 2.0 port, while the Elantra's optional heated rear seats and dual-zone automatic climate control system with CleanAir ionization are unusual upgrades in the compact-car class. The Corolla is equipped with smart-stop technology, which makes it impossible for the car to accelerate as long as the brake pedal is pressed, while the Elantra features driver-selectable steering modes, giving the owner control over steering calibration.
These two cars aren't perfectly aligned in terms of technology, yet each is thoroughly modern. Still, we're giving the nod to the Elantra for its Blue Link system, which really ought to be available for the SE and Sport models in addition to the Limited trim level.
According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the 2014 Toyota Corolla is the least expensive vehicle in its class to own and operate. Surely, the free maintenance program covering the car for the first two years or 25,000 miles contributes to this rating.
Still, the Elantra is also highly rated by KBB in terms of ownership costs, and both cars get the best rating for depreciation by ALG. Add the Hyundai's impressive warranty, which includes free roadside assistance for the first five years or 60,000 miles of ownership, and you'll understand why we're declaring a tie when it comes to overall value.
Based on the criteria above, you should choose the Toyota Corolla if you seek reliability and fuel economy, and you should choose the Hyundai Elantra if you want safety and technology. Both cars offer a strong value proposition.
Based on personal experience with both vehicles, though, we'd go with the Elantra. In our opinion, it's more stylish, has a slightly higher safety rating and a higher-quality interior, and the Hyundai's superior warranty and roadside-assistance coverage make it a compelling choice.