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2017 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2016

If you're looking for a great new compact car, your shopping list probably includes the 2017 Hyundai Elantra and the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta, as both offer recent updates, reasonable pricing and lots of equipment. But which one should you get, and which one is better? We've created a close comparison to help you answer exactly those questions, but first let's see what's new with both cars for the latest model year.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

2017 Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra has been fully redesigned for 2017, which makes it one of the first representatives from the upcoming model year on the market today. In addition to a totally new look inside and out, the Elantra offers new equipment and new engines that offer better fuel economy than last year's powertrains.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Like most cars, the Jetta hasn't yet entered the 2017 model year. But the 2016 Jetta makes several changes, including a new base-level turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, an improved touchscreen interface and a long list of newly available safety features. The Jetta also loses its TDI variant for 2016, following the brand's well-publicized diesel-emissions scandal.

2017 Hyundai Elantra2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Reliability

Because it's so new, the 2017 Elantra has not yet been rated for reliability by the experts from J.D. Power. Meanwhile, the firm gave the Jetta a disappointing rating of below average. In J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, which rates overall brands rather than specific models, Volkswagen finished well below Hyundai, though both automakers fell short of the industry average.

As for warranty coverage, the Elantra has a big advantage over the Jetta. While the Jetta's warranty is typical of most vehicles -- 3 years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and 5 years or 60,000 miles of powertrain coverage -- the Elantra touts an impressive 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain protection.

The result: This category goes, cautiously, to the Hyundai. We'd rescind that if J.D. Power finds that the Elantra also offers below-average reliability, but Hyundai's higher overall scores and the Elantra's longer warranty should offer stronger peace of mind than the Jetta.

2017 Hyundai Elantra2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

The Elantra offers two engines. Most models use a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that gets up to 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. While the Elantra doesn't offer a more powerful engine option, it does offer a more efficient one: a 128-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which returns up to 32 mpg city/40 mpg hwy.

Meanwhile, the Jetta has four powertrains to choose from. Base-level models get a 150-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that returns up to 28 mpg city/40 mpg hwy. Drivers looking for more power can upgrade to a 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which gets 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy.

For still more power, there's the Jetta GLI, which uses a 210-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and returns 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Finally, while the Jetta TDI is no longer available, the Jetta Hybrid boasts a 1.4-liter turbocharged hybrid 4-cylinder that boasts 170 hp and an excellent 42 mpg city/48 mpg hwy.

The result: The Jetta Hybrid is the most efficient vehicle among these two, but it's also pricey. Drivers who don't want to spend big money for extra efficiency will want to go with the Elantra's 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, while shoppers looking for more power will gravitate toward the Jetta's 1.8- and 2.0-liter engines.

2017 Hyundai Elantra2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Safety

Because it's so new, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra has not yet been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We have high hopes for the small sedan, though, as its predecessor earned a perfect 5-star overall rating from NHTSA. As for the Jetta, it earned a perfect 5-star overall rating from NHTSA and a coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation from IIHS.

When it comes to safety features, both the Elantra and the Jetta offer a wide array of equipment, including a long list of standard features such as side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. Both models also offer many safety options, such as a backup camera, a blind spot monitoring system, forward-collision warning, automatic braking and rear cross-traffic alert.

But the Elantra goes above and beyond the Jetta's list of features, offering items including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and adaptive xenon headlights (the latter feature is offered in the Jetta, but only if you step up to the pricey GLI model). Our take? Assuming the Elantra's crash-test ratings are as impressive as its list of available safety equipment, the Hyundai edges out the Jetta in our safety category.

2017 Hyundai Elantra2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Technology

When it comes to technology, the Elantra has an advantage due to its recent redesign. It incorporates a long list of today's latest features that the Jetta doesn't yet offer. That list includes not only the safety features we described above but also items such as heated rear seats, a hands-free trunk opener, an impressive 8-inch center touchscreen (compared to 6.3 inches in the Jetta) and driver memory settings for the seat and mirrors.

While we wouldn't consider the Jetta to be lacking in modern technology, the Elantra is ahead of the game, so it takes this category from its Volkswagen rival.

2017 Hyundai Elantra2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Value

The Jetta starts around $18,600 for a base-level S model, which includes only basic features, plus a 5-in center touchscreen and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The Elantra starts around $18,000 for the same basic model. That price gap stays relatively constant as you progress through the trim levels, though the Jetta offers more high-end options (like the GLI and the hybrid model) than the Elantra.

The result: By leading the Jetta in many of our categories above and offering lower pricing, the Elantra easily takes the value category, too.

Autotrader's Advice

This one is easy: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is a better compact car than the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta. That isn't to say the Jetta is bad -- on the contrary, we think it's a good small sedan that's benefited from recent updates and attention from Volkswagen. But the Elantra is at the top of its game thanks to a recent redesign, offering a longer warranty, more safety features, more overall equipment and a more affordable fuel-efficient model. We'd only pick the Jetta if we got a really, really good deal on one.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta: Which Is Better? - Autotrader