Considering its opening list price of $19,870, the 2020 Hyundai Elantra stands out as an affordable automobile that delivers distinctive style and youthful flair. It is aggressively angled, sleekly wedged and rakish. Nothing about the Elantra’s appearance is dull.
Considering its low price, the Elantra also stands out for the large amount of useful equipment it contains – especially technologically advanced driving aids you commonly find in upper-crust autos. Including new features added to the 2020 edition of the slick little sedan, Elantra comes with driver attention monitoring, forward obstacle monitoring and automatic braking, and steering aid to stay in your lane.
Alongside its attractive price, Hyundai’s Elantra operates with the efficiency of a thrifty economy car. Most versions of the sporty dasher use a 147-horsepower four-cylinder engine that delivers a fuel-economy rating of 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. A fuel-conserving variation called the Eco trim level uses a smaller, turbocharged four-cylinder and special transmission that boost gas mileage to 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway.
Zesty style, approachable price, advanced features, economical operation, you end up with a lot with the Hyundai Elantra.
It’s no surprise that the Elantra is Hyundai’s top-selling model. That’s not a small feat. After all, the South Korea-based car maker also offers some appealing crossover sport-utility vehicles, and the sport-utility is the most popular vehicle type in America today.
The Hyundai Tucson compact and Santa Fe medium-sized crossover SUVs are well established as attractive, affordable, versatile and desirable vehicles. Meanwhile, the Palisade large-size, eight-passenger crossover wagon arrived at the start of the summer as a new addition for Hyundai. It’s attracting attention for its refined engineering and thoughtful design.
The company’s leader remains the Elantra. The sedan version of the five-passenger, front-drive auto accounts for most of the model’s sales. Hyundai also offers a hatchback variation that it dubs the Elantra GT. It is priced slightly higher than the sedan model, starting at $21,580. High performance GT versions with a more powerful engine jump $3,000 to $4,000 above that.
The GT dispenses with the conventional trunk that’s at the tail of the Elantra sedan, replacing it with a rear open cargo area beneath a back hatch. Outside of its engine, another differentiating feature of Elantra GT is that it still uses a geared transmission – either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox.
In the 2020 model, the more popular sedan variation of Elantra largely abandons geared transmissions. Its primary power-transfer device is now a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. It replaces a six-speed geared automatic transmission that came in most 2019 Elantra sedans. Hyundai calls its new tranny an “intelligent variable transmission,” or IVT, which might be an attempt to avoid the CVT label, because continuously variable trannies get panned a lot.
I’m certainly not a fan of them. I’ve experienced too many CVTs that squeal, whine, pitch, slip and sputter during a car’s warm-up cycle on cold mornings – which we experience a lot around here.
Auto makers that have embraced the transmission type say it’s because CVTs operate more efficiently, and therefore provide greater gas mileage. And it’s true that published fuel-economy figures show that CVTs can improve fuel mileage over conventional, hydraulically operated, geared automatic transmissions. I suspect that CVTs also are less expensive to manufacture than traditional, geared transmissions, and that’s a primary motive behind their adoption: Car companies make more money on the models that use them.
Tellingly, the Elantra Eco, which aims to optimize gas mileage, uses a seven-speed geared automatic transmission. It dispenses with hydraulic operation, instead using dry clutches that don’t require the driver to disengage the clutch during gear shifts. Thus the geared transmission in the Eco improves gas mileage by keeping constant engagement between engine and transmission – no fuel-wasting blips during shifts.
Like the Eco, the Elantra Sport, which is set up for speedier driving than other Elantra sedan trim levels, uses a seven-speed geared automatic.
In press material, Hyundai says its intelligent CVT uses a more capable pulley and belt arrangement than CVTs in other compact cars. What’s more, it “simulates gear shifts from an automatic transmission that customers like,” and can “closely replicate automatic transmission step shifts,” Hyundai writes in press descriptions.
The cold weather in which CVTs annoy me most hasn’t yet arrived. Therefore when I recently evaluated a 2020 Elantra through a week of ordinary driving, I couldn’t assess its performance in those conditions. Overall I felt very pleased with the car, for a variety of reasons.
I found it comfortable and easy riding during long freeway runs. Around town the Elantra was quick, nimble and compliant. I liked being seen in a zesty and athletically angled car. Although the back seat of the compact cruiser might grow tight during distance runs, it readily accepted two children’s safety seats to make a happy cabin for rides back and forth to school. I also appreciated the Elantra’s thrifty fuel use. The combined, city/highway rating for most Elantra trims is 34 miles per gallon. I achieved 36 mpg in mixed driving.
Its combination of characteristics – perky appearance, approachable price, advanced features, economical operation – suit the Hyundai Elantra to a lot of uses. It makes a sensible commuter car. Its affordability and economical operation make it a good choice for students and first-time car buyers. It’s a smart and stylish second car for a family’s close-to-home transport chores.
It’s easy to see how the Elantra outsells Hyundai’s SUVs to reign as the company’s most popular model.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Hyundai Elantra
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Price range: $19,870 to $23,720 (plus options)
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance
Base engine: 2.0-liter I4
Power: 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 132 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
Base transmission: continuously variable automatic
Fuel economy: 30 mpg city; 40 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106 inches
Length: 182 inches
Width: 71 inches
Height: 56 inches
Weight: 2,844 pounds
Fuel capacity: 14.0 gallons
Turning circle: 34.8 ft.