The all-new 2017 Elantra welcomes a 2nd engine to the mix, this one aimed at the frugal, flaunting a 40mpg highway rating via a small turbo and dual clutch transmission.
Now this is an Elantra I can get behind. Don’t let the Eco name fool you; sure it’s combined fuel economy is top rated alongside the Honda Civic at 35mpg, but the 156 pound-feet of low range turbo-induced torque combined with the manual-like quickness of the 7-speed DCT produces an energetic, more satisfying, fun-to-drive nature that is lacking from the 2.0-liter models. While other Hyundai/Kia Eco models I’ve driven have been a letdown, this one hits the sweet spot of pricing, efficiency and drivability. Using a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder outputting 128 horsepower, a selectable Eco driving mode and new 15” Hankook eco-friendly tires, this Elantra is rated at 32mpg city/40mpg highway – a 3mpg improvement over the 2.0-liter/6-speed auto powertrain. We ended up at an impressive 38mpg for the week. Now, saving $50 per year on gas doesn’t seem like much but I prefer the Eco’s drive to the sluggish 2.0-liter model and its $21,610 as-tested price is very attractive.
I like the price-point of the Eco model for the level of equipment and extra MPGs you get. It plays better to me than the Limited trim I initially drove and the turbo definitely feels spunky enough so you’re not sacrificing. However, there has been a moment or 2 when I floored it and nothing happened for what seemed like forever; something to do with the transmission and engine not playing friendly. But by in large, it’s smooth cruising. Loud at times but smooth.
Dual clutch transmissions are just different enough that the average driver knows something isn’t quite the same – after all, they are manual transmissions at heart. And this 7-speed is usually quite transparent in that its shifts are composed like a traditional automatic but note that it falls asleep sometimes in around the town driving and that can be disconcerting.
I haven’t seen sidewalls this wide in a while but they help this Elantra drive with an uncanny sumptuousness for this class of car. And on a smooth road it’s relaxingly quiet – but on textured surfaces the cabin gets obtrusively loud. Driving modes affecting the powertrain and steering effort start with a very livable Eco mode, and then move to Normal and excitable Sport, though the steering feels fairly artificial no matter. But the chassis is engineered to keep the Eco driver suitably engaged on back roads.
The content level is high and everything you see here other than the floormats comes standard. This includes smart entry with push button start, the 7” Display Audio touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto which can take up the slack for the absence of built-in navigation, heated front seats, dual zone automatic climate control and a high-end driver information display. And then there’s the backup cam with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot detection and lane change assist.
The manually adjusted seats make it easy to find a comfortable position and the rear seats don’t skimp on leg room with 3 across not out of the question. Plus the trunk expands with a couple of levers dropping the rear seats without needing to slide the front seats forward.
Now all that being said, I still don’t care for the catfish-styled front end, fit and finish no longer seem to be keeping pace with the competition and the stellar Honda Civic turbo nets even better gas mileage with a far more sophisticated drive for not that much more money when comparably equipped. But the Eco emotes the Elantra’s best personality…at least until the Elantra Sport arrives later this year.