by Frank A. Aukofer

In Kenny Rogers’ poker playing song “The Gambler,” you’ve got to know when to hold ’em. That’s the plan for the 2017 Hyundai Elantra sedan.

The previous-generation Elantra surprised some when it was redesigned and won the 2012 North American Car of the Year title, voted on by an independent 50-member panel of automotive journalists. It beat the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Focus.

The Elantra was a fresh, youthful face in the competitive compact class with flowing body lines that Hyundai called “fluidic sculpture.” That and a long list of amenities propelled total sales to 913,042 from 2012 through 2015.

Now Hyundai looks to consolidate its winnings by offering a more mature-looking, even mainstream design. Most striking, and seeming to follow an industry wide trend toward ever bigger maws, the new Elantra features a large, bold hexagonal grille, along with LED taillights and running lights.

However, it maintains its compact dimensions. It is less than an inch longer than its predecessor and exactly an inch wider. But clever packaging results in a total of more than 110 cubic feet of interior volume, with 96 cubic feet for passengers and 14 cubic feet of trunk space. That classifies it as a mid-size car according to the EPA, though it is marketed as a compact.

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN
2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

The interior room becomes apparent as soon as you get inside. There’s decent head- and knee-room in back for two six-footers without infringing on the driver and front passenger. However, despite a nearly flat floor, the center-rear passenger is relegated to a hard, high and uncomfortable cushion.

Despite its intended audience of buyers with modest incomes, the 2017 Elantra delivers a host of available features usually associated with premium and even luxury cars. Among them:

  • Automatic emergency braking from up to 50 miles an hour with pedestrian detection.
  • Adaptive cruise control that maintains a preset distance from the car ahead.
  • Trunk lid that opens automatically when it detects a nearby key fob.
  • Lane departure mitigation with steering assist.
  • Blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.

The base Elantra SE has a starting price of $17,995, including the destination charge. That model is the only one that offers a six-speed manual gearbox. There was no opportunity at the introduction to drive that version, but if the stick-shift is similar to the one on the previous Elantra, it’s a sweetheart.

The model tested for this review was the top-of-the-line Limited with a starting price of $23,185. With optional Tech and Ultimate packages, the tester topped out at $27,710. But the level of equipment was not unlike that of a premium-priced car.

It included all of the aforementioned safety and convenience equipment, plus leather upholstery, navigation system, Harman/Kardon audio system with satellite and HD radio, Pandora, Bluetooth telephone, Android and Apple car play, motorized sunroof, heated front and rear seats, lighted outside door handles, and memory settings for the power driver’s seat and outside mirrors.

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN
2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

The Elantra engine delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque from 2.0 liters of displacement. Power travels to the front wheels through an easy-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. With a slippery .27 coefficient of drag, the city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 28/37/32 mpg.

Unusual in this car class are economy, normal and sport driving modes. In the normal and Eco modes, the Elantra delivers a comfortable ride. Eco maximizes fuel economy, and the Sport mode tightens the steering and adjusts transmission shifting to provide more power at low engine revolutions, as well as delivering more rapid acceleration.

Even in the Sport mode, however, the acceleration is not snappy, but adequate for stoplight sprints and passing on two lane roads. However, the Sport mode delivers tighter and more responsive performance on twisting mountain roads. The six-speed automatic also can be shifted manually.

Later, Hyundai plans to introduce two other Elantra models: Eco with a new, 128-hp, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed twin clutch automatic transmission. A brief drive in a pre-production model demonstrated quicker mid-range throttle response than with the 2.0-liter engine.

There’s also an upcoming Sport model that will feature a 200 hp, 1.6-liter engine with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

With cars like the 2017 Hyundai Elantra and the 2016 Honda Civic, it’s easy to understand why the compact class is holding its own while larger mid-size cars falter in the face of an onslaught from compact crossover utility vehicles.

2017 Elantra Sedan
2017 Elantra Sedan

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, 147 hp, 132 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,976 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,185.
  • Price as tested: $27,710.

Photos (c) Hyundai