by Jason Fogelson

I wish I had a time machine. Not so that I could go back in time, but so I could bring a car enthusiast from the past into our present and show them the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited. 

Imagine plucking some guy from 1986, the year that Hyundai began selling the Excel in the United States. Imagine this guy with his pleated pants, Hawaiian shirt with the collar popped, and the sleeves of his white linen jacket pushed up his forearms like Don Johnson on Miami Vice. He’s laughing at the Excel in a Hyundai showroom, giggling at the idea that any self-respecting car guy would be caught dead in a Korean car. Suddenly, a beam of light from above captures this guy – let’s call him Chad – and rearranges his molecules through space and time, reconstructing him in the driver’s seat of a 2020 Elantra.

Once the nausea from time travel wears off, Chad looks around the cabin of the Elantra Limited. He’s sure that he’s in a luxury car. I assure him that he’s in a Hyundai Elantra Limited with a list price of $22,800. He whistles at how expensive that is – until I tell him that the average transaction price on a new car in the United States right now is above $35,000, so this is quite clearly an economy car. (In 1986 where Chad is from, the average transaction price for a new car is around $12,500.)  Even with the options on our 2020 Elantra Limited ($3,350 Ultimate Package; $135 Carpeted Floor Mats; $930 Inland Freight and Handling), the as-tested price of the car he’s sitting in is $27,215 – way below average.

Chad nods, looks around and starts touching things. He’s impressed with the design, which is simple and elegant to his eyes. He’s impressed with the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, and once I explain all of the technology that it gives access to, he nods as if he understands (he really doesn’t, because he’s from 1986). He loves the fact that there’s no key to insert or turn, just a button to push, because he thinks that a key fob will work better in his linen jacket pocket than some jangly keys. He’s thrilled with the controls available on the steering wheel, and when I describe some of the SmartSense safety systems that come with the Limited’s Ultimate Package – Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Safe Exist Assist and Blind Spot Collision Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist – he’s amazed and enthralled. It seems like science fiction, but I assure him that it’s science fact. 

As a car guy, he can’t wait to get a look under the hood. He’s a little disappointed by the engine’s size, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline unit. But when I tell him that the little 2.0 can produce 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque while achieving 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined, he’s ready to take a drive.

Elantra’s Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), a new Hyundai take on the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), is transparent in operation for Chad, just like a conventional geared automatic transmission, but he’s a little flummoxed by the slightly sluggish performance in “D” mode. I reach over and push the gear selector lever in “S,” and the 2.0 engine perks up immediately, holding gear ratios longer, and livening up performance. Chad pushes the Elantra into curves, tries out the brakes, and puts the car through its paces, a wide grin breaking out on his face. Chad declares the Elantra a winner over all of the economy cars and most of the luxury cars of 1986 – and it’s even comfortable and quiet on the road. 

I have to agree with Chad (after all, I made him up for this story). But how does the Elantra stand up to the competition in 2020? Measure it against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Jetta to get an idea. I’d put it near the top rung for value and overall quality, in the lower end for overall driving experience. I prefer the Mazda3 and Jetta for pure driving enjoyment, but I like the Elantra’s packaging and available safety features a lot. 

If you, like Chad, have not experienced the current state of the art in economy/commuter cars, I encourage you to explore the landscape before buying. You’ll be wise to include the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited on your list for consideration.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Hyundai