by Brian Wong

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra’s redesign doesn’t just come with flashy new style and upgraded technology. It also brings the introduction of a new member into the brood, the Elantra Hybrid. 

We first heard some details about the 2021 Elantra Hybrid in March of this year—with Hyundai promising 50 mpg or more. Now those numbers are in and confirmed by the EPA—at up to 53 mpg city, 56 highway, and 54 combined—and after an afternoon behind the wheel, I can safely say that the Hybrid is tough competition for its affordable-hybrid competition, including the Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Honda Insight

Familiar powertrain, different results

The Elantra Hybrid’s hybrid powertrain is nearly identical to the one found in the 2021 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, combining a 1.6-liter Atkinson cycle inline-4 gas engine with an electric motor and a 1.3-kwh lithium-ion battery pack. Total system output is 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. 

It bases this system around a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, although non-hybrid versions get the continuously variable automatic transmission. According to Hyundai, this is because the presence of the electrified drivetrain elements lessen the need to minimize mechanical loss from the transmission. In essence, by using the electric motor’s augmentation you get the same minimization but without the drivability annoyances of a CVT.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

On the road, the dual-clutch basis gives the Hybrid a bit of a leg up in drivability. The CVT really holds the gas version back from being a better car and though the Elantra Hybrid’s 6-speed is not great and can still hesitate or hunt around, it’s still a better experience. Versus in the Ioniq Hybrid, one welcome change is generally quicker responsiveness to the accelerator pedal. 

The Elantra Hybrid rarely runs on electric power alone at lower speeds. Hyundai previously indicated that there might be an EV drive mode, though I only found Normal, Sport, and Smart, as in the Sonata Hybrid. Trying to accelerate with any sense of normalcy kicks the gas engine on almost immediately. The electric motor is actually used more extensively when coasting or under light acceleration at around 35-50 mph. There is a bit of a shudder when the gas engine kicks back on, but it’s not intrusive to the driving experience.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

Elantra Hybrid models get a better suspension than the gas-versions as well, with a multi-link rear suspension setup versus a simplified torsion bar. This change is not as noticeable in day-to-day driving, but when I took the Elantra Hybrid on the same canyon roads as the Elantra I did feel a difference. The back end feels more sorted and less like it’s being dragged through the corners, providing better feedback as well. 

Those excellent fuel economy ratings of 53 mpg city, 56 highway, and 54 combined are for the SEL. Ratings for the Limited version land at 49/52/50 mpg—mostly because it’s about100 pounds heavier thanks to additional equipment. 

New-school interior

The old-school hybrid powertrain is eclipsed by the Elantra Hybrid’s interior, which feels the most modern of all of the non-luxury compact sedans. The side-by-side 10.3-inch screens found in Hybrid Limited models are a unique feature in this class, as Hyundai continues to pull technology from its larger and more expensive models down the lineup. This includes wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration which is (again) a class-exclusive feature.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

The Elantra Hybrid’s multimedia options do have some weird quirks. If you want wireless smartphone connectivity, it only comes with the smaller 8.0-inch multimedia screen found in the SEL trim. But that trim level doesn’t offer a wireless charger, which is where you’d want to place your phone while it’s connected. 

Jump up the Limited trim and you add the larger screen and wireless charger, but that system requires a wired connection. Strange stuff. Also if you’re an Android Auto user, it doesn’t use the whole widescreen. There’s a black box on the right that takes up about a third of the screen that you can’t get rid of, it actually makes Android Auto feel larger on the smaller unit. 

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

I remain a fan of the rest of the Elantra Hybrid’s interior, it has the same passenger volume (99.4 cubic feet) and cargo room (14.2 cubic feet) as gas versions. The Elantra has always had a larger interior than competitors and it’s nice to see that roominess has carried over to the Hybrid version as well.

How it stacks up

The 2021 Elantra Hybrid faces competition from the outside and within, starting with the Ioniq with which it shares a powertrain. The SEL Hybrid starts at $24,545 (including a $995 destination charge) and the Limited Hybrid is priced at $29,095, representing a $2,650 premium over the gas versions.

This is actually cheaper than the Ioniq Hybrid, its corresponding SEL ($29,395) and Limited ($32,195) actually cost significantly more than the Elantra Hybrid—a gap of nearly $5,000 for the SEL and $2,000 for the Limited. The Ioniq Hybrid does have advantages in cargo room and a very slight fuel economy edge (58 mpg combined for Blue models, 55 mpg combined for the other trims), but that doesn’t make up for the price gap and I think the Elantra Hybrid isthe better driving car by a decent margin.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

Against the Corolla Hybrid and the Insight it also holds up. The Corolla Hybrid’s 52 mpg combined splits the difference between the Elantra Hybrid’s trims and the Insight’s 52 mpg combined and 48 mpg combined for its top Touring trim lag the Elantra Hybrid slightly on both counts. 

Toyota still insists on only selling the Corolla Hybrid in the LE trim level (for reasons unknown) and starts at $24,495 and that car is not as well equipped as the Elantra Hybrid. The Insight’s starting price of $23,885 does undercut a bit but that vehicle is also under-featured when compared to the Hyundai. 

At the top end, the Insight Touring sits at $29,795, more than the Elantra Hybrid Limited, and with a worse multimedia system and less advanced safety features. The Insight Touring doesn’t have lane centering, adaptive cruise control down to a stop, or low-speed following—all features built into the Elantra Hybrid (and the Corolla Hybrid for that matter).

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

After my time behind the wheel, I came away from the 2021 Elantra Hybrid thinking that it was a decent car. But after that, as I dug into its value proposition and the unique feature set, its appeal grew and grew. It holds up very well to the compact hybrid competition both inside of Hyundai and from other automakers on the strength of its efficiency, technology, and excellent value. 

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Hyundai provided an Elantra Hybrid and lodging to bring you this firsthand drive report.