2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review: Sneak Attack

On Tuesday night, CBC’s Kim’s Convenience came to an end after five seasons.

Centered on a Korean-Canadian immigrant family in one of the world’s most diverse cities—Toronto is composed of 51.5-percent visible minorities per a 2016 study—the show found fans across the globe once Netflix picked it up. Packed with clever writing, relatable scenarios, and an authentic cast of characters that more closely resemble the people watching, Kim’s Convenience worms its way into your heart without you even realizing. It’s … a sneak attack.

That’s how I feel after a week with the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid. Like a clever Umma, this battery-assisted sedan is subtle in its influence. It’s so good at sneak attacking, it doesn’t even know it’s sneak attacking. You expect excellent fuel economy in a hybrid, sure. What truly sweetens the deal here however, is a better ride than not only the rest of the hybrid pack, but even the regular Elantra.

Why pay for stuff when other people can, right?

It’s been almost exactly a year since the current Elantra debuted. That’s plenty of time to figure out where you sit on the love/hate scale. I dig the creased look, though the Hybrid does undo some of the goodness found on the gas-only model my colleague Kshitij reviewed recently—inside and out.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Review: Going Nitpicking, or at Least Trying To

The exterior changes are minimal. Those black 16-inch wheels look too much like winter-season steelies someone forgot to switch out. If you don’t clock them, then the only hint this little Hyundai is packing battery power is the small Hybrid badge on the trunk.

Moving inside, the wonderful gray multi-texture treatment isn’t here—and isn’t even an option in Canada. (It is in the US-spec Hybrid Limited.) Instead, everything is black. This draws attention to some of the hard plastics in the cabin, specifically the controversial diagonal bar on the passenger side of the center console. It feels brittle, and there’s an ugly seam your hand will always run over if, like me, you regularly rest it there.

The leather seats are completely manual-adjustable—a shock, surely—but they’re at least easy to get comfortable in, thanks to a well-contoured back section. Interior measurements are all identical between gas and hybrid Elantras: we’re talking a little shy of 39 inches (989 mm) for noggins, and 42.3 inches (1,074 mm) of legroom. Adults should fit in the back without complaints, too.

The other major interior change in the Hybrid is the switch to a smaller 8.0-inch infotainment screen. Despite the shrinkage, it’s more of a lateral step; there are still physical buttons framing the screen, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported. (The latter two both require cords on the 10.25-inch screen.)

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Ah-mah-zing (fuel economy)

I’m a firm believer that, when both a pure-ICE and hybrid version of a car exists, the latter is better. The Elantra is the latest proof positive.

At one point on a shorter, 25-mile (40-km) errand run, I hit a remarkable 84 mpg (2.8 L/100 km). Sure, the climate control was off and the windows were down, but this was without any serious attempt at hypermiling. The small 1.32-kWh battery recharges quickly via regenerative braking, allowing the Elantra to run mostly on electrons in the city. You’ll need to wake the 1.6-liter gas engine from stops though.

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Palisade vs Kia Telluride Comparison

When you do such a thing, the Elantra pulls out its best tool: a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Every other hybrid in the class—and even the gas Elantra—uses a CVT, which invariably drones when pressed into action. Meanwhile the Elantra Hybrid quietly shifts along, keeping revs low and feeling more serene because of it. It’s smooth enough to enjoy some of your favorite sippin’ cheese in.

Combined output figures are 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Since the Elantra Hybrid is only around 100 lb (44 kg) heavier than a loaded gas model, it doesn’t feel any slower. In fact, thanks to the low placement of the extra heft, and the added torque from the batteries, the Hybrid feels quicker in everyday driving. The ride is smoother, too—and the gas Elantra already rode with a big-car level of comfort. The steering is very light, but it’s quick and accurate, making the Elantra easy to place on the road.

By the end of the week, consumption had shifted to just shy of 59 mpg (4.0 L/100 km). The EPA rates the Elantra Hybrid Blue at 53 mpg city and 56 mpg highway, for a 56 mpg combined rating. The equivalent Canadian figures are 4.5, 4.2, and 4.4 L/100 km. Opting for the Ultimate trims 4 mpg off every figure—there’s no difference between Canadian trims.

Okay see you

So the Hybrid’s a nicer drive than the gas Elantra, and a single tank can last about as long as Jung and Kimchee’s friendship. What’ll that cost you?

In the US, the $24,555 Elantra Hybrid Blue is the battery-assisted entry point. Standard kit includes combination head- and taillights, heated front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, and cloth seating with fully manual adjustments. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen with wireless Apple and Android support is included, too. A full roster of driving assists, from automated emergency braking and rear-cross traffic alert to lane-keep and safe exit assist is also part of the package. Step up to the $29,105 Limited and the fully digital instrument panel perks up the interior, along with leather seating and ambient lighting. Other goodies include fully LED exterior lighting, ventilated front seats, wireless charging, and adaptive cruise control.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Review

The Canadian two-trim lineup goes by the Preferred ($26,424 CAD) and Ultimate ($28,724) names. The former is essentially the same as the US-spec Blue. The Ultimate misses out on most of the gas model’s available Tech Package. That would typically include the larger infotainment, LED exterior lighting, interior ambient lighting, Highway Drive Assist, and a few other active safety goodies.

Verdict: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review

Kim’s Convenience—and to a similar extent, Schitt’s Creek—accomplished another goal during its too-short run. It proved Canadian television could stand toe-to-toe with the best programming out there.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra pulls off a similar move in the compact car world. Hyundai is clearly gunning for the top of the class with the car in general, and the Hybrid specifically goes after the Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Honda Insight. What’s surprising here is that the battery-assisted model is the better drive, even without taking its stellar fuel economy into account. The six-speed auto is a key component in the tranquil ride, and the instant-on electric torque makes it punchy in the city. Only the cheap-feeling interior plastics bring the experience down (in Canada).

It’s happening: Hyundai is saying “okay see you” to the rest of the class.

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