Fresh from its debut at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, we got a close look at the 2017 Hyundai Elantra midsize car at a special preview in Boston last night. It’s a baby Hyundai Genesis, with all of that car’s design, build quality and technology packed into a smaller, less expensive package.
Mike Evanoff — Hyundai’s manager of product planning — gave members of the New England Motor Press Association a tour of the upcoming 2017 Hyundai Elantra, scheduled for sale in January of 2016. There’s no mistaking the importance of this car. Evanoff noted that over 2.6 million Hyundai Elantras have been sold since the car debuted in 1990. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra will be the sixth generation, and Elantra sales typically make up about 35 percent of all of Hyundai sales.
Hyundai obviously chose the traditional benchmarks in this category — the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla — when it was looking at competitive products. But interestingly, in design and driving dynamics, it targeted the Mazda3, which has nowhere near the sales volume, but achieved a lot of recognition since its last redesign as being the most engaging car in the class to drive and live with.
The all-new design is less conservative than the 700-pound twin gorillas of the Civic and Corolla. The six-point, large chrome grille shares a solid family resemblance with the popularly redesigned Genesis. The design is less swoopy than what Hyundai has been turning out in the last few years, though. It’s sharp, chiseled and muscular. “Sleek” is what Hyundai’s focus groups called it.
Where all cars in this class have seriously upped the ante is in the interior. The days of riding around in a compact car and knowing it from the penalty box interior are history. Hyundai has crafted a beautiful interior — at least in the Limited trim that the debut car wore. Depending on trim, the Elantra’s seats are either cloth or leather, but all of the key touch points inside are covered in soft-touch materials with an extremely high quality feel in this class of car.
Weight savings is a key goal for all automotive engineers now, but unlike the 1970s when cars were simply stripped, Hyundai engineers are adding material in other areas to improve the driving experience. The Elantra gets sound insulation material in all the pillars, door panels and floor pan, thicker glass in the front windows, and plastic and rubber bushings in the front subframe, all to lower the noise, vibration and harshness readings and provide drivers with a much more luxurious experience on the road.
We mentioned “compact car” a few paragraphs ago, but like the Civic and Corolla, the Elantra is actually designated a midsize car by the EPA, based on its combined passenger and cargo volume. It’s significantly larger inside than the Ford Focus and the Mazda3, which are both classed as compact cars. It’s also offers much more total interior volume than some premium cars like the Audi A3 and the Acura ILX.
The chassis improves significantly with a much higher percentage of high-strength steel — up to 53 percent from just 21 in the last generation Elantra. That equates to much greater torsional rigidity, which should equate to improved driving characteristics, along with improved safety ratings from NHTSA and IIHS.
The goal for Hyundai is a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS, which only comes with the addition of advanced crash protection equipment these days. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is available (that’s key, and we’ll return to that in a minute) with a full slate of collision avoidance technology that just months ago was only available on the most exclusive cars.
Look for technologies like Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidance. Dynamic guidance shows guidelines in the monitor that help you back your way into a parking spot.
The Elantra has two new engines for 2017. The Eco trim gets a 1.4-liter Kappa four cylinder with 128 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 156 lb-ft. of torque. It’s expected to help the Elantra Eco achieve 35 miles per gallon in city driving. That trim is available in the spring of 2016.
At launch in January, the SE and Limited trims get the 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder, good for 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb. ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. The SE trim offers the choice of both a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The Limited trim is limited (ha) to a six-speed automatic.
The entire litany of trademarked connectivity and entertainment functions are available on the Elantra, but two features are new and significant, especially in this class.
First, both the 7.o-inch and 8.0-inch infotainment screens are equipped with Android Auto, which allows Android users to utilize navigation apps, streaming audio and other infotainment features.
Second, the Elantra offers an eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system, including a center speaker and subwoofer. The 2017 Elantra also gets Harman’s patented Clari-Fi™ music restoration technology. The dirty trick of all this accessible music on your phone is that the signal is seriously degraded, and you you’re not really getting what the artist intended. Clari-Fi promises to automatically rebuild much of what was lost in the compression process, with increased dynamic range for enhanced realism, and improved overall fidelity.
The next step is to actually DRIVE the 2017 Hyundai Elantra, which we’re looking forward to soon.