2014 Hyundai Elantra Limited. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Simon Hill
Introduced for the 2011 model year, Hyundai’s fifth-generation Elantra has managed to maintain a solid second-place ranking in Canada’s compact market thanks to a well-rounded personality that includes stylish looks, a pleasant driving experience, reasonable fuel economy, and high levels of available equipment for the money. Only Honda’s segment-leading Civic outsells the Elantra on an annual basis, and even then not by much.
But while the Elantra may not be far out of first place it’s also not far out of fourth place, with Toyota’s Corolla banking on its record for reliability (and newly improved style) to stay a close third, and the Mazda3 leveraging its sporty reputation (and its own sophisticated new style) to stay close to the podium. In the US, the battle for the top is even tougher, with the Civic in first, the Corolla second, Chevrolet’s Cruze in third and the Elantra in fourth.
It’s not surprising then that three years into its production, and with only a year or two to go before a rumoured redesign under the styling direction of Peter Schreyer, Hyundai has given the current Elantra a bit of a mid-life refresh to help keep it competitive.
Outside, the changes are subtle but they do add a touch of pizzazz. At the front there are restyled fog lights (for GLS and higher trim) housed in a slightly tweaked fascia, at the back there’s a mildly different rear diffuser, at the corners there are different alloy wheel designs, and on Limited trim cars there are now stylish LED character lights front and rear. The fog lights and character lighting are the most obvious change to my eye, and I needed to carefully compare the 2014 Elantra side-by-side with a 2013 model to notice the other changes.
Inside, the changes are similarly subtle but they have more impact. The climate controls have been redesigned, and I found them much more intuitive and logical than earlier versions. The central dash vents have been raised up some, which makes them more effective. The centre armrest is slightly higher and therefore more comfortable. And the audio and navigation system have been tweaked for improved graphics.
What you may not notice right away is that Hyundai has also added all sorts of new sound and vibration dampening materials to the floor and dashboard areas, and installed new sound absorption materials in the climate control ducting. Again, the changes are subtle (the Elantra wasn’t obnoxiously noisy to begin with) but they do add up to an increased level of refinement.
The biggest change for 2014 is the addition of a new, more powerful engine, and this is indeed a welcome upgrade. When I first tested the fifth-generation Elantra I commented that “the 1.8L, DOHC four-cylinder engine makes decent power once the revs build up (148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque), but is quite raspy when pushed hard and doesn’t generate a lot oomph down low. With my test car’s optional automatic transmission the result was that it felt of sluggish off the line.”
2014 Hyundai Elantra Limited engine bay & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
For 2014, that’s changed thanks to a new 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder powerplant that makes 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque. At least, it’s changed if you ante up for the Limited trim – L, GL and GLS trims make do with the old 1.8L engine (Elantra Coupes, by contrast, all get the new engine). The 2.0L engine isn’t quite transformative, exactly, but it does add an effective dose of low-end grunt, making the Elantra Limited noticeably more responsive around town and when passing. It also nips about two seconds off the 0-100 km/h run, getting there in just under eight seconds compared to almost 10 seconds with the smaller engine.
Transmission choices with the 1.8L engine include a standard-equipment six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic, while the 2.0L Limited models come only with the automatic. One feature that’s not available is paddle shifters: those wanting to take control of the gear changes will have to content themselves with the console-mounted shift lever.
2014 Hyundai Elantra Limited wheel. Click image to enlarge
These changes aside, the Elantra remains the same car it always was, with the same long list of positive attributes that Canadians have come to appreciate, and the same couple of niggling negative attributes.
The niggling negatives include somewhat numb steering, although to its credit Hyundai has improved the steering feel over the years and for 2014 has added its selectable steering mode to the Elantra sedan, allowing the driver to choose between Normal, Sport and Comfort modes at the push of a steering wheel mounted button (Sport mode gives the steering more weight, and Comfort gives it more power assist).
The outward sightlines in the Elantra are also worse to my eye than average. The so-so rearward visibility is mostly forgivable – after all, the Elantra is hardly alone in sacrificing rearward visibility in its quest for aerodynamics and style, and there’s a rearview camera in GLS and higher trims. I do think, however, that the Elantra could do a lot better when it comes to forward visibility: It has some of the most obstructive A-pillars in the segment, and I hope Hyundai addresses this issue in the next-generation Elantra.