Though it's very efficient, the Elantra Eco doesn’t have as many features as its competitors.
– Detroit, Michigan
Shopping for a compact sedan is all about getting the most bang for your buck, both in terms of purchase price and when it comes to refilling the car at the pump. The 2018 Hyundai Elantra Eco is specifically designed for higher fuel economy; it has a different powertrain than other Elantra models, and hits the magic 40 miles-per-gallon number on the highway.
Unfortunately, the Eco trim level is not particularly well-equipped compared to other similarly efficient small sedans – and it’s not as satisfying to drive as the competition, either. But if your primary interests are high fuel economy and a reasonable sticker price, the Elantra Eco merits consideration.
Hyundai Elantra pricing is right in line with competitive compact sedans. This tester’s $21,560 as-tested price is about what we’d expect for a car with this level of equipment. That also reflects that you don’t have to spend too much over the Elantra’s base price to get reasonably well-equipped models. The cheapest Elantra starts at $16,950, but the most expensive, the Sport with a dual-clutch transmission, rings in at only $22,900 before options. Our high rating in this category reflects that Hyundai’s trim walk keeps cost escalation in check.
There’s nothing particularly distinctive about the outside of the Elantra, though the giant Hyundai grille is at least recognizable. LED running lights and a healthy dose of chrome help dress up this car, though 15-inch alloy wheels don’t necessarily flatter it (they look too small for the sedan’s height). It’s hard to call the Elantra’s look particularly ground-breaking or striking, but it’s a handsome enough car that any owner could be proud of.
The inside of the Hyundai Elantra, like its exterior, is inoffensive, tidy, and well-organized, with a mix of materials that’s appropriate to the price and class. Controls are all simple to use and the instruments are easily legible at a glance. It’s roomy, but not the roomiest in the class: Adults fit just fine in the back seats, and at 14.4 cubic feet of space before you fold the seat down, the trunk will carry plenty of suitcases (the pass-through when you lower the seats is small, though, with a big lip rather than a flat floor).
A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system provides lots of functionality operated through just a few simple menu systems. With support for Bluetooth calling and media streaming, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, it’s easy to connect your own device. And even the built-in functions work smoothly without much fuss. Between the analog instruments, a monochrome trip computer provides information on economy, mileage, vehicle status, and music choice in a simple format.
Considering its price point (see more below), the Elantra Eco has lots of features: building on the SEL trim level, it boasts things like push-button start, dual-zone auto climate control, heated seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. But the Eco cannot be equipped with any more options: things like a sunroof, 17-inch wheels, active-safety tech, leather seats, and so on that are available on higher trims are not offered with the thrift-focused Eco trim.
The Eco is the only version of the Elantra equipped with a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. With just 128 horsepower, the engine is quite underpowered within the class, but 156 pound-feet of torque – delivered from just 1,300 rpm – provides a surprising amount of punch for quick passing maneuvers. Ultimately, though, the powertrain is designed for fuel efficiency rather than quickness. The dual-clutch gearbox works well in most situations, but can shudder like a stick shift-driving 16-year-old in stop-and-go traffic.
To save a bit of weight, the Eco has 15-inch wheels instead of the 16s on the regular Elantra SEL, and does without a spare tire. Those tires are also a little narrower than on other Elantra SELs models (195 section width versus 205), and thus handling is unremarkable. Its steering and braking feel, as well as the overall ride-and-handling balance, are neither exceptional nor disappointing. The car drives well, but not nearly as well as some competitors like the Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, and Mazda3. On the highway especially, the Elantra can feel a little softer and more prone to floatiness than its competition.
Although Hyundai offers many safety technologies on the Elantra, many of them are relegated to the higher-priced trim levels or option packs. My test car featured blind-spot warning and a backup camera but nothing else; to get pre-collision warning and braking, or lane-keep warning, you have to buy the Elantra Limited and tack on the $4,350 Limited Ultimate package. Compared this to the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, which make pre-collision systems available on almost all trim levels.
The Elantra Eco’s calling card is near-class-leading fuel efficiency – at least among non-diesel compact sedans. It delivers ratings of 32 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway, and I routinely saw readings in the high-30s during my test. That’s right on top of the Chevrolet Cruze sedan (30/40 mpg with the automatic transmission) and 2019 Volkswagen Jetta (30/40 mpg). It’s also not too far behind the Honda Civic, which scores 32/42 mpg when equipped with its 1.5-liter turbo engine and continuously variable transmission. Of course, it’s important to note that due to the way fuel economy is measured, the actual difference in fuel used declines as mpg ratings rise: the actual amount of extra gas you’ll use in a 40-mpg car versus a 42-mpg car is less significant than, say, moving from 30 to 32 mpg.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com