While the SUV in its various flavors is quickly expanding its hold on the American driver, the car isn’t quite dead yet. In fact, at Hyundai, its two best-selling models remain the Elantra and Sonata. With nearly 173,000 sold in the first ten months of 2016, The Elantra certainly appeals to a significant portion of the market and Hyundai wants to expand on that with a new variant for 2017, the Elantra Eco. Despite continuing cheap gas across the U.S. the Eco is definitely a car that consumers should consider.
The Eco is an interesting addition to the Elantra lineup. Pricewise, it slots right in the middle and comes in only one configuration. Customers opting for the Eco need only select a paint color and sign on the bottom line. Aside from a few ala carte accessories that can also be purchased separately, there are no factory options available.
Aside from a small Eco badge on the trunk lid, the only visually distinguishing element of this model is the rolling stock. The Elantra Eco rolls on low-rolling resistance tires mounted on positively quaint 15-inch aluminum wheels. It wasn’t all that long ago that 15-inch wheels on a compact like the Elantra would have been considered huge, but compared to the 17s on the Limited and 18s on the Sport, they look small by comparison. They don’t look bad and in isolation the size is fine, it’s only next to the bigger rolling stock that they look out of place.
Inside, the layout is identical to pricier Elantras although some surfaces that have padding on the Limited make do with a hard plastic although it does retain attractive graining. The seats are covered in a durable looking fabric and adjustments are accomplished without the aid of electric motors. The seats are very comfortable and the rear seat has a surprising amount of room for a pair of adults. The front seats are even heated for cold mornings. The surfaces that are hard plastic also happen to be the ones that drivers rarely touch. The surfaces that a driver touches most frequently, the steering wheel and shift knob are wrapped in leather.
Despite being at the more affordable end of the price spectrum the Elantra Eco gets Hyundai’s 7-inch touchscreen radio that includes support for both Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Hyundai’s implementation ties the Google and Apple voice controls to the voice button on the steering wheel so you don’t have to reach over to the screen to request navigation to a destination or play your favorite song or podcast.
One of the downsides of an affordable single-spec setup is that some features available on the Limited aren’t available here. The Eco comes standard with radar-based blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert as well as a backup camera. What you can’t get is the radar adaptive cruise control or the very functional lane keeping system. If I had to choose among these, in a world of backing out of parking spaces flanked by SUVs, I’d definitely opt for the blindspot monitor, so Hyundai made the right choice here.
The real distinguishing feature of the Eco rides under the hood where the smallest of the three available Elantra engines reside. The Sport is powered by a 201-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder while the Limited and SE models use a normally aspirated 2.0-liter. The Eco utilizes a 1.4-liter turbo-four that generates what seems like a relatively paltry 128-horsepower. While this certainly isn’t going to push this car to stratospheric top speeds, it’s not supposed to. Instead, Hyundai has tuned this powerplant for excellent driveability, giving it 156 lb.-ft. of torque from just 1,400 rpm. Around town, the Elantra Eco isn’t likely to win many drag races, but it won’t have any issues merging onto freeways.
The 1.4 turbo is paired with Hyundai’s excellent in-house designed and built 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). This gearbox uses dry-clutches, unlike the wet clutches in most Volkswagen DCTs. While a dry clutch setup is typically a bit more efficient than a wet-clutch system, similar units from other companies often have rougher shifts. The Hyundai doesn’t have this problem and is easily as refined as the best VW transmissions with seamless shifts.
The combination of this powertrain with the Elantra’s relatively modest 2,857-pound curb weight helps it achieve excellent fuel economy. The EPA rates this car at 32 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. I achieved 37 mpg in a week of mixed driving without trying particularly hard.
Typically, when an automaker makes an Eco model like this, one of the tricks they use is to reduce the weight by using less sound deadening material or thinner glass which has the knock-on effect of increasing cabin noise. Hyundai apparently did none of that here, because this car was shockingly quiet and refined inside, especially at highway speeds. While the 15-inch tires definitely sacrificed a bit of handling precision, feeling just a bit squirmy compared to the Limited, they certainly contributed to the lack of noise and the excellent ride quality. The Elantra has excellent body control even over really terrible pavement and makes the most of the limited grip offered by this low-end rubber.
For anyone looking for an attractive, roomy compact sedan that delivers excellent fuel economy, surprisingly good refinement and a standard selection of the most useful features all at a very easy to swallow price, the Elantra Eco is an excellent option. At $21,485 it’s tough to beat this car.