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Review: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Kamil Kaluski December 8, 2016 Featured, Hyundai Reviews, Reviews 22 Comments

Getting right to the point, there is one thing really wrong with this car – its name!

Eco. Eco means green, efficient, earth-loving, backpacking, aluminum water bottles, flowers, happy little trees, hikes, nature, and all things that are good for the environment, the earth, animals, grass, trees, and some people. Eco started as an acronym, turned into a prefix, and morphed into an adjective. And now it has become a noun, too.

In the automotive world, Eco conjures up images of hybrids, electric vehicles, batteries, solar, plug-in something or other, alternative energy, and economy. Eco cars are generally very boring, mostly driven by lousy drivers who are focused on discussing pollution reduction and greater use of bicycles while sipping on a skim soy latte and doing five under in the left lane on their way to a vegan restaurant. Generally.

So the Eco is a new model Elantra model for 2017. Like any Eco-something car, I expected it to be a gutless, boring, annoying, soulless appliance that eco-conscious people buy to make themselves feel better about the fact that they once used plastic garbage bags. I expected it to be the kind of car that Eco People buy to show the world their eco-consciousness.

But when I started driving it a funny thing happened – I really liked it. The Elantra Eco is not the gutless econobox I expected it to be. It feels quick and it is fun to drive. And the interior is very nice, too. It’s not made of recycled paper plates and synthetic leather, like one would expect it to, but rather of high quality materials that are nice to look at and touch. The exterior is pretty, too. Modern, if slightly bland, and free of any unnecessary garnish. If anything draws special attention to Elantra Eco, it is its modernly small fifteen-inch wheels.

The Eco is powered by a new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. This engine, with its exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head, makes 128 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 156 lb-ft. of torque between 1,400 and 3,700 RPM. Where most eco-boxes use an annoying continuously variable transmissions, the Elantra Eco uses a seven-speed dry dual-clutch transmission, cleverly called EcoShift®, that sends those horsies to the front wheels.

This obviously is not a powerful engine but this is where Hyundai got clever. That transmission makes an amazing use of its power, shifting quickly and smoothly to utilize the flat torque curve of the engine. The whole powertrain works amazingly well as one system. In real world the Elantra Eco feels like a more powerful vehicle than the numbers suggest. There are no hiccups, delays, or noises usually associated with cars designed with fuel economy in mind, especially when the sport mode is selected. It’s not a fast car but it is fun.

Weight is the enemy of power but here Hyundai did some work, too. The Eco weights in at 2857 pounds, or about 200 less than the Elantra Sport. In order to keep the costs down they stayed away from any really exotic materials. Their secret is in the liberal use of the lighter, high strength steel. Then, as the press release states, there is the use of Betamate™ structural adhesives. There are several advantages to the adhesives, including weight savings and reinforced welded areas, which increase chassis stiffness and reduction in noise and vibrations.

Whatever that magic elixir is, that added chassis strength is immediately observed when driving. Going over rough roads at speed, the body seems very solid, isolated from road irregularities which come through the vehicle as if they were generated by a subwoofer. There is very little wind noise as the passenger cabin seems very well insulated. The engine is very quiet, too. Stopped at a light with the radio off, I had to look at the tachometer to make sure the engine was running – it was. This is very different from many cars in this class which allow higher  levels in order to reduce costs.

Like the new Civic and Corolla, the Elantra has something very important going for it. It is a low priced car with an interior that does not feel cheap. The dual climate controls are electronic with digital displays. The infotainment screen is large despite not having a navigational system. The whole thing is easy to use and the audio system sounds good. There are many 12v sockets, USB ports, heated front seats, and cup holders for all passengers. Little things, like illuminated vanity mirrors and steering wheel controls and big things such as blind spot detection. There are no visible blanked off spaces, like on Porsches, where equipment you did not opt for would go.

No car is perfect, and neither is the Elentra Eco. In the mentioned sport mode, steering becomes unnecessarily heavy, which is a synthetic and poor attempt at being sporty. The infotainment system did not always get along with the Waze app on my phone, but that app is not designed to work with Apple CarPlay, but it should still work. Other stuff is not so visible – rear brakes are of the drum variety, as they are on others in this class, and torsion beam rear axle will upset people who think that they know how it actually works.

The Elantra Eco is EPA rated at 32 MPG in the city and 40 on the highway. Combined rating is 35 MPG, but in my short, city, and heavy footed driving I surpassed that. Further, the starting price for the Elantra Eco is $20,650 and there are no options or packages available, just accessories. Add the destination charge and the total manufacturer suggested retail price comes to $21,485. That is less than a similarly equipped Corolla Eco and Civic EX, and the Elantra is more fun to drive. It should be noted that all three cars are available is lower, less expensive trim levels.

The story of Hyundai is quite amazing. The company has come very far from their first North American market cars in the 1980s. Models such as the Elantra and Sonata and now true competitors to the Civics and Camrys of the world. Now Hyundai is really pushing its new luxury brand, the Genesis, to go against Lexus and Acura. Hyundai can no longer be dismissed as second string and the 2017 Elantra Eco really shows this. If they could only give it a better name.

Disclaimer: Hyundai Motor Company provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Redusernab 2016.

  • peugeotdude505

    ” its modernly small fifteen inch wheels.” – Yes, thank you Hyundai!

    • Right, I did not see this as an issue at all.
      Better ride. Cheaper tires. Fewer bent flats and bent wheels.

  • “Eco” did not start as an acronym but is derived from οἶκος meaning “house.” As a prefix it refers to the interactions between organisms and their home environments.

    • I’ve been meaning to write this up.

      I say what Eco is and I’m right. Because.

      • That’s a fair line of reasoning but for full credit omit “Because.”

  • Tiller188

    Well, this is timely! I’m actually driving a new-generation Elantra right now (well, not RIGHT NOW right now) while my usual daily is in the shop for some recall work. The one I’m puttering around in isn’t an “Eco” (pretty sure it’s a base model, because rental car), but it really is rather nice. Fully agree on the interior quality and the low NVH levels; it doesn’t feel like an econo-box. Its doors are surprisingly weighty and do have a pleasing “thunk” when closed, the whole thing feels quite solid, and it rides rather well, I thought. It does have a fairly pronounced blind spot over the driver’s right shoulder because of the way the rear windows sweep upwards, but it might just be because, in my particular seating position, where I normally/naturally glance over my shoulder gives me a view straight at the C-pillar. The visibility out the back isn’t great, either, but then I’m coming from a hatchback.

    The car does have a couple of quirks that jumped out at me, though. The steering feel in regular or “eco” modes is LIGHT; no real sense of back. I put it into “sport” mode every time I start it up (is it typical or unusual that it doesn’t “remember” the driver’s choice of driving modes?), which does make the steering artificially heavy, as noted, but at least it feels more like it’s connected to something. The other funny quirk, which I just discovered today, is that when going over a fairly “sharp” speedbump, it’s surprisingly easy to set up what feels like a resonance in the front suspension — it doesn’t just crash and have done with it, but rather, I can feel something up there still vibrating for a couple seconds, enough that I can almost hear the “boing-oing-oing”. Weird, considering the ride actually feels pretty well buttoned-down the rest of the time.

    • The blind spot is rather large. The Eco has blind spot detection which I welcomed.
      The boing thing might be due to the fact that it’s a rental. :-/

      • Tiller188

        Possibly so, but the one I’m driving only has ~13k miles on it (as one might well expect for a car this new). Even in rental car miles, I wouldn’t think that that would be enough for the suspension would have deteriorated significantly, but perhaps I’m underestimating the…er…”capabilities” of the renters who preceded me.

          • Vairship

            Has to have been them Duke boys!

  • GForce917

    It’s got a turbo so why not, I don’t know, call it the Elantra TURBO? No, that would make too much sense.

    • Well, there’s another one, the Sport, that’s turbo.

    • Harry Callahan

      The word “turbo” has historically been associated with high-performance. The ECO is not being marketed as a performance oriented product. As such, using “turbo” in its name would create confusion in the market.

  • Harry Callahan

    Thank you Kamil. Very refreshing to read a positive review of a lower end, non-enthusiast vehicle.

    • Thanks!

    • LeaksOil

      And yet as enthusiasts we can enjoy non-enthusiasts type vehicles .

  • crank_case

    This is the same car essentially as the Hyundai i40 I guess? Had an even more “eco” version for two days – a new manual 1.7 diesel “blue drive” which proved its eco credential by coming second in an economy run competition. (I didn’t compete, I just picked it up from dealer who was loaning it on a Friday for the competitor to pick up Sunday, and brought it back when they were done monday, needless to say, it would have been rude not to take it for a spin). Diesel engine was refined, you’d never hear it, not exciting at all, but suited the car, which felt very soft, comfortable and not driver focused at all (not a criticism, it is what it is). The cabin is a pretty nice place to be, and it’s well equipped.

  • boxdin

    It does have a better name; the Kia Optima. Same car. For my uber/lyft car I got a 2016 Elantra and I am convinced the new engineers Hyundai stole from the german makers really accomplished a lot. There are two Elantra, a GT short one and a regular long one which I have. Fun to drive, comfort to drive for hours unlike any other car I’ve had and I agree w all said in the article. Its a really good car.

    • mosquito_R

      It’s not Optima, which is the Sonata. Forte is the Kia twin to Elantra.

      • crank_case

        Thanks for clearing that up, this means i40 = Sonata. I was thinking this doesn’t sound like the car I drove. Compentent, well finished, well equipped, but fun would be stretching it.

  • MattC

    Thanks Kamil for this review. While I am a gearhead at heart, the practical side of me looks longingly at compact/subcompact cars that achieve good fuel economy. Add to the fact that not only your review but other recent reviews universally applaud the the 7 speed DCT for making this car seem faster and fun. This is really in the running for my next commuter car

  • Update: Ward’s Auto says it’s one of the ten best engines for 2017: