2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL new car reviews

Photography Courtesy Hyundai

Yes, we do enjoy the sporty offerings from Hyundai like the Veloster N and the N-Line Elantra (we're eager for the full-on Elantra N), but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate more "normal" cars–like the 2021 Elantra SEL we recently drove.

Sitting just one tick above the base SE trim, the SEL makes do with a 2.0-liter inline-four rated for 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque. That power is then sent to the front wheels through a CVT ("Smartstream Intelligent Variable Transmission" in Hyundai speak).

No turbos, no dual-clutches, no independent rear suspension.

What's this normal-spec Hyundai Elantra like to drive? Keep reading to find out.

Other staff views

J.G. Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

Our typical press loaner is whatever the highest trim of a given model is with every box on the option list checked. Obviously, manufacturers want to send the best examples of their work out to meet the public, but far too few of them are giving credit to their deep bench.

So it was a bit of a treat when we took delivery of a 2021 Elantra SEL—one trim notch up from the base version of Hyundai’s compact sedan—with $3000 worth of options and stickering out at $25,100. For those keeping score at home, that’s nearly $15,000 below the national average used car price. Surely, for so much less than what the average Joe or Jane is paying for their ride, the experience of the Elantra must be $15,000 less impressive, $15,000 less equipped and $15,000 less satisfying, right?

Uh, nope.

With as ridiculous as car prices, in general, are getting these days, we’ve almost abandoned hope that “value” is still a proposition out there in car buying land, but the Elantra kind of firmed up that value is still a realistic and achievable goal.

The Elantra we put some miles on did not feel, drive, or ever give the impression of anything but quality. Perhaps the only conspicuous nod to keeping the sticker price in check was the cloth seats, rather than the leather that typically comes in more premium models. But even these cloth seats—made from a lovely, textured material that looks like every movie superhero’s outfit these days—provided exceptional support while still maintaining good access for quick and often ingress and egress, the kind you might do while running errands.

The more traditional shift lever in place of the servo-triggering electronic selectors seeing far more common use these days was actually a welcome inclusion. The shifter moved with the mechanical precision of a thing of great precision and tight manufacturing, which set the tone for all of the switches, knobs or buttons that the driver or passenger might interact with.

Hyundai is one of the most generous companies around when it comes to honest-to-God tactile buttons, knobs and switches, and while touch screens and touch panels may add an air of upscale sophistication, most of them do nothing for the actual experience of being in the car. Hyundai’s solution looks perfectly fine, feels great and just works.

And that’s kind of the entire experience of the Elantra. It feels great and just works. Its equipment list is impressive—we never really noticed the lack of a missing feature or functionality that might come in a higher-end trim level—and includes solid versions of the stuff you use most often presented in an easy-to-operate fashion.

The SEL Elantra, equipped with just a couple of packages that still keep the price at a reasonable level, is proof that basic transportation can be far from a basic experience.

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Duke MegaDork
11/11/21 8:56 a.m.

So pretty from the back and side, so horrible from the front.  Just like the Sonata.  The Kias are slightly better, but they're still hampered by the shared DNA underneath.


borf42 GRM+ Memberand Reader
11/12/21 10:13 a.m.

I just picked up a Hyundai Elantra N-Line with a manual (voted with my wallet!). I love it. It feels like a MUCH more expensive car. The sticker on mine was $25k and some change. I went there to just check it out, and walked away with a 3 year lease. The turbo kicks in early and quite strong, and if I am easy on the gas pedal, I can get very close to 40mpg (got 38.5 from CT to NH for the Lemons race)

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