2021 Hyundai Elantra vs. compact sedans | How they compare on paper

Joel Stocksdale

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Despite the rising popularity of crossovers, the sedan market remains packed and fiercely competitive. It looks like it will stay that way with the introduction of the strikingly redesigned 2021 Hyundai Elantra. And since Hyundai was kind enough to provide plenty of specifications on the new car, we figured we ought to see how it stacks up to some of the latest and greatest small sedans on the market. For this comparison we picked the two best-sellers, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, one of the other recently redesigned sedans, the Nissan Sentra, and a perennial enthusiast favorite, the Mazda3.

Below you'll find a chart with all the raw numbers for your perusal. Following that will be our usual break down and analysis of the numbers and any other noteworthy features not included in the chart.

Performance and Fuel Economy

While the design and chassis are all-new on the Elantra, the base powertrain isn't. It uses a version of the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder shared throughout the Hyundai and Kia line-ups, and it's again paired with a CVT. With 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, it's the second least powerful entry for conventionally-powered sedans, only ahead of the sluggish 1.8-liter base engine in the Toyota Corolla. For those looking for a peppy small sedan, the Mazda3's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter has the most power and torque, even ahead of the turbocharged Honda Civic's 174 ponies. On the other hand, the Elantra, which Hyundai says will have better fuel economy than the outgoing model, should get at least 36 mpg combined, and probably better, making it the most efficient non-hybrid of this group. For the best blend of power and efficiency, the Civic is likely the way to go, as its turbo engine can return 36 mpg combined in lower trims. If you want a manual transmission in this body shape, only the Civic and Corolla offer it. A manual transmission is available on the Mazda3 hatchback, and the turbo Civic can also be had with a manual in hatchback or Si forms.

A new powertrain for the Elantra is the hybrid. It's unique compared to other hybrids in that it's coupled to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, rather than an electronically controlled CVT (which is not the same thing as a CVT) or something too complicated to describe in this sentence (the Honda Insight). We've included Insight numbers under the Civic as they're based on the same platform and have the same dimensions, despite having different styling and model designation. The Elantra hybrid looks like it will be competitive with nearly as much power and torque as the Insight, and much more than the Toyota Corolla Hybrid. Hyundai has also said it should get better than 50 mpg combined, which would be right on par with the Honda and Toyota.

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We should also note that the Elantra will get a higher-performance variant in the near future. It will probably be called N-Line, in keeping with the Elantra GT N-Line hatchback, and will likely have a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. We left it off as it hasn't  been revealed, and the power numbers could change, plus it will compete more closely with other affordable performance such as the Honda Civic Si, Kia Forte GT and others. We wanted to keep this comparison focused on the main line cars.

Another thing to note is that of this group, the Mazda3 is the only one to offer all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is still uncommon in this segment, and the only other small sedan to feature it is the Subaru Impreza where it is standard. The Impreza is also available with the pairing of a manual transmission and all-wheel drive, unlike the Mazda.

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Interior and Exterior

When the current Honda Civic generation was launched a few years ago, it was one of the biggest in the segment, and now it's become fairly average. In fact, the new Elantra is now the longest and widest overall. It almost has the longest wheelbase, coming second to the Mazda3.

The Elantra's generous exterior dimensions translate to the interior, too. It has the most headroom of this group, as well as rear legroom. At the other end of the spectrum are the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, which each have tight rear seat accommodations. Legroom in particular on these two cars is fairly tight, both in numbers and based on our real-life experience. When it comes to cargo space, the Elantra's 14.2 cubic feet puts it at mid pack. The Civic has the most capacious trunk at 15.1 cubic feet, and the Corolla the least at 13.1, just behind the 13.2 of the Mazda.

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Pricing and Features

Pricing hasn't been announced for the Elantra yet, but it should be similar to the roughly $20,000 base price of the current model. The Sentra and Corolla also start in the $20,000 range, with the Sentra slightly cheaper than the Toyota. The Honda and Mazda are pricier, though the Mazda does include a much more powerful engine at its base price around $22,000.

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Comparing higher-horsepower models, the Mazda gains an advantage. The cheapest turbo Civic starts at $24,755. The more powerful Toyota Corolla starts at $23,005.

As for hybrids, we don't have a current Elantra hybrid to benchmark, but we do have prices for the Corolla Hybrid and the Honda Insight. The Toyota is the more expensive choice at $24,055 whereas the Insight starts at $23,885. We would expect the Elantra to be priced similarly to these cars.

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