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Ten years ago, the Hyundai Elantra was an also-ran in the compact-car sales sweepstakes. It wasn't anywhere near the ranks of the best sellers or best performers—cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus.

A 2011 redesign changed all that, and today the Elantra is one of our top-rated economy sedans, in the same league as the Focus, Mazda 3, and the brilliant new Honda Civic. The 2011 Elantra scored heavily with its edgy styling, and backed up that promising shape with a spacious cabin and a strong set of standard features.

What happens when Hyundai tinkers with that winning formula? With the 2017 Elantra, Hyundai trades off brash looks for a more refined ride, and it pays off handsomely. We rate it a 6.8 overall, with kudos for its front-seat space, features, and gas mileage. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Review continues below

Hyundai Elantra styling and comfort

The previous Elantra was one of the cars that announced a new generation of stylish Hyundais. The new Elantra—the sixth by Hyundai's reckoning—represents a step away from the extravagantly curved and detailed design of that fifth-generation car. Like the Sonata, the lines have been dialed down considerably, smoothed out, becalmed.

At the front, it's a success, with a wider, deeper grille giving the Elantra more presence. Boomerang-shaped LED running lights brighten the front-end treatment. With less sculpting down the body sides, the Elantra is simpler, and less distinctive. The C-shaped lines that pulled the rear of the car forward are gone, replaced by more vertical door cuts and a more carefully draped rear roofline, capped by LED taillights.

The Elantra's interior is a dead ringer for the one in the latest Sonata. It's built along horizontal themes, with a large space reserved under a simple dash hood for a touchscreen, canted slightly toward the driver. The gauges incorporate a separate 4.2-inch LCD display on some models for ancillary functions like audio and navigation. Secondary functions such as climate control and audio are controlled with knobs and keys, thank goodness, and the cockpit wears a mix of soft-touch plastics and metallic finishes just as in the Sonata, offset by a fair amount of hard black plastic.

With about an inch more in overall length and in width, the new Elantra improves slightly on the current model's already generous interior space. It's been an edge case, on the border between compact and mid-size, but now the Elantra is a little more firmly in the mid-size category, along with cars like the new Civic.

Front-seat space is very good, with seats more firmly shaped and bolstered than in the past. There's plenty of small-item storage in the doors, console, and in a covered bin that sits ahead of the shift lever.

The back seats are less grippy and sit slightly higher, but head room and knee room are still good for adult passengers, even under the optional sunroof.

With more insulation between the engine and cabin, thicker glass, and more sound-deadening material surrounding the cockpit, the Elantra Limited is about as quiet as the Sonata. Not all models get the same cabin-quieting touches, though.

Hyundai Elantra performance

Driving the Elantra is the Sonata story all over again. What it gives up in slick styling hooks, the Elantra gains in smoothness and comfort.

With a pair of new powertrains, the Elantra's fuel economy is a bigger story than its straight-line performance. On standard Elantras, a 2.0-liter inline-4 provides 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, running on a lean Atkinson cycle for better fuel efficiency. A 6-speed automatic is an option; there's a base model with a 6-speed manual, but it's destined to be a rarity.

Performance by usual yardsticks is just average, but the 2017 Hyundai Elantra's one of the most composed small cars we've driven. Acceleration is tempered and even, though the standard 4-cylinder is happy to wind to its rev limits without too much complaint. The 6-speed shifts are staged for economy, not speed, and no paddle shift controls are fitted. An optional set of driving modes can put the drivetrain into a Sport mode with crisper, quicker shifts.

A new Elantra Eco sports a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 with 128 hp and 156 lb-ft, teamed to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission for an estimated 35 mpg on the EPA combined cycle—which would match the new Honda Civic and its 4-cylinder/continuously variable transmission combo for efficiency. Over a 2,900-mile road trip, we averaged more than 41 mpg in highway driving.

Sporty road manners aren't a priority here, not like they are in the Focus or even the new Civic Touring. A basic strut front and twist-beam rear suspension have been tuned to deliver a remarkably supple, composed ride—as much due to their optimized design as to the Elantra's very stiff body. It's made up of lots of high-strength steel and industrial adhesives. The stiff body has helped steering some; it wanders less than in the previous car, but still feels best in Sport driving mode, where lower electric steering assist helps it track more cleanly.

In all, the Elantra has a more substantial feel now. It doesn't punish drivers for taking a side road instead of a highway, nor does it ask to be thrashed like a Focus or Mazda 3.

Hyundai Elantra safety and features

Hyundai earned top scores for the 2017 Elantra from the IIHS, including a Top Safety Pick+ award. The NHTSA has given it four stars overall. Seven airbags are standard and a rearview camera is available.

So is a bundle of advanced safety technology that uses cameras and radar to provide forward-collision warnings with automatic braking; adaptive cruise control; lane-departure warnings and lane keep assist; and blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts. But the bundle is only offered on the most expensive Limited model.

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra SE carries a base price of just under ,000. It has standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; air conditioning; cloth upholstery; tilt and telescoping steering; 15-inch wheels; a six-way adjustable driver seat; and an AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with six speakers. The automatic transmission is a ,000 option.

On the features list, the new Elantra offers available heated and ventilated front seats; memory seats; a split/fold rear seat; automatic climate control; a hands-free, gesture-enabled trunk release; USB ports and Bluetooth; Android Auto; and a new navigation system.

A premium audio system, satellite radio, and smartphone connectivity are also available, along with Hyundai's Blue Link telematics package that enables features like remote door unlock and remote start by smartphone. All told, the Elantra can cost up to ,500 when loaded with all available features.