It wasn’t supposed to go down like this – but then you never can quite predict what’s going to happen in Buffalo, N.Y.
It started innocently enough on the eve of the NFL’s Wild Card weekend, when a friend and fellow football fan shared the news that tickets to the Miami-Kansas City game were being sold on the cheap in anticipation of cold conditions come kickoff. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but before I sent a snarky response about the dedication of us Bills fans by comparison I decided to do a quick fact-check. Much to my surprise, tickets to the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game set for that Sunday were priced within about a Big Mac combo of the ones some 1,600 km away in Kansas City, Mo.
Deliberations were short and sweet. We were going.
Then Mother Nature decided to mix it up a bit. One of the area’s notorious lake-effect snowstorms was set to arrive just in time for game day – not exactly ideal for spectating, not to mention safety. The game was pre-emptively postponed out of an abundance of caution, which proved prudent, with nearly 50 cm (19.7 in) of snow blanketing the area around Highmark Stadium in the hours before the original kickoff. Visibility was low, winds were strong, and roads were treacherous. Moving the game to Monday may have been a disappointment, but it was undoubtedly the right decision.
Unfortunately, it also meant I’d be making the two-hour trek to Buffalo by myself. On a positive note, I’d be doing it in the perfect vehicle: the 2024 Hyundai Elantra.
Driving Feel: 8/10
No, Hyundai didn’t add all-wheel drive to the Elantra’s repertoire as part of the tweaks and changes this year. Yes, that probably runs counter to the definition of what makes a vehicle perfect for winter road conditions – but that’s sort of the point. There’s no denying the usefulness of extra traction in slippery conditions, but then no feature fills drivers with false confidence quite like all-wheel (or four-wheel) drive. It’s also not explicitly necessary, while a good set of winter tires like the one fitted to this tester absolutely is.
The Elantra is happier on the highway than its forebears might have been, eschewing the economy car stereotype for something that feels far more robust. Engine output isn’t especially abundant in this application – more on that shortly – but the mechanical components pair well with the mission of a small sedan like this.
Conditions were surprisingly clear as I crossed the Rainbow Bridge that connects Niagara Falls, Ont., with the New York state city of the same name, although they worsened in a hurry as I worked my way south along a series of surface streets and highways. It was no matter for the Elantra, however, with an appreciable surefootedness – even when accelerating from a standing start on a snow-covered hill. Of course, the winter tires played a significant role here, but it goes to show how important they are this time of year. The electrically assisted power steering that’s impossibly light at low speeds was the lone disappointment, providing even less feel when cutting through the loose snow and slush that had accumulated in intersections and at the ends of driveways.
Most of the Elantra lineup, including the Preferred trim tested here, relies on a 2.0L four-cylinder engine and an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) for motivation. It’s not built for thrills – that’s what the Elantra N sport sedan is for – but it’s more than adequate in this application. While the setup in the rival Toyota Corolla is generally more refined, with the Elantra getting particularly buzzy during bouts of heavy acceleration, there’s ample output and responsiveness for most situations. Officially, the 2.0L makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque – less than the Corolla’s engine that’s the same size, but not significantly so.
The situation was looking stormy as kickoff grew closer, and then the skies opened up – not in a bad way, mind you, but in a beautiful shade of blue. Even a little sunshine greeted me as I arrived at a local shopping centre where fans were asked to park instead of the stadium lots that were expected to be snarled by snow piles and plenty of traffic. Sure, some of the snowbanks were taller than the Elantra itself; and it was deeply cold, with temperatures feeling like -18 °C or so. But it’s as if the football gods were ready to reward us for (im)patiently waiting out the storm.
Considering this is a compact car, its interior dimensions are more generous than that designation might suggest. At 2,720 mm (107.1 in), the wheelbase is slightly longer than the Corolla’s and it shows, with more usable space inside as a result. In fact, there’s more rear-seat legroom than what’s listed on the Honda Civic’s spec sheet despite the latter boasting even more distance between the front and rear wheels. This trip even provided a chance to test out just how accommodating the front passenger seat can be when space behind it isn’t a consideration, with ample room for my 6-foot-3 frame to stretch out and slip into bib-style snow pants with as much dignity as possible.
This Preferred trim being a short step up from the base Elantra, features aren’t exactly abundant, but the selection is reasonable considering its positioning. There’s an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that comes with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, plus heated front seats that are manually adjustable (six-way driver, four-way passenger), power locks and windows, and air conditioning.
That’s all the same stuff that’s found in the cheapest version. What sets the Elantra Preferred apart is the addition of a heated steering wheel, button-based proximity door locks, and push-button start. Meanwhile, an optional Tech package ($,1950) replaces the eight-inch infotainment unit with a 10.25-inch touchscreen (both smartphone connections are wired with the larger screen), a digital instrument display that’s the same size, subscription-based satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a sunroof.
All that and more is offered across the rest of the lineup, with extras like leather upholstery and an eight-speaker stereo offered in the Luxury and N Line Ultimate trims. Then there’s the Elantra N that’s all about performance while still offering plenty of features.
While Hyundai fits certain advanced safety features to the entire Elantra lineup, desirable items like adaptive cruise control and even automatic emergency braking are reserved for the two most expensive trims. That means the entry-level Essential gets lane departure warning and keeping assistance, as well as automatic high-beam control, but that’s it. And while this Preferred trim adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a safe exit assist system that can warn of traffic approaching from behind the car, that’s the extent of what’s included.
In addition to that lane-keeping system is a steering assistance function that can help keep the car centred within its lane markings even through sweeping curves in the road – with the driver’s hands on the wheel, of course. Enabling (or disabling) the system is done using a button on the steering wheel, which can be pressed or held, depending on the desired outcome.
That same simplicity carries through the rest of the controls, with an approachability to just about every feature and function. The infotainment interface is one of the most straightforward systems around, with a menu made up of tile icons that look a lot like the ones on a smartphone. There’s also a row of physical shortcut buttons that spans the width of the touchscreen, while the climate control system employs more of the same.
My trip to Buffalo also uncovered a clever feature worthy of praise. While the traffic sign recognition system that notes the designated speed limit in the instrument display is handy on Canadian roads, its ability to automatically convert mph to km/h makes it a godsend when travelling south of the border.
Hyundai’s known for its revolutionary redesigns, and this seventh-generation version of the Elantra is no exception, with a look that’s unlike any of the models that came before. While the overall aesthetic was far more polarizing when the seventh-generation version first launched thanks to a particularly pronounced front end, the 2024 facelift dials back the aggression for a more sophisticated style. The doors feature the same sharp creases as before, while the back end boasts Gundam-like lines that help this Hyundai stand out, but it’s unquestionably a handsome sedan.
The cabin doesn’t offer the same exceptional aesthetics, but it’s a surprisingly pleasant place to put in some hours. That’s not always the case in compact cars like this one, but even without power adjustability or plush upholstery, the driver’s seat soaked up the hours to and from Buffalo with ease. The three-stage heat came in handy before (and after) the game, as did the heated steering wheel, both of which warm in a hurry. Likewise, Hyundai’s novel approach to automatic climate control that offers low, medium, and high settings – a rare but useful feature that allows a desired temperature to be set while limiting maximum fan speed – offers appreciable benefits when wearing multiple layers.
Ride quality is another pleasant surprise, with the Elantra doing well to soak up most bumps without unsettling the cabin too much. That’s in spite of this tester’s torsion beam rear axle that relies on shocks and coil springs at either end rather than an independent multi-link setup that tends to provide better energy absorption and body control. (Both the Elantra Luxury Hybrid and turbocharged N Line Ultimate trims feature fancier rear suspension, as does the Elantra N sport sedan.)
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
Even without its optional hybrid powertrain, the Elantra is an efficient little car. This trip to and from Buffalo that spanned a little more than 320 km in frigid temperatures returned an indicated average of 6.3 L/100 km – better than its official combined consumption rate (6.7). It remained close to that number throughout the rest of this week-long test, with a final tally of 7.0 over the course of nearly 500 km. For the sake of comparison, the gas-powered Corolla sedan has the same official rating as the Elantra (6.7), while the Civic’s is slightly worse (6.9).
In terms of positioning, this Preferred trim delivers good value even with its available upgrades. It’s where actual price is concerned that it doesn’t look quite as appealing, with a pre-tax total of a little more than $28,000 for this tester marking a major departure from the compact cars of old. Even the entry-level Essential trim starts at nearly $24,000 before tax. And in fairness, Hyundai isn’t alone here, with the cheapest Corolla ringing in at over $25,000, and the base Civic starting at a staggering $28,620 before the government’s share; but that’s not exactly comforting for a segment that was once predicated upon affordability.
It’s not as if the burden of building and selling affordable cars should be Hyundai’s alone to bear, but with the Accent long since discontinued, and the Venue crossover that ultimately replaced it getting more expensive by the year, affordability is a fleeting concept for a brand that was built on exactly that. And in fairness, the 2024 Hyundai Elantra is priced within spitting distance of the Toyota Corolla that led the segment in sales last year, while the Honda Civic is more expensive still. But that means one of this sedan’s inherent advantages is no more.
I thought long and hard about the Elantra’s affordability dilemma as I made the trip home from Buffalo. There’s no denying that this is a better car than any of the versions that came before it, with a smooth ride, and great all-weather usability in spite of its front-wheel drive layout. Frigid cold, falling snow, and sloppy streets – none of it was enough to shake my confidence behind the wheel. That may not be enough to offset just how expensive the Elantra is these days, but it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating for a small car that’s made significant strides over the years.
|147 hp @ 6,200 rpm
|132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
|7.6 / 5.7 / 6.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|2024 Hyundai Elantra Preferred
|Price as Tested
$2,200 – Tech Package, $1,950; Ecotronic Grey paint, $250