2020 Hyundai Elantra covers all the basics

The 2020 Hyundai Elantra comes with a new Intelligent Variable Transmission, improved fuel economy and standard Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist. Hyundai photo
The 2020 Hyundai Elantra comes with a new Intelligent Variable Transmission, improved fuel economy and standard Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist. Hyundai photo

Who can afford those cars you write about? That’s what I get asked a lot. Sure, I get high-end, super-expensive people-movers to drive and review. But I also get affordable family vehicles, too. No really, I do! Case in point: This week’s tester is the 2020 Hyundai Elantra. It can’t much more basic and affordable than this.

But, being basic doesn’t mean it’s lousy or cheap because this Elantra is neither of those things.

For the 2020 model year very little is changed for this compact car. Gone is the manual transmission. Sorry, boomers, but almost nobody knows how to drive a manual any longer, so it only makes sense to replace the manual with an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, Hyundai went with a continuously variable transmission (CVT); that is rarely a good thing.

The looks of the Elantra lack distinction. It doesn’t have the pizzazz of other vehicles in this segment and also doesn’t have a youthful personality. So, that leaves the Elantra kind of stuck in the middle somewhere, in a segment that seeks out young buyers.

I’d like to see more personality and more styling from the Elantra, although the front end is nice with the hood indentations. But there’s so many hip things carmakers can do with lighting today, and the Elantra misses that opportunity to add character.

The Elantra has some personality when it comes to driving performance. It offers a couple different engine options. Unfortunately, my tester had the base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine which has satisfactory, but uninspiring performance, versus the Elantra’s couple of peppy, turbocharged engine options. The base powerplant makes only 147 horsepower.

The Elantra offers a quality interior. My tester was the top-trim Limited. As such, it’s surprisingly nice, with a good amount of rear legroom. You won’t be fooled into thinking you have a luxury vehicle, but for an “affordable” car, it is pleasantly unexpected.

If you’ve read my Driver’s Side column through the years, that you know I like hatchbacks. The Elantra has a hatch and I’m sure it would scratch me where I itch. But as a sedan it has a good interior. The 14.4 cubic feet of cargo room is an impressive number. And adding a hands-free trunk release is a nice feature for an affordable car.

The infotainment system is basic, but that’s OK this time. It’s intuitive and offers just enough technology, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration on an eight-inch touchscreen.

Its safety-oriented tech features include forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist and cross-traffic collision warning. For that reason, the Elantra is a great vehicle for a young or first-time driver.

There are five trims for the Elantra sedan. My tester was the top-tier Limited with a starting price of $22,800. My tester came with the expensive Ultimate Package which includes the aforementioned eight-inch touchscreen, power sunroof and the sensor-based safety elements. Final MSRP was $27,215.

The Elantra has great fuel economy. It has an EPA rating of 30 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway. It may be a little poky, but it makes up for it with fewer trips to the gas station. I averaged just over 34 mpg in a week’s worth of mostly suburban driving.

Basic can have many meanings, both good and bad. The Elantra may be a basic car, but it also has many better-than-basic qualities, too.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

2020 HYUNDAI ELANTRA LIMITED

  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $22,800/$27,215
  • Mileage.......................................... 30 mpg/city; 40 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 147 hp/132 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. CVT
  • Drive wheels................ Front-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Ulsan, Korea