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The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is still months away from its on-sale date, but in an effort to drum up some interest, Hyundai offered us an early, essentially hand-built prototype for an early look under the condition that we didn’t discuss our experiences behind the wheel. Basically, we can tell you what it’s like to have the next-generation Elantra in your driveway. Hey, could be worse, right?

We were given a Limited model, which is Hyundai speak for “loaded.” There are no packages planned for this trim, so what you see here is what you should expect an all-boxes-checked 2021 Elantra to look like. For a week, we had unfettered access to the redesigned compact sedan, giving us ample opportunity to play around with some of its features. Not all of them were functional, but we managed to find five that we loved — and one we really didn’t. 

Love it: Drive-mode-based ambient lighting

The 2021 Elantra Limited has a subtle light strip running the full width of the horizontal trim piece that frames the air vents on its dashboard. The color of this strip can be customized to the driver’s liking, but by default, it is color-matched to the Elantra’s chosen drive mode. In “Normal,” it’s colorless; “Eco” makes it green; in “Smart,” it turns blue; and in “Sport,” it’s very predictably red.

Love it: Driving “cockpit”

Yeah, maybe it’s a little cheesy, but we’re suckers for a cockpit-style driver’s seat. The 2021 Elantra’s exaggerated passenger grab-handle may seem a bit ridiculous in what basically amounts to a commuter car, but the way it’s integrated into the center stack and dashboard (à la the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette) looks pretty cool. 

Love it: Cooled Wireless charging

If you have a smartphone (or other device) capable of being charged inductively, you’re probably familiar with the fact that heat is often a byproduct of the wireless charging process. Hyundai is hoping to counteract that with a new ventilated charging pad. Hyundai says it will keep device temperatures a bit closer to ambient, which is nice, because heat is the enemy of device longevity and performance. Plus, your phone will be cooler to the touch when you pick it up. Win-win. There’s a catch to this feature but we’ll circle back to that later on. 

Love it: T-Handle gear selector

The 2021 Elantra ditches the old pistol-grip-style automatic gear selector in favor of this new T-handle design that both looks and feels quite sturdy. This may not be the most exciting of features, but frankly we’re just happy that a brand-new car being introduced in 2020 has a conventional shifter at all. It could be buttons or a paddle or something GMC cooked up. Count your blessings. 

Love it: The multi-screen dash and mystical rune of power

Of all of the things we like about the 2021 Elantra, this one is probably the silliest. The Limited model’s dual 10.25-inch screens are integrated into the dash in such a way as to make them appear to be one continuous piece of glass, which is a style many automakers — particularly Mercedes-Benz — are embracing. Hyundai has taken that a step further with this little piece of artwork on the far left side of the Elantra’s dash. 

Clearly visible in just about any shot of the Elantra’s dash, this little glyph does absolutely nothing. Heck, it’s not even illuminated. It’s just … there. Sure, it could serve some purpose down the road, but for the time being, it’s merely a circular design on a shiny piece of plastic. OK, so it’s a useless detail, but it looks kind of like a targeting display in a star fighter of some sort. You read it here first, folks: Hyundai, the official partner of Space Force! 

Don’t love it: Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support

Let’s be clear: Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are good things, and we like that Hyundai now offers them as standard features. The problem here is that they’re not available on navigation-equipped models. In other words, if you purchase a Limited like this one, you get wireless device charging, but you must plug your phone in to access smartphone integration features. Remember when we said there was a downside to the wireless charging? Yep, this is what we in the biz call “the payoff.” 

Anyway, if you just said “Huh!?” out loud at the thought of an upgraded infotainment system that deletes a desirable convenience feature, welcome to the club. Here’s our handy photo of what this looks like in our prototype loaner:

Hyundai is working to resolve this, as it’s simply a matter of the feature not being supported by the hardware that powers the 10.25-inch infotainment unit. Hyundai expects to be able to offer wireless smartphone integration across the entire Elantra line by the second or third model year. 

Later this year, we’ll get to spend more time with Hyundai’s redesigned compact, and by then, we’ll actually be able to tell you what it’s like to drive one. Stay tuned!

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