2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review and Test Drive
A handsome hybrid that excels in fuel economy and advanced tech features.
It's hot on a Friday afternoon, and I'm crawling along in rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles, sitting behind the wheel of a 2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Limited. The compact sedan has an effective air-conditioning system, ventilated front seats, and an impressive Highway Driving Assist system. All three are helping me keep my cool, but in the land of notoriously expensive gasoline, the 2023 Elantra Hybrid's effortless fuel economy has put a smile on my face.
The Elantra has been part of the automotive landscape since 1990, and in those 30-plus years, Hyundai has sold more than 15 million units globally. In 2021, Hyundai redesigned the Elantra for the seventh time, adding an all-new hybrid model to the Elantra family. Two years later, the 2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid continues to offer award-winning value and impressive fuel efficiency of up to 54 mpg. It lacks direct competition, too. The Elantra Hybrid's only rival in the compact sedan segment is the Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Hyundai has made no major changes to the 2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid. It continues with two trim levels: Blue and Limited. Base prices range from the mid-$20,000s to the low $30,000s, including the destination charge to ship the car from the Ulsan, South Korea, factory that builds it to your local dealership.
For this Elantra Hybrid review, I test-drove the Limited trim in Southern California. Carpeted floor mats were the only option, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $30,305, including the $1,095 destination charge. Hyundai provided the vehicle for this Elantra Hybrid review.
2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review: The Design
With its most recent redesign, the Elantra lineup adopted a modern look that is equal parts aggressive and refined. Sharp character lines slice into the door panels to create a distinctively sporty presence. The wider grille features a cascading design, which is head-turning simply for its complexity but also keeps the long hood from leaping too far forward.
The Elantra's exterior is so dramatic that Hyundai gave the bold design theme a name: parametric dynamics. It's a name only Hyundai employees will remember, but the Elantra wears a rather unforgettable suit compared to other compact cars. Even in a parking lot full of crossovers and SUVs, the Intense Blue paint of my test vehicle made car hunting close to effortless.
Within the Elantra lineup, though, there is little to distinguish between the trims. The performance-oriented Elantra N dazzles in red trim and matching red brake calipers, while the sporty Elantra N-Line is decked out in numerous N-Line badges, just in case you weren't sure. Alterations between the Elantra and Elantra Hybrid are more low-key, amounting to a discreet "Hybrid" badge on the trunk and little else.
The Elantra's cabin is surprisingly spacious with decent ergonomics. The four-spoke steering wheel style isn't my cup of tea, but I admit the design is smart. The lower double spokes were a much more comfortable handrest than at the nine-and-three positions on the rim. Also, because I was applying more weight to the wheel when resting my hands on the lower spokes, the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) recognized my subtle steering inputs, and warnings to keep my hands on the wheel didn't pop up.
At first blush, the Elantra's interior looks premium — and some materials are. My Elantra Hybrid Limited had light-colored leather seats and a gray mélange fabric material on the door panels. Pleasant to the touch, the fabric was visually appealing as well. But the seat cushions were uncomfortable, and the vehicle was rife with hard surfaces that sounded hollow.
Reaching for the 10.3-inch touchscreen wasn't a stretch, and the wireless charging pad was easy to access. The Elantra Hybrid's interior had its fair share of buttons and knobs. Some offered operational redundancies, such as volume settings, while others were fast-function features, such as those for the climate-control system. The cabin wasn't without its quirks, though. For example, the cupholder insert is adjustable to accommodate short and tall drinks, but only at the same time. Meaning both beverages need to be the same size. If one and the other, someone may spill their drink.
Also, two interior design elements particularly baffled me. The driver-oriented cockpit gives off a sporty vibe, but what's with the large grab handle to the right of the center console? This car is a hybrid, after all, not a sports sedan.
The other bit is a superfluous panel to the left side of the digital instrument cluster. The add-on features a white dash symbol within a white circle on top of a piano-black panel. Initially, I mistook the space for another wireless charger, like a MagSafe. That makes no sense, of course, because it's a smooth, vertical surface. Then I tapped on it, wondering if it was a digital clock or a powered-down screen that needed waking. Nope, nope, and nope. Internet sleuthing helped me determine that it was nothing more than a decorative piece. With or without it, the overall digital display looks unfinished.
Storage was plentiful within the cabin, and the Elantra Hybrid provides a generous 14.2 cubic-foot trunk. There is enough space between the two for a four-person road trip if everyone packs sparingly.
2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review: The Technology
The Elantra Hybrid Limited features a digital user interface that seamlessly blends two 10.3-inch screens (and that left-side "decorative piece"). The displayed icons and information are well-designed and easy to read. Basic operation, even of the ADAS, is mostly intuitive.
The Elantra Hybrid Blue gets a smaller 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and analog gauges with a 4.2-inch driver information panel. That's a downgrade with an upside because the smaller-screened infotainment system provides wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. In the Limited, you must connect your phone via a USB cable to use the smartphone integration platforms.
A built-in navigation system is only available on the Hybrid Limited model, but I found that its voice-recognition system left much to be desired. Asking for directions to an address or point of interest simply didn't work for me. For example, using an established events center as my destination, the location name appeared correctly on the voice-prompt screen. I was hopeful until the offered addresses were either the generic city center or an "event center" in a different town. Despite my perusing the owner's manual for help with my navigation commands, the tech did not behave as expected. So I relented and input destinations manually.
If anything, I did appreciate the real-time navigation routing. During a 50-mile journey from Calabasas to Buena Park, the Elantra had me traveling on every possible SoCal highway. Starting on US-101, I blazed a southbound trail via CA-134, I-5, I-10, I-710, I-105, I-605, and, finally, CA-91. My total time behind the wheel was two hours and seven minutes. Was it worth it? Considering it was rush hour and I was anticipating a three-hour drive? Yup, I will take every highway. By the way, that isn't a convoluted route for anyone who lives in SoCal. It is simply (and sadly) the commute.
The long drive did provide ample opportunity to test the vehicle's ADAS features. Hyundai SmartSense is the automaker's umbrella term for its advanced safety and convenience technologies. Even on the entry-level Elantra Hybrid Blue, the standard features list is a long one, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and a safe exit warning system. Move up to the Limited and the car adds adaptive cruise control (ACC) with stop-and-go capability, Highway Driving Assist (HDA), parking sensors, and expanded forward-collision warning tech, including an intersection assist warning.
Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability is a wonderful feature when you're mired in traffic. The Elantra Hybrid offered four following distances, and I used the second-closest one. According to the owner's manual, the vehicle keeps a 106-foot distance in that setting if the traveling speed is 56 mph. At highway speeds, I found the braking too late, hard, and uneven for my tastes. When crawling at around 20 mph, however, the braking was softer and less jarring.
I also activated HDA, which combines the capabilities of ACC and lane-centering assist to provide a hands-on semi-autonomous driving experience. When I gripped the steering wheel, the steering assistance felt twitch. But if I rested my hands on the aforementioned lower spokes, the Elantra Hybrid drove in an equally relaxed manner. Overall, SmartSense made the drive less tiring even though my back and bottom were sore.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awards the 2023 Elantra Hybrid a five-star crash-safety rating, the federal agency's top score, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Elantra Hybrid a Top Safety Pick. Unfortunately, the IIHS dinged the car for a Poor overall rating for the Blue trim level's standard headlights. The Limited model upgrades to LED headlights, which earn the highest safety grade of Good.
2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Review: The Drive
The 2023 Elantra Hybrid is equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, a 32-kWh electric motor, and a 240-volt lithium-ion battery pack. Together, these components generate 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Although half as powerful as the Elantra N (276 horsepower), the Elantra Hybrid's fuel economy is more than twice that of its track-tuned sibling. With a standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Elantra Hybrid Blue offers an EPA-estimated 54 mpg. My Limited-trim test car returned lower, but still impressive, fuel efficiency of 50 mpg. By contrast, the Elantra N musters no better than 25 mpg when equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox.
My time with the Elantra Hybrid Limited was a brief two and a half days. Still, after 145 miles of mixed driving (including plenty of idling for photography), I averaged 53.1 mpg. I consumed only one-fifth of a tank of fuel, leaving a road-trip-worthy 417 miles of remaining range. At one point during that number salad of a commute, the hybrid's accumulated info listed the same numbers for the trip and average mpg: 64.2. Suffice to say, in my experience, the Elantra Hybrid exceeds EPA estimates, which were already compelling.
The Elantra Hybrid offers three drive modes, none of which are a dedicated economy setting. Instead, the choices are Normal, Sport, and Smart. Normal is the default setting and provides the smoothest, most comfortable drive. Selecting Sport will adjust the steering input and change shift points to a higher engine rpm setting. That leads to upshift delays when accelerating but means a louder engine note. When set to Smart, the vehicle will utilize all modes and select the proper response based on how you're driving the car.
When grading Elantra Hybrid performance that isn't related to fuel economy, the driving dynamics can be on the fun side of the compact-car segment. The steering was accurate, albeit neutral in feedback. And that cavernous cabin is pretty quiet, even at highway speeds. As for that engine note, it sounds like overexertion more than athleticism, especially in Sport mode. Oddly enough, I preferred the Elantra's engine rumblings when the vehicle accelerated in a composed, steady manner rather than wide-open throttle. It's a hybrid. Just relax.
The suspension was on the stiff side, though, and the hardness of the seats amplified the firm ride. Don't get me wrong. I welcomed the heated and ventilated cushions, but the seats lack padding, and discomfort ensues on drives lasting more than 30 minutes. A saving grace is that ergonomic seat cushions are affordable, and since the heating and cooling works on the seat bottom and backrest, you'll only sacrifice one to enjoy the other.
Is the 2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid a Good Car?
The short answer is a definitive yes. The 2023 Elantra Hybrid excels in many ways. It's genuinely fuel efficient, has a great design, offers plenty of premium features, is loaded with advanced safety technology, and the well-equipped Limited trim barely scratches $30,000. There aren't additional package options available either. Even if you select every port-installed option, the final tally will be less than 33 grand.
That isn't to say the Elantra Hybrid is perfect. The interior could feature fewer hard surfaces, including those seats. And the car's low-key sporty nature is let down by its lack of engine verve. But they're minor quibbles when considering that I never passed a gas station advertising regular octane fuel for less than five bucks a gallon. True, California is the exception, but fluctuating fuel prices are not an anomaly, and they rise over time.