The All-New 2021 Hyundai Elantra Finally Outperforms Its Aging Rival

The Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic have been age-old rivals, but one has ruled supreme. William Edward Hickson’s proverb comes to mind when thinking about the lesser of these compact cars. “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Hyundai heeded this advice. Now, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra finally has what it takes to stand up to the 2021 Honda Civic.

Hyundai redesigned the Elantra for the 2021 model year. Now, with an edgier design and updated list of features, the once-forgotten compact is a strong contender for best in class.

Meanwhile, the Civic rides upon a tried and true platform. But is its former success enough to compete with its top competitor? Let’s take an in-depth look at the all-new Elantra to analyze whether or not it really is the compact class’s crown jewel.

The 2021 Honda Civic is suddenly playing catch-up

A red 2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring driving down a highway road
The 2021 Honda Civic in action | Photo via Honda

The Civic has long been one of the go-to options for those who desire sporty driving dynamics combined with stellar fuel economy. However, Hyundai made a strong statement with its redesigned compact.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine only delivers 147 hp. However, it achieves an EPA-estimated 37 MPG city/highway combined when paired with the base trim’s idle stop and go function. Notably, higher trims lack this feature and only get 35 MPG combined.

The 2021 Honda Civic is a bit more powerful, making 158 hp with its standard four-cylinder and 174 hp with its available turbocharged engine. Unfortunately, entry-level Civic models get a paltry 33 MPG combined, according to EPA estimates.

Civics equipped with the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine fare better – ranging between 33-36 MPG combined, depending on trim level.

The thrilling Civic Type R is undoubtedly tempting. However, it may be hard to get your hands on one. The good news is that Hyundai will be releasing a high-octane version of its compact car – the Elantra N.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is big on value

A silver 2021 Hyundai Elantra parked on display
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra on display | Photo via Hyundai

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Price isn’t everything, but the Elantra’s ultra-affordable starting MSRP of $19,650 is an eye-opener. It undercuts the 2021 Honda Civic by $1,600, and it doesn’t cut corners by offering lesser features.

Hyundai packed the 2021 Elantra full of standard driver-assistance technologies. These include lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and more.

In comparison, the pricier Civic comes with a similar set of smart safety systems – although the features differ. For instance, the 2021 Honda Civic doesn’t come standard with blind-spot monitoring. Instead, adaptive cruise control is standard equipment.

Drivers will also love the standard technologies that the 2021 Hyundai Elantra offers. It comes with an eight-inch touchscreen display. Meanwhile, Civic drivers are stuck with a tiny five-inch LCD. 

Plus, the Elantra comes standard with wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You’ll have to upgrade to the Civic’s Sport trim or higher – and bring along a cord – if you want smartphone integration features.

Meanwhile, shoppers can upgrade to the Elantra’s SEL trim for less than it costs to buy a base Civic. Car and Driver recommends this model above all others, as it perfectly toes the line between value and affordability.

The SEL trim comes with a proximity key, push-button start, and 16-inch wheels. Additionally, it opens up a world of optional features and packages that you can add if you so choose.

Which compact car should you buy?

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The 2021 Honda Civic is still a contender in the compact car class. Plus, its top-tier, turbocharged models are relatively affordable, beginning at a starting MSRP of $24,400. However, the value-packed 2021 Hyundai Elantra is the better buy.
If you’re still intent on purchasing a Civic, you may want to consider waiting a brief period of time. Honda is releasing a fully redesigned Civic for the 2022 model year. It’s likely to be packed with technological and performance improvements, making it a stronger competitor to the next-generation Elantra.