Compact Hyundai offers pleasant alternative to default choices
For many people shopping for a compact car, a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla is almost a default choice. If you compare the two, it’s easy to spot the differences. The latest Civic is aggressively styled, fun to drive and impressively fuel-efficient; the Corolla is less expensive, isn’t as flashy and has more user-friendly controls.
But it’s important to look beyond just those two sales leaders, and if the Corolla’s traits in particular seemed tempting, you’ll also want to check out the redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra. You won’t find the Civic’s sizzle, and the Hyundai’s EPA rating of 32 miles per gallon in mixed driving trails the Honda’s class-leading scores of 34 and 36 mpg (depending on the engine).
However, the Elantra is a thoroughly pleasant no-fuss vehicle with respectable levels of comfort, refinement and value. From a base price of $17,895, you only have to climb to $19,785 to get quite a lot of kit – besides the basics of power windows and locks, cruise control and air conditioning, you get a seven-inch touch screen in your dashboard that syncs with your smartphone using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; 16-inch alloy wheels; height adjustments for both front seats; and Hyundai’s extra-long warranty coverage.
To be sure, that price tag doesn’t dramatically undercut established competitors like the Civic, and a Corolla is actually even less. But Hyundai distinguishes itself from the Toyota on the road – the Elantra delivers the solidity of a midsize car in a compact package, while the Corolla feels more like a basic economy car with a slower engine and sloppier driving dynamics. The Civic feels even more premium, but not all buyers will appreciate its lower seating position or the annoyingly complicated controls found in most versions. Hyundai also went for clean, classy styling inside and out, whereas the bolder Honda risks turning off some buyers.
One final consideration, though, is that Honda and Toyota both beat the Elantra for availability of an important safety feature: automatic emergency braking, which can reduce or even avoid a front-end collision. It’s standard or optional on every Civic model and it’s newly standard on every 2017 Corolla. Hyundai offers it too, but only on a fully loaded Elantra that also includes features such as leather seats, a navigation system and even automatic steering – for a whopping $27,710.
Lexus brings hybrid powertrain to new compact crossover
Toyota invented the premium crossover when it introduced the Lexus RX nearly two decades ago, and that midsize model remains a sales leader to this day. But Lexus was late to capitalize on the emerging market for models that incorporate high levels of luxury into a smaller package – until now, with the new 2016 NX, which is based on the popular Toyota RAV4.
The tested NX is the gas-electric hybrid model, the NX 300h. It achieves an impressive EPA rating of 32 miles per gallon in mixed driving (33 mpg city / 30 highway) while also delivering a fancier interior than the RAV4 and bolder, more upscale styling. Cosmetically, there’s no confusing the two.
On the road, though, the NX 300h and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid are a little too similar. They share the same four-cylinder engine mated to electric motors, and it feels out of place in the Lexus – too loud and not powerful enough. It doesn’t help that the NX in general was designed to be sporty, prioritizing agile handling over the RX’s famously cushy ride quality. The engine detracts from that ambiance compared to the zippy turbocharged engine found in the NX 200t model – which is well suited to the NX’s overall package.
The NX 300h, which starts at $42,250, also costs $5,000 more than a comparably equipped NX 200t – a big disadvantage, considering that the RAV4 Hybrid ($29,270) is just a $700 premium over a standard RAV4 with the same options. And you don’t lose anything by skipping the RAV4’s base engine, as you do in the Lexus.
If you do want a luxury hybrid crossover, though, there’s no direct competitor to the NX 300h. So while it’s not perfect – in addition to the acceleration performance, some buyers will wish for more cargo room, a smoother ride and an even posher interior – no other crossover offers the same blend of luxury and fuel economy.