Compact sedans remain a hot segment, even though crossovers have stolen a bit of thunder there. Nevertheless, stalwarts like the Civic and Corolla continue to power through. This week, the segment once again welcomes an all-new contender in the 2021 Hyundai Elantra.
Bigger, more hyperstylized and techier than ever, the 2021 Elantra is packing the goods it needs to do battle with other recently revamped compact cars. Not only will we look at the Elantra (and its new hybrid variant) against the aforementioned cars from Honda and Toyota, we’ll also throw the new Nissan Sentra and Mazda3 sedans in for some additional context.
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra is bigger in every way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the bulkiest boy on the block. It does, however, reign supreme in overall vehicle length (184.1 inches) and width (71.9 inches). Its 55.7-inch height is tied with the Civic for the lowest in the group, and its wheelbase is ever so slightly smaller than that of the Mazda3 sedan. If you’ve driven any non-Elantra in this group, the Hyundai should feel no different in size.
Exterior dimensions (in inches)
|2020 Honda Civic Sedan||182.7||70.9||55.7||106.8|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra||184.1||71.9||55.7||107.1|
|2020 Mazda3 Sedan||183.5||70.7||56.9||107.3|
|2020 Nissan Sentra||182.7||71.5||56.9||106.8|
|2020 Toyota Corolla||182.3||70.1||56.5||106.3|
More exterior space generally means more interior space, and the Elantra comes packing plenty of it. At 40.6 inches of front headroom (without a sunroof) and 37.3 inches in the back, the Elantra’s low height doesn’t necessarily correlate to a lack of interior space. While the Nissan Sentra offers the most legroom in the front row, the Elantra’s 38-inch rear legroom is top of the pops.
Trunk space is a vital figure in this segment, and again, the Elantra does a pretty good job with 14.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. That means it has more capacity than the Mazda3 and Corolla, but lags behind the Sentra and Civic.
|Model||Headroom (front/rear, cu. in.)||Legroom (front/rear, cu. in.)||Shoulder room (front/rear, cu. in)||Trunk space (cu. ft)|
|2020 Honda Civic Sedan||40.4/37.3||42.4/37||56.9/55||14.7-15.1|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra||40.6/37.3||42.3/38||56.5/55.6||14.2|
|2020 Mazda3 Sedan||38/37.3||42.3/35.1||55.7/53.5||13.2|
|2020 Nissan Sentra||38.9/36.7||44/37.4||56.4/54.5||14.3|
|2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan||39.2/36.5||42/34.9||55/54.5||13.1|
Powertrain and performance
Some of the cars on this list have multiple engines on offer, so I stuck with each model’s base engine for comparison. It’s worth noting, though, that the Civic and Corolla offer peppier engines on higher trim levels, which might be worth checking out if you value some commute scoot. All Elantra trims rock a 2.0-liter gas engine making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, which is average for the segment.
As for cog-swappers, the Civic still offers a stick, but other lower models are stuck with continuously variable or traditional automatic transmissions. The Corolla only offers a stick on its more powerful, sportier variants. All-wheel drive is only available on the Mazda3 sedan.
When it comes to fuel economy, the segment is pretty tightly packed, with most models returning between 35 and 38 miles per gallon on the highway (by EPA) estimates, save for the 2021 Elantra, which does not have any estimates yet. The 139-hp Elantra Hybrid is aiming for more than 50 mpg on the highway, which would put it right next to the Corolla Hybrid and its estimated 52 mpg highway rating.
|Model||Power (hp)||Torque (lb-ft)||Fuel economy (Highway, EPA est., mpg)||Transmission/s||AWD available?|
|2020 Honda Civic Sedan||158||138||36-38||6MT, CVT||No|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra||147||132||N/A||CVT||No|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid||139||195||50+||6DCT||No|
|2020 Mazda3 Sedan||186||186||35-36||6AT||Yes|
|2020 Nissan Sentra||149||146||37-38||CVT||No|
|2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan||139||126||37-38||CVT||No|
This is harder to put in a chart, so I’ll just run down some of the tech to expect in each car. While an 8-inch display is standard, the 2021 Elantra can be optioned with a pair of 10.25-inch screens that can pair with two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth, one for calls and one for audio streaming. Navigation is optional, but wirelessand are standard. Standard safety systems including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, Highway Driving Assist (highway lane holding) and automatic emergency braking.
With some notable exceptions, nearly every car on this list packs standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Honda Civic’s base radio is this tiny little critter that doesn’t run either mirroring setup (higher trims have both), while the Corolla’s limited to just Apple CarPlay at present.
The democratization of safety systems means most segment stalwarts are pretty well loaded. The Mazda3 promises full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist. The Sentra doesn’t have ACC standard, but it swaps in blind-spot monitoring, while the Corolla includes them both. The Civic has nearly the same suite as standard, save for BSM.
While we don’t yet know how much the 2021 Elantra and Elantra Hybrid will cost, I assume it will be competitive within the segment. For context, the Sentra is the bargain of the bunch with a starting price of $20,015 (including destination), just ahead of the Corolla at $20,555 and the Civic at $20,805. The Mazda3 sedan is the financial outlier, with a higher window sticker of $22,445. The Elantra goes on sale later this year, so cost information should be out soon.
Price including destination
|Model||Lineup starting price|
|2020 Honda Civic Sedan||$20,805|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra||N/A|
|2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid||N/A|
|2020 Mazda3 Sedan||$22,445|
|2020 Nissan Sentra||$20,015|
|2020 Toyota Corolla||$20,555|