2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco First Drive Review
The best road trips take you through places you’ve never been. The best road trips are also those you can enjoy with close friends or relatives. When the opportunity to take just such a trip crossed my desk, I jumped at it. All the ingredients for a truly great road trip were there. The setting: the American South. My co-pilots: my two closest cousins. The car: the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco. It was a recipe for adventure I wasn’t about to pass on.
My cousin Nicole accompanied me on a visit to the plant with other journalists. After a tour, we were free to drive wherever we pleased. Each participant’s itinerary was different. At least one team even drove cross-country back to the West Coast. Our route would take us northwest through Birmingham, Alabama, and onward to Memphis, Tennessee, to meet our cousin Bryan, who lives there. From Memphis, we’d drive roughly three hours northeast to Nashville then head back to the Bluff City to drop Bryan off and fly home.
I was at first excited to learn we’d actually be driving our Elantras off the production line. All of the cars were lined up on a conveyor belt, and each team was assigned one in the long row of seemingly just-minted Hyundais. Upon getting in our car, however, I noticed there were already 805 miles on the clock. The cars in front of and behind me all showed similar mileage. Staged or not, these were still nearly brand-new cars, and we still got to drive them off the assembly line and out of the factory. It was a unique experience at least.
The Elantra Eco is the midlevel model in the lineup, slotting above the base SE but below the more upscale Limited. As the name suggests, the Elantra Eco is geared toward fuel economy, and it accomplishes that mission with an all-new turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. That engine makes just 128 hp, which it makes up for with a useful 156 lb-ft of torque that’s available at 1,400 rpm.
One constant throughout the South was the walls of endless green on either side of the highway. Miles and miles of bushes, vines, and trees frame the road, making everything in between just a little bit more beautiful. The scenery would change, of course, whenever we hit a major city, and each one on our route had its own unique flavor—and I’m not just talking about the food. For example, Birmingham is a former steel boomtown in the midst of a renaissance thanks in part to the sprawling medical complexes that blanket big portions of the downtown area.
Back on the road for the longest leg of the trip, we found the front seats comfortable enough for extended drives. The rear bench is comfy, too, offering ample legroom even behind my own seating position. Heated front seats come standard, but with temperatures reaching the high 80s, we didn’t have the opportunity to test them. I appreciated the 2017 Elantra’s more conservatively styled dash, which has been toned down from the last-gen model. The cabin design is simple and easy on the eyes, something you want if you’re spending many hours behind the wheel. For the most part, interior materials feel high-quality for this class. Most surfaces you regularly come in contact with are soft to the touch.
We drove through a big storm on the way to Memphis. Sheets of rain assaulted our windshield wipers and pooled on the asphalt ahead of us. This forced us to reduce speed, as did a strong headwind that noticeably slowed the car with each gust. But after what seemed like only a few moments, we were out of the storm and back on dry pavement. It was here that we noticed just how quiet the Elantra’s interior is. Tire and engine noise are both muted, and the ride is smooth for an economy car.
At last we arrived in Memphis. Driving in, it was at first hard to see what made the city so great. But with guidance from our cousin and Memphis native Bryan and some help from Apple CarPlay, we would later get a feel for what this town was about. The excitement was high as we approached Bryan’s midtown Memphis home. This would be the first time in two years that the three eldest Nishimoto cousins would be together and the first time ever on this side of the country. Although these reunions are few and far between, whenever we see each other, the years melt away and we become kids again, only with fewer hairpins poked into electrical sockets these days.
As we prepared to fly back to L.A., we reflected on all the food, sights, and people we encountered on the road. Our tour of the South was brief but eventful. We left with a better understanding of our cousin’s hometown and the region as a whole. That’s what road tripping is all about. And with a fuel-sipper like the Elantra Eco, you can see a lot more country per tank—and have longer discussions about dumb, useless super powers.