Is This "Eco?"

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra

Have we overused the word "Eco?"

Maybe it's me, but a lot of entities use this word in many, many ways. If I am correct, calling something "Eco" means it is supposed to be environmentally friendly and helpful towards making our world a better place for our children. That's wonderful and dandy, but I somehow fell it is bit overused for a lot of different things.

In terms of automobiles, we need to have this word bantered about because of impending changes to fuel economy and emissions control standards worldwide. In the USA, the upcoming revisions to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will tighten up for all manufacturers. Therefore, automakers are working on better ways to meet these new standards as much as possible.

Sometimes, the word "Eco" works. Sometimes, it doesn't. Then, there some redundancies. The newest Toyota Prius has a model called the Two Eco. Isn't the Prius "Eco" enough?

However, Hyundai figured out a way to use the word "eco" to its advantage. Two years ago, I drove the first "Eco" model from the Korean automaker – the 2015 Sonata Eco. The formula is simple: Add a smaller, turbocharged engine underneath the hood, mate it to a new seven-speed dual clutch transmission and get better fuel economy than any other engine available in the lineup. The result was a superb. So superb, Hyundai added an Eco model to its newest Tucson SUV.

For 2017, Hyundai added the Eco trim to the all-new Elantra compact sedan. The formula is similar, but with an all-new turbocharged engine that is even smaller than the one seen in the Sonata and Tucson. The result should be better fuel economy, right?

However, there is a point being missed. This is an all-new Elantra. This was the first Hyundai model presented to me for review by the manufacturer five years ago – the then-new Elantra sedan. For being an advanced design that is also occupant friendly and pretty efficient, it became the big success story for Hyundai in this country.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Now, we have the sixth generation of this successful compact sedan. Adding the Eco model is not the only thing that changed on the 2017 Hyundai Elantra. Has this and other changes made the Elantra a better car?

One look at the 2017 Elantra tells you that it is an evolutionary design. It is part of the design language called Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, which continues a lot of the themes from previous generation models and refines them for a larger audience. Not that the previous Elantra was a great design – that car alone sent a lot of manufacturers back to the drawing board. Yet, the new Elantra took the best elements from the last model and gave it some updates that still distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack. The front end now has a pronounced grille with softer lines and a more concentrated headlamp unit. The roofline looks the same, but the glasshouse was tweaked in the rear door with a fixed pane. Same goes with the rear end, which saw larger lighting units and a cleaner trunk lid.

One of the complaints about Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 has been about how "soft" Hyundai's design has gone. Granted, the sharper lines of the previous Elantra made it a stand-out success. The one argument I would make on the new Elantra would be that it would be seen as more modern and quite attractive.

On the Eco model, you get 15-inch alloy wheels with 195/65R15 Hankook Kinergy tires. One thing I found on Hyundai's Eco models is the use of smaller wheels with taller sidewalls. It is one way Hyundai believes that they can get better fuel economy by using this wheel/tire combination. It's not often that you see 15-inch tires/wheels in this class pretty often, though.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

The biggest change from the previous model is in the interior. Based on the current Sonata, gone are the extreme angle shapes seen on the previous Elantra. The entire instrument panel is straight forward with no gimmicks. You can call it conservative, but it actually works better with upgraded switchgear and readouts. That starts with an updated instrument binnacle, with a new TFT screen and a series of new infotainment touchscreens, matching the rest of the Hyundai lineup. The steering wheel is smaller, with a thicker rim.

The front seats are a different story. They appear to be smaller than before, especially with a tapered seatback. There is some bolstering in the cushion and seatback. Rear seat room has improved with better leg and headroom than the previous generation. In the Eco, they use a cloth upholstery similar to the SE model. It is fine to the touch.

Also in the Eco, you do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which the latter works very well with the infotainment system. There is also Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio and SiriusXM onboard in the Eco. What you do not get is BlueLink, Hyundai's telematics suite. If you want BlueLink, you will have to select the Limited model. At least there is a good set of six speakers filling the cabin with sound.

If you chose the SE or Limited model, your engine is now upgraded to a naturally aspirated 147-horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder unit. In this Eco tester is an all-new 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Compared to the larger engine, power is down to 128 horsepower. You do get a lot more torque with 156 pound-feet on the low end. The smaller Eco engine is rather lively, even with Stop-Start technology ensuring the longevity of the engine and better fuel consumption. There is some turbo lag when starting on passing or onramp maneuvers – especially from a slower speed or full stop.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

The only transmission for the Eco is Hyundai's 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It eventually sends power down to the front wheels. In all, this combination yielded a fuel consumption average of 35.4 MPG.

The previous Elantra combined good road manners with its balanced ride and solid handling. The ride is certainly smooth and absorbent over bad road surfaces. Yet, there is some lean, roll and dive in the standard suspension set for the Eco. The best way to describe its cornering and handling characteristics is soft – pretty soft.

The same is said about the steering feel in normal and Eco modes. On-center feel is very soft and it shows in its steering action. The steering action is quite vague overall. However, if you put the drive mode into Sport, the steering feel becomes heavier and there is an improvement in on-center feel and action. Braking power is decent, although pedal feel feels pretty soft. Stopping is OK in both normal and panic situations.

On the Elantra Eco, you do get blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, a rearview camera and cross-traffic alert – all standard.

The 2017 Elantra lineup starts off with a basic SE model. The base price of that sedan is $17,150 equipped with a manual transmission. This Eco came with no options along with a sticker price of $21,485. In fact, there are no options available on the Eco model. If you must have all of the bells and whistles, a loaded Limited with the 2.0 liter engine will set you back $27,585.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Perhaps it was good that I got to review the Elantra Eco instead of a Limited that would cost someone another $6,100 more. The reason is simple: Value! Granted, a compact sedan over $20,000 is not exactly considered a value to most people's eyes. Let's be real for a moment. For what you get in the Elantra Eco, along with more low end torque, a dual-clutch transmission, some active safety features and the potential of great fuel economy – this is truly a good value.

The Eco name does live up to its billing on several fronts. It shows how much people want an efficient car to get them to work, shopping and to enjoy life. If one wants to fulfill their want of being friendly to the environment and to save money at the gas pump, this 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco is worth considering.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America

All photos by Randy Stern

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