It’s a tussle between the 2021 Toyota Corolla and the 2021 Hyundai Elantra for big fuel-economy ratings—but which compact sedan wins over drivers once they’ve left the gas station? We have a verdict, but it goes without saying: your mileage may vary.
The Corolla has low-key appeal, with some interesting fillips and details and a well-organized cockpit that factors in big gauges and a big touchscreen across a wing-shaped dash. It’s not a showboat like the Hyundai. The Elantra’s folded and creased with origami precision, with a wasp waist and a diamond-patterned grille that look like a never-seen Bertone concept. The time capsule effect evaporates when it’s opened. The Elantra cockpit’s bland, unnecessarily divided side to side by a trim wall between front passengers, and finished in unextraordinary materials.
Performance is neither car’s trump card. Corollas come with a choice between base and higher-output models; we’re keen on the 121-hp hybrid because it’s thrash-free, shy on acceleration but generous with its 52-mpg EPA combined rating. It’s capable and innocuous, which can’t be said for the grousy 169-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 in SE and XSE Corollas. This Corolla’s learned some handling manners, too; the ride’s calm and bobble-free and the steering’s never overly heavy.
We’d recommend the Elantra Hybrid over the 147-hp base Elantra. It has better off-the-line responses and earns 54 mpg combined. Though the Elantra’s drive modes can fiddle with steering weight and drivetrain responses, we’d leave that for the 201-hp turbo-4 Elantra N—and save that for a future comparison with the Jetta GLI.