Behind Toyota and Volkswagen, Hyundai is now the world’s third largest automaker – a success heavily attributed to its popular lineup of affordable sedans.
Despite steadily increasing demand for the Tucson and Santa Fe SUVs, the Elantra and Sonata sedans remain Hyundai’s best-selling vehicles in the US. The Hyundai Elantra is a compact car with a rich history dating back to 1990, but the Hyundai Sonata, a bigger midsize sedan, goes right back to the manufacturers early days in 1985.
While size is the main distinguishing factor between these two legendary sedans, there’s a bit more to it than that. In this comparison, we’ll be digging deeper and looking at exactly what separates the two.
The Hyundai Sonata is a midsize sedan and thus slightly larger than the Hyundai Elantra, which is a compact sedan. Despite this, the Elantra manages to offer very comparable amounts of passenger and cargo space.
The Sonata costs $3,500-$4,800 more than the Elantra for comparable trims, a gap which increases further for the most premium trims.
As you would expect, the larger Sonata is sold at higher prices than the Elantra for comparable trims.
The base SE trim of the 2021 Elantra starts at $19,650, and the SEL has a starting price of $20,900. The Limited trim, with its voice recognition and reverse parking collision avoidance features, starts at $25,450.
The Sonata’s SE trim starts at $23,600, and the SEL starts at $25,700. The SEL Plus trim starts at $28,200 and features wireless device charging and Digital Key. The Limited trim, sporting a blind-spot view and surround view monitors, starts at $33,850.
Both sedans feature recently revamped designs which are attractive in their own right.
In its eighth generation since 2019, the larger Hyundai Sonata was one of the first models to sport the manufacturer’s latest design ethos. A more rounded body and a sloped roofline make it easily distinguishable from its dull predecessor. The car is truly stunning from every angle, with a futuristic, width-spanning tail light stealing the show.
The Hyundai Elantra was revamped more recently in 2021, when it entered its seventh generation. Hyundai doubled down on its eccentric approach to design, and the result is slightly more divisive. With an even bigger front-grille and stretched headlamps, the Elantra’s front-end looks like a robot shark. The rear-end looks suspiciously similar to the new Lexus IS, but that’s not a bad thing.
Overall, both sedans are attractive in similar ways. We personally give the Sonata the edge over the Sonata in this department, and it’s definitely helped by having a 9-inch advantage in length which makes it a sleeker sight on the road.
The Hyundai Elantra and Sonata interiors are almost identical, save for the Elantra’s dashboard spanning air vent which adds a touch of character.
The Elantra’s interior is considered one of the best for a car that costs less than $50,000. Hyundai went with a minimalist approach, making the passenger side free of clutter and generally more pleasant to sit in. An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment comes as standard, though most buyers will want to upgrade to the larger 10.3-inch option.
The Hyundai Sonata has an interior very comparable in design, and once again comes with an 8.0-inch infotainment system that can optionally be upgraded to a 10.3-inch one.
The Hyundai Sonata has higher overall performance specs than the Hyundai Elantra.
Comparing the Elantra’s 147 horsepower 2.0-liter base engine to the Sonata’s 191 horsepower 2.5-liter base engine is not apples to apples.
Beyond a horsepower advantage, the Sonata really benefits from having a more conventional 8-speed automatic transmission. The Elantra pairs its engine with a more efficient, but less pleasant to drive, continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The Sonata clearly has the advantage in the engine-acceleration department, but the compact Elantra is better able to handle sharper turns with a slightly smaller turning radius of 17.7 ft.
Neither sedan is fast, and those seeking a more thrilling drive would need to take a look at the N-line performance models which dramatically change the experience behind the wheel.
Passenger space and cargo volume
Both models can seat 5 people. The Sonata offers slightly more passenger and cargo room.
As you’d expect from the bigger car, there is more leg/shoulder/hip room in the front of the Sonata compared to the Elantra.
Surprisingly, the Elantra manages to offer 3 more inches of legroom in the back, though the Sonata does at least offer rear passengers more side-to-side wiggle room.
Regardless, both provide similar levels of comfort in the back seat for a medium-sized family to stay comfortable while riding.
Both cars offer plenty of space in the trunk. The Hyundai Sonata features a larger 16 cubic feet trunk which is just about as big as they get in its class. The Elantra offers 14.2 cubic feet of cargo volume which will still provide more than enough room for most purposes.
Technology and Features
Both cars feature similar technology options, though the Sonata has more optioned extras made available.
Both models feature trims with identical features, such as BlueLink, Apple CarTalk/Android Auto, Wi-Fi connectivity and Hyundai Digital Key that can unlock the car with your cellular device.
Features only available with the SEL trim of the Elantra include a Proximity Key with a push-button starter, and a hands free Smart Trunk feature, which automatically unlocks the trunk if it detects someone with full hands that may have difficulty opening on their own.
Sonata-exclusive perks include heated front seats on the SEL trim. The SEL Plus trim allows for wireless charging of devices, and the Limited trim features a surround view monitor and blind spot detection.
The Hyundai Elantra is more fuel efficient than the Hyundai Sonata.
The Elantra sports a combined fuel economy of 37 mpg (33 city, 43 highway) for the SE trim, and a combined economy of 35 mpg (31 City, 41 highway).
By comparison, the Sonata SE trim has a lower combined fuel economy of 32 mpg (28 city, 38 highway). The other trims don’t waver much from this as the SEL model is listed at a combined 31 mpg (27 city, 37 highway). The SEL Plus and Limited Sonata trims which feature the turbocharged V6 engine have a listed combined fuel economy of 30 MPG (27 city, 37 highway).
Comparing the performance N-line models as well as the hybrid variants, the compact Elantra continues to hold small advantages in fuel economy over the midsize Sonata.
Both cars offer plenty of safety features, but the Sonata gets additional knee and rear side impact airbags.
Both Hyundai models are rich in safety features, with things like Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist (BCA), Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist and Pedestrian Detection coming as standard.
The Sonata allows for Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA), Blind-Spot View Monitor (BVM) and Surround View Monitor. The availability of these features varies by trim type and aren’t available with the Elantra.
The Hyundai Sonata earned the highest possible 5-star overall safety rating in crash tests conducted by NHTSA. The new generation of Elantra’s are still undergoing testing, but if history is anything to go by, we’d expect similar results.
The Elantra competes with other popular compact cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. Meanwhile, the Sonata finds itself competing with the likes of the Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu.
Choosing between the Hyundai Elantra and Hyundai Sonata is not easy. While these kinds of decisions usually amount to whether or not you need a bigger car, the Elantra offers a very comparable amount of passenger and cargo room.
It’s extremely difficult to foresee any situations in which Elantra owners would be wishing they had gone for the slightly bigger Sonata.
Nevertheless, the Hyundai Sonata is the more luxurious offering overall, with a more responsive transmission and plusher cabin materials. The Elantra wins from a bang for the buck standpoint though, with a lower starting price and superior fuel efficiency.
Overall, both models are among the highest rated sedans in their respective classes, coming with generous warranties to boot. You can’t go wrong with either.
Related: Hyundai Accent vs Elantra