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.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

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.

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

Both the Corolla and the Elantra are rated to seat five passengers, but the Corolla does a better job of it. Hybrids have especially good front seats, and all passengers have ample head and leg room, though a fifth passenger is a squeeze. The Elantra’s seats feel thinner, and head room is less generous. Both cars have usefully sized and shaped trunks, and both leave us wondering about the need for the next-larger sedans in their respective lineups.

Safety gear’s exemplary on both the Elantra and Corolla: both have standard automatic emergency braking, but the Corolla also gets standard adaptive cruise control and active lane control. It’s earned excellent crash-test scores from both the NHTSA and the IIHS; the Elantra’s waiting for its date on the test sled.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Prices start around $20,000 for either car, but we think both excel in Hybrid trim. The $24,580 2021 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power features, and cloth upholstery. The $24,545 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL Hybrid has similar features, with wireless infotainment compatibility.

The latest Corolla buffs Toyota’s small-sedan credentials with absurdly good value, especially in hybrid trim. We gave it a TCC Rating of 6.7 out of 10, and it won our Best Economy Car To Buy 2020 thanks to stellar gas mileage and strong safety ratings.

This year we gave the 2021 Elantra a TCC Rating of 6.6 out of 10 and named it our Best Economy Car To Buy 2021, thanks to superior features and fuel economy—and likely, a higher TCC Rating once crash-test scores are in. Either car’s a high-efficiency commuter with exceptional gas mileage; the Elantra simply does with high style.

Summary

Styling

Performance

Comfort & Quality

Safety

Features

Fuel Economy

MSRP

Invoice

Fuel Economy – Combined City and Highway

Engine

Drivetrain




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