2020 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2020 Toyota Corolla: Compare Cars

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

Compact sedans like the Elantra and Corolla mostly form the role of commuter cars in American households, and they’re spacious enough to be family vehicles for those with smaller kids or pets to put in the back seat.

If your budget is tight, the 2020 Toyota Corolla and 2020 Hyundai Elantra are two of the best values on the market. They both have low prices and relatively low ownership costs, yet they offer a lot of features and a decent amount of comfort, plus much better gas mileage versus taller crossovers.

The Car Connection ratings point to a significant difference between these two models: The 2020 Toyota Corolla earns a rating of 6.7 out of 10, while the Elantra gets just a 5.8. Put simply, the Corolla holds a solid edge for safety and features.

Keep in mind there’s a completely redesigned 2021 Hyundai Elantra due later in 2020. The 2021 Elantra will be even more competitive against the Corolla with the introduction of an Elantra Hybrid model that promises more than 50 mpg combined. The Corolla Hybrid already slots in as a more “normal-looking” alternative to the Prius, with an EPA combined 52 mpg.

MORE: Read our 2020 Hyundai Elantra and 2020 Toyota Corolla full reviews

Style and performance

Both of these models are offered in sedan or hatchback forms, but Hyundai calls the hatch version the Elantra GT. The sedans are the popular picks—and thus the models we’re focusing on here.

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

You’ll find quite a range of differences between these two models from an aesthetic and styling standpoint. The Elantra sedan borrows quite a bit on the outside from the larger Sonata, and that tends to make this model look wider than it really is at first glance. With creased and sculpted sides, plus a slight upkick at the tail, there’s a lot going on in the Elantra’s design and while it does flow harmoniously as a whole, some might see the sheet metal as too busy. The Corolla is  less plain-looking this time around; the glass is a little steeper at the front and rear, the grille is more distinctive, and the LED headlamps look like a fish hook.

Inside, the Corolla attempts to combine the lower-set look that many modern sedans are adopting with a 7.0-inch touchscreen that stands tall, plus a more cockpit-like aesthetic, and the result can be polarizing—so check it out, as some don’t like how close their knees get to the dash. The materials—including a stitched panel up in front of the passenger—are a big upgrade over the hard plastics of past Corollas. The Elantra is quite different inside, with a more conventional, T-shaped dash that incorporates a 5.0- or 7.0-inch touchscreen more cleanly. It’s taller but feels like it leaves more space in front of the driver and passenger.

Both of these models don’t build in a whole lot of driving enjoyment—at least not in the frugal-sedan versions we’re focusing on here. The base 1.8-liter inline-4 in the Corolla sedan makes 139 horsepower and is quiet and smooth albeit on the sluggish side with the standard CVT. Upper-trim SE and XSE sedans get a 169-hp, 2.0-liter inline-4 that’s perkier but noisier. Most Elantra models come with a 147-hp, 2.0-liter inline-4 that’s quiet and reasonably quick with the CVT for everyday driving needs—although Eco and Sport models come with 1.4-liter and 1.6-liter turbo-4 engines, respectively, both with 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions. Otherwise the driving experience in both of these models is, to put a word to it: calm. Both models feel responsive enough in their most common, affordable versions; just don’t push it too hard.

Comfort, safety, and features

Cabin comfort is another area in which we’d put the 2020 Toyota Corolla a step ahead of the Elantra—mostly because of the Corolla’s excellent new front seats (long a demerit in previous version) and its much-upgraded materials inside. Although the Elantra is equipped slightly better, it feels more like a traditional, frugal compact car inside. Neither of these models keep road noise out of the cabin, though.

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

The steady progress of engineering improvement—and the Corolla’s completely new body structure—help make the Toyota the obvious choice of these two for anyone who prioritizes safety. While the Elantra gets a mix of safety scores, including subpar four-star ratings from the federal government, the Corolla has earned a five-star federal rating plus IIHS Top Safety Pick status.

Both models come with automatic emergency braking and active lane control. The Hyundai includes a driver attention warning system, while the Toyota gets standard adaptive cruise control and can be optioned with blind-spot monitoring.

Prices for the 2020 Hyundai Elantra sedan lineup span from $20,105 for the Elantra SE up to $24,955 for the Sport. The 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan runs from $20,555 for the base L to $26,505 for the XSE model.

The 2020 Hyundai Elantra comes reasonably well equipped in base SE form, which includes things like keyless entry, full power windows and locks, and a six-way adjustable driver’s seat. Its base 5.0-inch touchscreen is small by today’s standards; to make matters worse, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility aren’t offered until the SEL trim and its 7.0-inch touchscreen system. The SEL is the Elantra we’d recommend. 

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

The Corolla emerges a step ahead of the Elantra. In its base L form it starts slightly above $20,000 and includes standard Apple CarPlay compatibility and a 7.0-inch touchscreen system, but it doesn’t yet support Android Auto.  At nearly $25,000, the Corolla XLE is tempting as it elevates this compact car into something more, with wireless smartphone charging, an 800-watt, nine-speaker audio system, in-car wi-fi, a sunroof, and upgraded upholstery. The XLE or the Hybrid, with its high mileage and decent feature set, would be our recommended pick.

If frugality is the focus of your search, you’ll find quite good gas mileage in both of these models, with an EPA-rated 21 mpg city, 41 highway, and 35 combined from the 2020 Hyundai Elantra SE and 30 mpg city, 38 highway, 33 combined from the 2020 Toyota Corolla L.

For now, the Corolla’s our pick here. But with the new Elantra on the way, we might return with a very different take on who emerges the winner later in the year.

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