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2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited vs. Mazda3 S Grand Touring – Which Is Right For You?

Both the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited and Mazda3 S Grand Touring have lots to offer, but will appeal to buyers with different priorities.

The recently updated 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited will surprise buyers with luxury features not expected in the affordable compact car class. Its fuel economy will also drop some jaws. The Mazda3 S Grand Touring is likewise a standout in this same category. The Mazda3 feels like a premium car and has the engine and handling of a very sporty car. Both are winners, but we found they have very different personalities. Read on to discover which might be the one for you.

Interior: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited vs. Mazda3 S Grand Touring
We tested a Hyundai Elantra Limited with everything. Our tester had both the Technology and Ultimate packages and totaled $27,710 including the destination charges. Our tester’s gray exterior color is a wise choice for New England. Dark colors are covered in salt half the year. However, the gray interior was drab. Simply choose another interior is our suggestion. Size matters in the compact sedan class, so Hyundai wisely cheats. Its interior is so large the EPA calls it a midsize car.

Color aside, the 2017 Elantra’s interior is a huge leap ahead of the class. The perforated leather heated seats alone would be remarkable, but they are active seats too. When you turn off the car, the seat retracts for easier egress. Then, when you start it the next time, it moves you up into your previous setting. This is a feature we look for in upscale Lexus vehicles costing $50K, but here it is in a Hyundai.

Rather than price-match these two vehicles, we are using the top-spec for both. For the 2016 Mazda3*, that means the $29,230 Mazda3 S Grand Touring with the Technology Package. We skipped the $1,300 appearance package. This car is a looker without it, so why bother? Inside, the Black Mazda3s we have tested in the past reminded us of an Audi A3 in many ways.

The easy to use infotainment system is a joy to use in both of these vehicles. Hyundai’s simple touch-screen works well, but Mazda’s remote rotary mouse and volume knobs are equally simple and maybe a bit more upscale.

- Read a full review of the Mazda3 S Grand Touring

The most noteworthy luxury item in the Mazda3 S Grand Touring is the head-up display. This is not something we would expect in a car at this low price point. Similarly, the bending active headlamps that swing from side to side are a knockout. Hyundai has them too, so this leaves us with a tie. (More on page 2)

Safety and Fuel Economy Comparison- Hyundai Elantra Limited vs. Mazda3 S Grand Touring
Both the ’17 Elantra and ’16 Mazda3 offer forward collision prevention with emergency auto-braking. Both also have the popular safety systems that accompany this system and also adaptive cruise control. In its 2013 test, the Elantra only scored Acceptable on the small frontal overlap test, but the car has been updated since then. Let’s assume Elantra is going to score Good on its retest. Both of these cars are very safe for the class.

The Mazda3 S Grand Touring uses the larger, 2.5-liter engine in the Mazda family. With 184 hp, it is a very quick car. Our last tester would burn rubber in first and second if allowed to. We priced and would suggest to most buyers, the automatic version of the Mazda3, but a stick shift is available. The Hyundai's 1.6-liter engine only develops 147 hp. Average for this class, but not as punchy as the bigger Mazda engine. Smooth, quiet operation is the Hyundai vibe.

With its special fuel saving i-ELOOP regenerative braking technology, our example Mazda3 S would edge out the Hyundai by 1 MPG with a combined 33 MPG rating. Having said that, after a week of real-world testing, our 2017 Hyundai Elantra never went below 45 MPG in suburban and highway driving. Amazing. Both are outstanding cars with regard to fuel economy.

The Drive Comparison - 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited vs. Mazda3 S Grand Touring
Drive these cars back to back and one can easily feel the difference. The Mazda3 S Grand Touring feels quick. It is quick too. Above we suggested buyers might like the automatic transmission (based on our knowledge of the take rate of both). However, this car has one of the best stick shifts in any affordable sedan. If you want the stick shift, get it! The Hyundai feels more sedate, and it handles bumps a bit better.

Both are enjoyable, but the Mazda3 has the edge in smiles per mile. On the other hand, the Mazda3 is $1,500 more expensive. It really comes down to taste. Both of these vehicles are excellent cars in a class where all the cars are good.

*Note: The 2017 Mazda3 is not yet released.
Updated Note: One day after publishing this comparison Hyundai announced the 2017 Elantra Sport. That model will be a better comparison car to the Mazda3 S Grand Touring. We look forward to testing it.


David (not verified)    August 13, 2016 - 8:09PM

In reply to by racerx (not verified)

We've owned Hyundais since 2000. With hundreds of thousands of miles (literally), they have been as trouble-free as any cars could hope to be. There have been repairs, many covered under warranty, but nothing serious. That would be three Elantras, an Accent and a Sonata (just turned 123456 miles).

BogistJoeSr (not verified)    August 29, 2016 - 11:05AM

In reply to by racerx (not verified)

I too always believed the Hyundai to be junk from the factory but I personally bought a new 96 Accent that I Punished Daily with 1st-2nd redline power shifts, &2nd-3rd power shifts, trying hard to chirp the tires. Also 0-60 thrashing daily, redlined everyday for 125,000 mi, with no repairs needed "at all". I feel the need to tell all how incredibly resilient the accent is especially those who "drive like u stole it"

Gopal (not verified)    July 14, 2016 - 12:35PM

I just traded in my 2002 Elantra for a 2016 Mazda3 S-GT.

The Mazda isn't really as quick off the line as it's touted to be, in my opinion. If you're driving in city conditions, with a lot of stop and go, and the need to sprint across uncontrolled intersections with oncoming traffic, it is a bit lacking. At stop signs or traffic lights, you won't be the first car through the intersection unless you gun it like it's a race, and the other cars aren't paying attention.

On the highways and open roads is where you really see the power though. This car seems to be built for entering freeways from surface streets, and merging quickly into high speed traffic.

Another issue is that the hatchback seems to have some visibility issues with traffic approaching from the rear passenger side. It has side mirror warnings that beep when cross traffic approaches, but this can be confusing on crowded freeways with lots of cars that are going different speeds. You have to adjust the mirrors very carefully to eliminate blind spots.

The manual transmission also tends to be kind of jerky and lurching at low speeds. The Elantra stick was pretty underrated, and was good enough that I never actually thought about it while driving unless I drastically downshifted in a bad situation. The Mazda, by comparison, makes you think an extra move or two ahead in first or second, but is very responsive once you get into the 3-4-5-6 range.

John Goreham    July 14, 2016 - 2:23PM

In reply to by Gopal (not verified)

No argument here. Good analysis. I will say that I liked the Mazda3 S GT (2.5-liter stick) because I could use 2nd gear when I would do the slow roll at intersections. Many lower power cars required a shift to first, which is awkward. Your speed analysis is spot on. The Mazda3 2.5 GT is only quick by comparison to cars like the Corolla, and its peers. The new Civic turbo may be the real car to beat in this class. Thanks for the first-hand opinion.

David (not verified)    July 31, 2016 - 9:53AM

Mazda dues not support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, while the Hyundai does. This is a significant deficit and should give the infotainment win to the Hyundai for sure.

Jeff (not verified)    August 5, 2016 - 8:04PM

The Hyundai has a better warranty and creature comforts. The fuel economy is outstanding. That being said, the N-performance vehicle will likely be the vehicle to get although when it will be released is yet to be seen. With Biermann at Hyundai, performance is coming. Honda and Subaru are in serious trouble, because outside of driving dynamics, their vehicles are inferior in nearly every other aspect. And with Biermann in charge of performance at Hyundai, driving dynamics will advance considerably.

Mazda actually makes nice vehicles. It's very doubtful that they will be able to keep with Hyundai, however.

As much as I like the Elantra, my next vehicle will be an Ioniq. I just have to wait a little longer.