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Hyundai Elantra Sel vs. Limited

1. Overview

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, you may have noticed the incredible advancements made in car manufacturing over the past decades. One company that has been able to keep up with and even surpass these advancements is Hyundai. Their modern vehicle safety, conveniences, and array of models are changing the way we look at vehicles. The Elantra is a model that has been a staple of Hyundai since its launch in 1990. Even with its initial concept, the Elantra has changed the way compact cars are seen. Whether you're a student going to school, a business professional, or a family in need of a second car, the Elantra has always had something to offer. Now, stop imagining yourself in a reliable vehicle because we are going to compare two of the best: the Elantra SEL and the Elantra Limited. Starting off, the SEL and Limited show off the new face of Hyundai vehicles. Both vehicles have a dynamic front grille and LED daytime running lights, but similarities end there. The SEL shows off 16-inch alloy wheels and heated mirrors, while the Limited takes it a bit further with 17-inch alloy wheels and a hands-free smart trunk. Although the latter of the two vehicles seems to have the booty, the average consumer would be more than pleased with how the SEL presents itself from the exterior. Heated mirrors offer a quick defrost when in a rush, LED lights not only look nice but can improve visibility, and alloy wheels are definitely a few steps up from the standard steel wheels most cars come with. Either way, the SEL and Limited are sure to make a great first impression on anyone walking up to it.

1.1. Exterior Features

Turn heads with the 2019 Hyundai Elantra sedan's new cascading front grille and restyled wheels on a redesigned chassis with the SEL trim level. Upgrade to the Limited for access to a power sunroof to bask in the sun in style or let the sun in during your everyday commute with another touch of sunshine from LED tail lights on both trim levels. It already has the looks, now make a statement with the SEL trim's heated side mirrors and a new SEL tech package. Anxious about winter? No need, with heated mirrors for a quick de-ice and heated front seats to keep you warm and comfortable for your drive. The new tech package brings blind-spot detection with a rear cross-traffic alert for extra driver safety and convenience to your daily drive, with proximity key and push-button start. Step it up a notch with the Elantra Limited for added LED lighting for door handle approach and interior lighting, dual automatic temperature control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal home security system for the ultimate driving comfort and interior sophistication at an affordable price. (Martoma & Kabala, 2023)(Deng et al.2020)(Nair, 2023)

1.2. Interior Features

Hyundai Elantra SEL The Elantra SEL comes with convenient features like hands-free smart trunk, automatic headlight control, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and many more features. It also has heated side mirrors, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, and side repeater exterior mirrors that help in alerting drivers in the adjacent lanes to switch or pass. Hands-free smart trunk adds convenience when the driver has his hands full by simply standing within 3 feet of the trunk with the key for more than 3 seconds to open the trunk. This makes it very easy to load and unload the vehicle after doing groceries, shopping, etc. Automatic headlight control not only adds the convenience of never having to switch the headlights on or off in varying light, impromptu tunnel or night driving situations by sensing the external light level, but also remembers to turn it off when ignition is off to conserve battery power. Blind spot detection with rear-cross traffic alert is really helpful as it warns the driver with an audio and visual alert when it senses another vehicle in the driver's blind spot by using the turn signal and also helps when the vehicle is in reverse by sensing a vehicle approaching from the side. It warns the driver with similar alerts when the vehicle is detected. The SEL model also includes a feature in the side mirrors that lights up with a small arrow when a vehicle is detected in the blind spots. The SEL has dual automatic temperature control which some people may prefer, however, the limited version still has a single zone control. Both versions of the Elantra have a 7-inch display audio system; however, only the limited version has an integrated navigation as part of the system. The SEL has a complimentary 3-month trial for SiriusXM satellite audio and limited traffic. This, along with the unlimited music trial offered on the Hyundai Elantra, can be a good selling point for those who enjoy listening to music. Both versions of the Elantra also have a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines which helps with visibility while parking in reverse and better accuracy in estimating the vehicle's path.

1.3. Performance

The engine of the SEL has a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque. This engine gets about 28/37 mpg for the city and the highway. It has a 6-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC. The Limited engine has a more powerful 1.4L Turbo-GDI 4-cylinder engine with 128 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. Despite the reduction in horsepower, this engine generates 32/40 mpg for the city and highway. With an EcoShift 7-speed dual clutch transmission, your average driving experience is greatly increased with smoother, faster shifting akin to that of a manual transmission without the need to engage a clutch pedal. Both models have an improved turning radius with motor-driven power steering columns, which provides better handling and turning radius on tight city corners. For drivers that need more power for steep inclines or towing capabilities, neither model is particularly great in this regard, although the SEL Ultimate model comes with a 1.6L Turbo GDI engine, independent multilink rear suspension, and a more responsive transmission with SHIFTRONIC, but these are not available features on the Limited model.

2. Comparison of SEL and Limited

Both the SEL and Limited trims offer a fantastic driving experience; however, an important part of the decision-making process is seeing what separates the two from each other. The base level SEL has an MSRP of $18,850, while the Limited is at a higher $22,100. The price difference affects what each model has to offer and what it comes with. The SEL Limited comes in 4 default colors, with three more to choose from. Limited, however, offers all of these choices with an extra $100 for the car buyer. Both the Limited and the SEL provide leather interior, but only the Limited comes with the choice of getting a black leather interior. The SEL model gives the same feel inside the car, but it provides quite a knockdown from Limited with a chrome finish only on the inside door handle on the driver and passenger side. It doesn't stop there; the Limited trim has a power sunroof and an automatic dimming rearview compass mirror with Homelink and a hidden antenna. Other additions include a windshield shade band and 17" alloy wheels with 215/45R17 tires. The aspect of technology does not differ too much between the SEL and Limited models; however, for the extra price, the Limited model offers a few extra luxuries. Both models have the same 172-watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers and iPod/USB/auxiliary input jacks to hook up your phone and MP3 player. The SEL model has the provision of a Popular Equipment Package, but it only matches up to what the Limited model already has. The only real significant upgrade for the SEL model is the availability of a navigation system. This said, the Limited model has the feature of an available "ultimate" navigation system, which is a 7" touch screen that bird's eye view, a rear back-up camera, and a 360-watt premium audio system with an external amplifier. Both the SEL and Limited trims provide the same feel from the drive of the car and the comfort of the seats, with heated seats only available in the limited model.

2.1. Price and Trim Levels

Compared to the SEL, the Elantra Limited has a higher price. The starting price of the 2020 Elantra Limited is $22,100. This price is also more expensive than the predecessor 2019 Elantra Limited which has a starting price of $22,100. So there is no price change for the base model of both series. The limited model has a more complete standard equipment compared to the SEL. With the extra $2,450 compared to the SEL, the Elantra radiates a more luxurious feeling with additional standard equipment such as the hands-free smart trunk release, leather seating surfaces, power driver seat (with lumbar support), and an Infinity Premium Audio with Clari-Fi Music Restoration technology.

Both the Hyundai Elantra SEL and Limited have different prices and trims. The SEL has a cheaper price than the Limited. The Elantra SEL is the base model with a starting price of $19,650. Compared to the predecessor 2019 Elantra SEL, it is more expensive than the 2019 Elantra SEL which has a starting price of $19,400. The Elantra SEL has standard equipment such as 16-inch alloy wheels, drive mode select, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, automatic on/off headlamp, and front grille with chrome belt. The Elantra SEL has three standard equipment losses that have been removed from the predecessor: the rear disc brake, the disposable trunk cover, and the external temperature display. The new 2020 Hyundai Elantra SEL is powered by a 147-hp Atkinson inline 4-cylinder engine and delivers its power to the front wheels via a Smartstream Intelligent Variable Transmission.

2.2. Technology and Infotainment

The most significant difference between the two trims is that this is the only package where the more advanced safety feature is available, being Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection. This function uses a front-mounted radar and camera to monitor a vehicle's proximity to the one ahead; the system will warn the driver of a potential collision and if the driver does not react, the system will automatically apply the brakes. Given the rate that this technology is becoming more advanced and popular on new vehicles, it is without a doubt that in one or two years' time, the best value for a new car buyer will be the one equipped with this safety feature. This is something to keep in mind for a consumer in the market for a new Elantra. In a sense, this is the only technology the Limited does better than the SEL because every other function is also available with the SEL Tech Package.

The SEL features a basic infotainment system with a 7.0-inch display audio touch-screen and rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. It also has the standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition. Above the base level, this package is also equipped with Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist. It ensures that it is sufficiently equipped for a driver to operate their smartphone through voice commands, which should be a primary objective for safety. Despite this, there is a lot of value in the added safety features and the SEL technology would be more than enough for some consumers. On the other hand, the Limited model steps up the technology game to another level. It features an integrated memory system for the driver seat and outside mirrors. The dual automatic temperature control is a comfort feature, although it can also be categorized under technology. The 7.0-inch Display Audio system is an improved version of the SEL system that offers smartphone integration. The Limited takes a step further by offering a larger 8.0-inch navigation system. An auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass is a small feature that does not go unnoticed, and one that is rare in compact sedans in this price range.

The 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL and Limited models both offer a high level of technology and infotainment, and it is undoubted that anyone who values these two things will be satisfied buying one of these sedans. With that said, there are significant differences between the two trims when it comes to what is offered. The SEL is a more modest package that comes with a lower price point, and the technology and infotainment match that description. In comparison, the Limited is loaded with the latest gadgets and it clearly shows.

2.3. Safety Features

The SEL and Limited share the same safety features and the same advanced headlight technology, but there's something that sets them apart. The Limited offers Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection while the SEL does not. While both models received high safety ratings, the Limited is a bit safer with the added AEB as insurance qualifies it as a Top Safety Pick. The AEB feature predictably earns ratings of superior for the vehicle-to-pedestrian test and advanced for the vehicle-to-vehicle test. The SEL and Limited models both come standard with Forward Collision Avoidance, Lane Keeping Assist, and Driver Attention Warning. With the exception of the AEB feature, these vehicles offer identical safety features for both models. Both vehicles have many standard safety features and great safety ratings. However, the Limited comes out on top in terms of safety as it offers the AEB feature. With a price difference of only $350, insurance savings, peace of mind, and potentially saving a life with AEB, it may be worth your time to consider the Limited as the better option if safety is your priority.

2.4. Comfort and Convenience

In terms of personalized convenience, the SEL has a steering wheel with tilt/telescopic function and a 6-way adjustable seat for the driver. The Limited steps up the convenience game with a steering wheel that has a tilt/telescopic function and a leather wrapping with audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls embedded into it. Simultaneously, the Limited rewards the driver with an 8-way power adjustable seat to emphasize the luxury experience. Both models have power windows with driver auto up/down and power door locks, and power heated side mirrors, but the Limited mirrors have integrated turn signal indicators.

The Limited comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, which is an upgrade from the SEL's single-zone automatic climate control. This system allows the driver and the front passenger to set differing temperature levels. The Limited also has an auto-dimming rearview mirror that has a built-in universal garage door opener on it, as an upgrade from the manual day/night rearview mirror on the SEL. The Limited comes with an adjustable headrest for the front passenger seat, which is not available on the SEL. Both SEL and Limited come with a rear center armrest with cupholders, which is adequate when adjusting passengers' seating comfort.

3. Pros and Cons

The SEL might be an entry-level model, but it doesn't look like it inside, thanks to the more subdued hood, modern air intake style, and simple (rather than aggressive) front-end styling. The base SE features projector headlights, while the SEL kicks it up a notch with LED daytime running lights and taillights, and even makes optional LED headlamps available. There's a chrome grille and beltline molding, which also gives it a step up in appearance, and the wheels, while the same size as those on the Elantra Limited, are alloy in place of steel. The SEL also offers one touch up/down on the driver's window, proximity key with keyless entry and push button start, and a larger 7" display audio system compared to the SE, which is only equipped with a standard 4.2" color audio screen. The base SEL MSRP is slightly higher than the SE, but with the additional features mentioned it is a great value. The Elantra Limited then further adds onto the SEL's new tech and safety features by offering a hands-free smart (auto open) trunk, power driver's seat, leather seating surfaces, and a dual automatic temperature control system with clean air ionizer and auto defogging system. The limited also has 17" alloy wheels with an option to upgrade to 17" or 18" alloy, LED door handle approach lights, side-mirror turn signal indicators, and a standard power tilt-and-slide sunroof. The bigger infotainment screen and speaker upgrade is a plus on the limited, and so is the wireless charging pad with device cooling function. This trim is the Elantra fully loaded, as it packs all of the additional features of the SEL and unlimited package together.

3.1. Pros of SEL

It is the best seller for a reason! The SEL offers an exceptional amount of value in the Elantra Line-up, providing a significant number of additional features over the entry level SE. First and foremost, the SEL is the cheapest trim level to get Elantra with the Tech Package, which includes a larger 7-inch touch screen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, turn signals in the side mirrors, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and a hands-free trunk. The Tech Package is only available on the Value Edition trim of the Elantra. Other key features of the SEL over the SE include 16-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, a 3.5-inch TFT monochromatic cluster display, dual automatic temperature control, a proximity key with push button start, and a hidden compartment in the trunk. Finally, the SEL offers a wider variety of colors over the base model, so for those that have a particular color in mind should look to beginning their search here. All of these additional features come at an MSRP of $20,300 for the 2018 model, making it still extremely competitive in terms of value over the rest of the compact car market.

3.2. Cons of SEL

The cons are a bit more numerous and a bit more noticeable. The most prevalent complaint lodged against the Elantra SEL was the transmission. This particular auto has a drive mode select that defaults to normal upon every key cycle. Many people feel that the transmission shift points are too high in this mode and that it could be programmed better. We tried one with the drive mode select disconnected and it actually did make a noticeable difference for the better. Also, some people experienced a poor shift between 2nd and 3rd gear, which could be solved with a TSB for a solenoid replacement. On the plus side, the SEL actually gets the brand new 2.0 Nu MPI engine. The 1.8 Nu engine that replaced the Beta II engine and is used in the Elantra Touring, Tucson, and various Kia and Hyundais is a decent engine, however, it is known for having a very audible tick, which is actually considered normal on these powerplants. The new 2.0 has been reportedly having fewer ticks develop at higher mileage and is theoretically more durable, although it is too early to prove that in a practical setting. Another concern was interior wear. Many people have reported that the cloth seats wore very prematurely, particularly the area where one would slide from the rear seat to the front. This could be minimized by avoiding the color tan, and many people have avoided this with a common preference for the black-colored cloth seats. Availability in the lower trims of the Elantra was another concern, most noticeably for those looking for the sedan with a manual transmission. An Elantra SE sedan with a 6-speed auto is a great car for the price; however, if you wanted this particular transmission in a sedan, the SEL would be the only way to get it, not making the selling price of a few grand more worth it when compared to the SE. Lastly, the tires on the SEL are brand new and thus have limited available options until more tires are produced. The OEM Kumho Solus TA31 tire also does not have the most stellar reviews.

3.3. Pros of Limited

Limited trim of Hyundai Elantra has many great things that I like. First of all, I will mention the classic interior design that is different from the SEL trim in a good way. It gives a luxury look that SEL trim, which is more casual and modern look, doesn't have. The leather seats and the front seat heating with power driver seat make the interior look better and more comfortable. Also, the memory system for 2 driver's seat and side mirrors is a very useful feature. The windshield wiper de-icer is a unique feature that I never imagined before, but it is a really good feature. This feature is useful to melt ice under the wiper to ensure the wiper can clean the windshield. The sunroof and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are a nice add too. Limited trim has dual automatic temperature control which SEL trim doesn't have, and it also has no fog light instead of the standard light bulb in SEL trim. Safety features which are Lane Keep Assist, Rearview camera with dynamic parking guideline, and Smart Cruise control with stop/go are available on both SEL and Limited trims, but the Limited trim has Forward Collision Avoidance Assist which will apply automatic brake if necessary. This feature is only available on Limited trim. This is because Smart cruise control with stop/go is an adaptive cruise control which means the car will automatically accelerate and decelerate to set speed and to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you until it stops, so the collision avoidance assist is needed to support this feature. The automatic brake isn't available on SEL model because ELANTRA has a standard feature of Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) with Pedestrian Detection that has the same function. The automatic brake itself is a default feature in every ELANTRA trim, but in Limited trim, the FCA system is an improved version with the pedestrian detection from the standard FCA system. The last one is the entertainment system. The standard 6-speaker system is available on both trims, but Limited trim has a special feature which is an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system. The interface is more user-friendly with a bigger screen, better resolution, and the navigation is very easy to understand. This navigation system is better than SEL trim that has a general navigation feature in a smartphone with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The radio system is also improved with better sound and Clari-fi music restoration technologies, making the music sound more tonal than the original sound.

3.4. Cons of Limited

Last but not least, the Limited model has no storage compartment beneath the audio system, missing the chance to include a very convenient storage space. Ankle and feet storage space is also limited as the accelerator and footrest pedals are now positioned farther away. Not exactly a positive ergonomic change.

The power driver's seat does have an adjustable lumbar support which is great, however many are disappointed that the Limited model seat only has a 6-way seat adjustment as opposed to the 8-way adjustment of the SEL model. The Limited model seat lacks a seat cushion tilt adjustment and has to manually adjust the seat back angle. These last two points are very important to the less than average height driver.

As with any vehicle, there are a few downsides to the Limited version of the Elantra. The Limited model includes a "one touch up" power window feature, however it does not have a "one touch down" feature for the driver. The driver's window control button also lacks an automatic feature allowing the power window to be raised by simply pushing the control button up for a few seconds.

4. Conclusion

Now that you have all the information on what makes the Hyundai Elantra SEL and Limited different, it comes down to what you are looking for in a sedan. The SEL model could be a good option if you want to save money and you are not as concerned with the luxury features that the Limited model offers. At a lower MSRP, plus reducing the cost to the options package, you could save a significant amount of your hard earned money. This would be a great option for a college student, or someone buying the vehicle purely for transportation and does not spend extended periods of time in it. Also, with the money you save, you can go into the aftermarket industry and get similar options for a lesser cost. However, if you want the full package, and are looking for comfort and luxury in a vehicle, the Limited model is the way to go. The long term value of the vehicle will have minimal difference, so going with the SEL model doesn't exactly give a whole lot of incentive to resell for the Limited model. Because of this, based on what you are looking for in a car to how it can affect you financially, both cars have a lot to give.


Martoma, A. & Kabala, Z. (2023). Drag on Passenger Cars: Computational Fluid Dynamics Analysis of 2D Body Design Using ANSYS Fluent. preprints.org

Deng, Y., Sprowls, M., Mora, S. J., Kulick, D., Tao, N., Destaillats, H., & Forzani, E. (2020). An unobstructive sensing method for indoor air quality optimization and metabolic assessment within vehicles. Sensors, 20(24), 7202. mdpi.com

Nair, V. U. (2023). Smart car hacking: a threat to the rising automotive industry. dbs.ie

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