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Hyundai Elantra SEL vs SE

1. Overview

1.2. Interior Features Both the SEL and SE models of the Elantra have similar interior features, once again something that benefits the consumer purchasing the cheaper model. A feature that is often neglected in vehicles of this class and price range is optimal interior space, however the Elantra boasts exceptional roominess for all occupants in the vehicle, particularly for those seated in the front. All Elantra models come equipped with premium cloth front and rear seats, and with heated front seats and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof available, comfortability remains of a high standard even for those not willing to splash the extra cash to upgrade to the higher-priced model. A 6-way adjustable driver's seat with both height and lumbar support and a steering wheel that is both telescopic and tilt adjustable make finding an ergonomic driving position a simple task, and with these features offering the same level of customizability in all Elantra models, drivers of all shapes and sizes can expect a comfortable driving experience.

1.1. Exterior Features Both the Elantra SEL and SE offer pretty much the same package, which is a good thing for those looking to buy the lower end model. One can expect to find that features such as tinted glass, 4-wheel independent suspension and multi-reflector headlamps come as standard for both models. And with the Elantra boasting an above-average performance score in comparison to its rivals, these often expected features are only a small piece of what gives the Elantra its edge. The newly designed front grille that Hyundai has implemented into the Elantra gives the vehicle an undeniably modern look that is sure to catch the eyes of passers-by. And with the addition of both rear lip and decklid spoilers and heated mirrors available as optional features, the Elantra remains sleek and stylish, yet still exudes an aura of potency.

When you begin to review the features offered within the 2018 Hyundai Elantra, one can easily get the impression that it is somewhat lacking in comparison with other vehicles in its class. However, when comparing the Hyundai Elantra SEL and SE models with the competition, you quickly find that what it lacks in flash, it more than makes up for with substance. And with the Hyundai Elantra SEL starting at just $20,850 MSRP, the Elantra offers real value to match the real content it possesses.

1.1. Exterior Features

Following suit with the SEL trim level, standard exterior features like the 2019 Elantra SE include 15-inch steel wheels, power side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, and headlights with daytime running lights (DRL). Though seen entering the market at less than $15,000, the Elantra SE is designed well from a safety perspective with the addition of a rearview camera and an automatic headlights function. Available in a package at the same price as a base SEL, the SE can be enhanced by adding a driver assistance package. This add-on costs only $1,000 and equips the Elantra SE with a level of driver confidence comparable to the confidence people have in their budget. Included in the package are many of the SEL's standard active safety features, only with the omission of Lane Keep Assist and Driver Attention Warning.

Standard exterior features for the 2019 Elantra SEL encompass 16-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a 7-inch touchscreen display audio system, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and automatic headlights. Some of our favorite driver assistance technologies also come standard with SEL trim, such as a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist. This feature has a powerful process that essentially guides the car to recover if it starts to leave its lane without signaling. For $1,150, a single optional package upgrades the SEL with two additional driver assists - an adaptive cruise control system with stop/start capability and automatic emergency braking. Automatic high beams, power sunroof, and the hands-free trunk release are also included with this package. The starting price for the 2018 Elantra SEL is $18,850 with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission.

1.2. Interior Features

All in all, the interior amenities on the SEL are a nice improvement over the SE, but they were not quite enough to make me choose the SEL over the SE. Step on up Elantra trim levels to check out each interior starting with the SE here.

Both trim levels come standard with power windows, power door locks, and a 3.5-inch mono TFT cluster display. Dual automatic temperature control with CleanAir Ionizer and Auto Defogging System is a feature exclusive to the SEL trim, as is the push button start with Proximity Key. The dual automatic climate control system is a nice feature to have, but not having leather seats as an option the price was too high for a college student like myself. The push button start is a nice touch, but is not necessarily a must-have feature on a vehicle like the Elantra.

The Elantra SEL offers an upgrade to the cloth interior in the form of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and the driver's seat gets upgraded to include a sliding armrest. Although the seats are the same as the SE's, the overall feel of the interior is a bit nicer.

The Hyundai Elantra SE has standard cloth seating surfaces, a 6-way adjustable driver's seat, and a 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback. The cloth interior isn't anything to brag about, but it is on par with the class. The driver's seat is quite comfortable, even on long drives, and the cabin as a whole is quite roomy.

2. Performance

Hyundai Elantra shoppers get a choice between two 4-cylinder engines. The base engine is a 2.0-liter coupled to a CVT automatic available in the SE ($17,985) and SEL ($20,035) models. This engine outputs 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, about average for a base engine in this segment. A 6-speed automatic is a $1000 option on the SEL. The Eco, Value, and Limited trims get a 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder connected to a 7-speed dual clutch automatic. This engine makes 128 horsepower but trounces the base engine with 156 lb-ft of torque at a low 1400 rpm. This helps the Eco, the lightest Elantra model, return the best fuel economy of the lineup at 32/40/35 mpg city/highway/combined. Handling is the most disappointing aspect of the Elantra. All models steer quickly thanks to a relatively responsive steering rack. However, body motions are poorly controlled and the car does not feel well planted on the road. This is especially true of the Eco model, riding on narrow, low rolling resistance tires to optimize fuel economy and the base SE, which lacks a rear sway bar. The sportiest Elantra is the Limited, equipped with a multi-link independent rear suspension. This still does not yield a comfortable or composed ride and is not a good enough upgrade from the budget models to make it a compelling compact sedan.

2.1. Engine Options

The Elantra SEL and Elantra SE both have different engines which are used. Consumers who are interested in the Elantra SEL will find that it has a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine. This type of engine pumps out 145 horsepower with 130 lbs of torque. Fuel economy is quite good for its horsepower. On the highway, it can get 38 MPG. For city drivers, it can get 29 MPG. Drivers who are looking for a bit more horsepower, the Elantra SE would be a better option for them. It has a 2.0L 4-cylinder DOHC 16-Valve with Dual CVVT engine. This engine will provide drivers with 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. This engine will not only provide a bit more power for drivers, it is still quite efficient. On the highway, the Elantra SE can get 38 MPG and 29 MPG for city drivers. In addition to information in regards to its engines, there is more value for consumers. The Elantra SEL gives an option to upgrade its engine and get a Elantra Sport which has a 1.6L 4-cylinder Turbo GDI engine. That engine would be a big change for any consumer, providing a significant power boost to 201 horsepower, with an increase in torque. This new engine is matched with a 22/30/25 (city/highway/combined) rating for automatic transmission models. The Elantra SE does not provide this option as it is only limited to the Elantra Sport Package. This may be an important factor to consumers who are interested in the Elantra SEL but are trying to find more power without having to upgrade to a new vehicle model.

2.2. Fuel Efficiency

During the fuel efficiency, the Elantra SEL achieves 28 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The Elantra SE achieves roughly the same figures. The standard 2.0L 4-cylinder Atkinson engine on the SEL and Value Edition trims are mated to an Intelligent Variable Transmission or a 6-speed automatic. One of the ways that the Elantra gets better fuel economy is through the use of an IVT. The SEL IVT will achieve 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. This is a couple of figures more than the same configuration on the Elantra SE. This achieves a fuel consumption rating that is significantly better than other cars in this brand. This would amount to a $200 difference in fuel cost over the period of a year assuming 15,000 miles driven and a $2.50 fuel cost. This compares to the Elantra SE with IVT at 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. The increase in fuel economy by trim level is also a selling point to consider for the SEL market. A case will definitely be made for this engine setup due to the significant gains in fuel efficiency. Overall, the Elantra SE and SEL will give you very similar fuel efficiency. This fuel cost data was taken from Automobile Magazine and you can view it through the provided link.

2.3. Handling and Suspension

Hyundai completely changed their handling and suspension between 2017 and 2018 in both the Elantra SEL and SE. They improved just about everything from the 2017 model. The 2017 model Elantra had body roll issues, where the 2018 version has a much sturdier, less top-heavy frame. In the 2017 Elantra SEL, there is a considerably less responsive steering system compared to the 2018 model. The 2017 Elantra has an elastic and dull steering feeling which Hyundai attempted to fix in the 2018 model by making massive improvements on steering response and on-center feel. The Elantra SEL has decent grip with its 16-inch wheels, however, the 2017 Elantra has weaker tire grip relative to other cars of its class. The Elantra SE handling has no drastic differences in both years. The Elantra SE of both years has similar steering capabilities. Both models have good on-center and straight-line steering though the Elantra SE will have a harder time with cornering due to its drum brake and torsion axle rear suspension. This is not to say that the handling is bad for the Elantra SE, it is just better suited for day-to-day commutes rather than a vehicle with lots of quick turns. The Elantra SE may have issues with the rear brake locking up while trying to perform a panic stop. This often plagues cars with drum brakes and it does not help the Elantra SE's braking capabilities.

3. Technology and Safety

Both the SEL and the SE trims are well equipped, but the SEL offers a few things the base model leaves out entirely. When it comes to technology, the SEL boasts a different stereo, voice recognition, and a 3.5-inch trip computer nestled in the gauge display. The biggest addition is a 7-inch Display Audio infotainment system that replaces the standard 5-inch system with second row USB input and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for seamless smartphone integration. The only way to get this system on the Elantra is to purchase an SEL with the Popular Equipment Package, which also adds a power driver seat with lumbar support, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and a hands-free trunk opener. This option package raises the MSRP to $20,050. In the technology department, the only other option for the SE is a trunk lid that automatically releases when the key is within three feet for more than three seconds. The SE can be equipped with a 4.3-inch color audio display with rearview camera integrated into the display. This option also includes Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition, steering wheel mounted controls, and a six-speaker audio system, though it's a steep addition that comes in the form of the Popular Equipment Package and raises the price by $1,300 over the base MSRP.

3.1. Infotainment System

It does mean at its core, the base infotainment does not have fewer features than the SEL infotainment, but the SEL infotainment is up to date with the standards for the modern-day driver, which means it outclasses the base infotainment. The Elantra SE infotainment comes with a 5-inch display and only 4 speakers. This system is not touchscreen, has no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It does, however, have a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines and is equipped with AM/FM/XM/HD radio and a Single Disc CD/MP3 Player. The Elantra SEL comes with an infotainment system with more bells and whistles. The SEL has an 8-inch display with 6 speakers. The system is also equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This infotainment system may lack the radio upgrade and CD Player, but the trade-off for the modern systems that most drivers use is worth it. CD Players and HD radio are starting to fade away, and easier user interfaces for drivers are becoming more prevalent. The base infotainment may excel in its radio system and provide an alternate means to CarPlay and Android Auto, but the SEL infotainment triumphs it in every other aspect.

3.2. Advanced Safety Features

The main differences between the SEL and SE trims are the addition of safety equipment on the SEL that isn't available on the SE. The SEL adds blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist. This could be a very important feature for some buyers given that the Elantra's rear visibility is somewhat compromised due to a very small back window and thick rear pillars. This is especially true for the blind spot detection, as there isn't really a situation in which it wouldn't be helpful for a driver approaching from behind in a faster vehicle. The rear cross-traffic alert is useful for when you are backing out of a parking space and a vehicle is approaching from the side, as it can be difficult to spot cross-traffic in a compact car. Lane change assist is just an added bonus on top of the blind spot detection, and can be very helpful for constant highway drivers.

3.3. Driver Assistance Systems

Both the Elantra SEL and SE offer a wide variety of driver assistance system features. Both offer blind spot detection, lane keeping assist, lane departure warnings, and the forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection. However, the SEL adds on the safe exit warning system (alerts you if a car is coming from behind before you exit the vehicle) and smart cruise control. These are some features not typically found on a compact vehicle but are becoming more and more standard as safety expectations increase. The safe exit system and smart cruise control are something I find extremely useful, and I am excited that Hyundai has brought these features to the compact car market. There have been many times I didn't change lanes because I wasn't sure if I had enough time to get in front of an approaching vehicle, and smart cruise control takes the stress out of longer drives and heavy traffic. These systems certainly make the SEL a very strong choice when it comes to picking between the two models.

4. Pricing and Options

Available Packages and Upgrades The SE has a Popular Equipment package which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, disc brakes, automatic headlight control, a rearview camera, a 6-speaker sound system with a 7-inch touchscreen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. This package also includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice controls, a microphone, and a rear USB charging port. The tech package is also an option for an SE and comes with heated mirrors, a hands-free trunk opener, dual-zone automatic climate control, a hybrid of leather and cloth upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, and a second 12V power outlet in the trunk.

The SEL comes significantly more equipped, featuring 16-inch alloy wheels, disc brakes, automatic headlights, heated side mirrors, a driver's blind spot mirror, automatic headlight control, rearview camera, and keyless entry and ignition. Inside, there's an all-new 3.5-inch cluster display, and unique to the SEL, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener. A driver will notice the tilt and telescoping steering wheel and the 6-way power driver seat, and the passenger will appreciate reclining rear seats. Both drivers and passengers will value the upgraded 6-speaker sound system with a 7-inch touchscreen interface.

Standard Features The SE comes equipped with basic features such as 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, full power accessories, a trip computer, a tilt-only steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, and a 6-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, and USB/iPod interface.

Pricing for the Elantra SEL begins at $20,350, around $2,000 more than the SE. Worth noting, the SEL does not come with the option to have a manual transmission, you're stuck with the six-speed auto. The SEL loses the previous generation's Plush trim, however, the Popular Equipment and Tech package take its place.

4.1. Standard Features

Standard features are designed to have a stronger value to the customer, as they should not leave them wanting more. There is one complete list of features for SEL and SE models. The comparison affects the desirability of features that the base model lacks. Dual automatic temperature control is standard for SEL, while air conditioning is standard for SE. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in both models. However, a 7-inch display audio system is included in the SE model, while the SEL model only includes a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. The lack of specification suggests that the SEL model lacks the basic AM/FM radio that comes standard within the SE model. Both models come with 6 speakers. The SEL model includes a 3.5-inch OLED cluster display, which outshines the orange LCD display in the SE model. Tilt and telescopic steering wheel is standard in both models, along with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. The SE model includes steering wheel-mounted cruise control and audio controls, as well as a 3.5-inch monochromatic cluster display. A 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback with adjustable head restraints and a center armrest with cupholders is included in both models. The SEL model increases safety for occupants with heated side mirrors and automatic headlight control, compared to manual control in the SE model. Lastly, the SEL model has a magnetic force automatic transmission, which is not available in the SE model.

4.2. Available Packages and Upgrades

Available packages and upgrades: SEL Tech Package (SE with Auto and both SEL with Auto), Value Edition Package (SEL with Auto), Eco/Popular Equipment Package (SEL with Auto). The SEL offers three optional packages. The Tech Package requires the addition of the automatic transmission, but brings a lot of great content for $2,500. It includes: blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist, proximity key with push button start, a hands-free smart trunk, dual automatic temperature control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass, a 7-inch display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and heated front seats. This provides some great creature comforts and advanced safety features that could be well worth the cost increase, given the other included content and the automatic transmission. The Value Edition Package requires the SEL to be equipped with the automatic transmission and costs $1,000. This package includes: a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, auto-up window for the driver, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a push button start with proximity key. This essentially adds a lot of comfort, luxury, and convenience features for a moderate price increase. Given the quality and usefulness of the content included in the package, it could certainly be a good purchase option for buyers who can afford the cost increase.

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