2011 Hyundai Elantra
As fundamental frugality in the form of fuel economy looms ever larger in the public’s motoring mind, compact cars are certain to grow their share of the market.
They offer consumers nearly as good a choice as mid-size sedans, although they deliver lower profits to the car companies than anything but subcompact economy cars.
Nevertheless, manufacturers cannot afford to give them short shrift. And, in fact, they are not doing so. The trend is in the opposite direction.
Bearing witness to this new reality is the 2011 edition of South Korea’s Hyundai Elantra, as satisfying and entertaining a family sedan as you can find. It has knockout good looks, a low price, features found on way more expensive cars and an engaging personality.It competes in the compact class, although by the government’s definition it is classified, just barely, as a mid-sized car. The Elantra has 110.4 cubic feet of interior volume, including the passenger area and the trunk, just over the EPA’s 110 cubic feet mid-size threshold.
As before, the Elantra competes against a slew of popular-priced compact sedans: Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Jetta.
Aside from what the Hyundai designers call wind-crafted styling—it looks like a smaller version of the acclaimed Sonata sedan—the most notable aspect of the Elantra is its EPA highway fuel economy rating of 40 miles to the gallon, which outstrips every other compact car and some subcompacts as well.
Real-world driving, still impressive, likely will be closer to the city rating of 29 or the combined number of 33 miles to the gallon with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic transmission.
Hyundai achieves that with a modern, mostly aluminum, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 148 horsepower with 131 foot-pounds of torque, or low-rev twisting force. The combination provides enough power in normal driving but struggles some on uphill runs.
Handling is competent, with good transient responses, and the Elantra corners flat without much body lean. The automatic transmission shifts cleanly and does a good job of figuring out the optimum gear for the situation and the engine’s power band. Highway running is serene with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.The real pleasure comes with the six-speed manual, which is as slick-shifting a stick as you’re likely to find anywhere. Clutch engagement is smooth and the experience could tempt some buyers to choose it over the automatic.
The problem is that the manual is available only on the base GLS model or the GLS with the popular equipment package, which shuts it out from some desirable options like alloy wheels, navigation, Bluetooth communications, a rear-view camera and automatic headlights.
On the other hand, the GLS starts out as a well-equipped car with full safety equipment, including traction and stability control, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, and tire pressure monitoring as well as antilock disc brakes on all four wheels with brake assist and brake-force distribution.
Standard equipment, except on the manual base model, also covers air conditioning, XM satellite radio, cruise control, USB and iPod input jacks, power windows, heated outside power mirrors, remote locking, tilt-and telescope steering wheel, and 60/40 fold-down rear seatbacks.
The test car was an automatic GLS with the preferred option package, which included alloy wheels, redundant steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth and lighted vanity mirrors. It had a base price of $17,800 and a sticker of $18,350 with the package. The upholstery is a sturdy and comfortable cloth.
Should you want to go all the way, the most you can spend on an Elantra is $22,110 for the top-of-the-line Limited model with navigation, perforated leather upholstery, motorized sunroof, heated front and rear seats, and 17-inch alloy wheels. However, the many amenities do not include automatic climate control or power seats.
The driver’s seat adjusts manually six ways, including height. There’s plenty of support and comfort up front for long-distance cruising, though not much lateral bolstering. But this, after all, is not a sports sedan that you would use to rapidly negotiate twisting mountain roads.The back seat has decent knee room for outboard passengers, though the head room is limited for all but humans less than about 5 feet 10 inches tall. As is usual in virtually every sedan on the market, the center-rear position is a hard, high perch that should be reserved for emergencies.
Out back, there’s an unusually generous trunk of nearly 15 cubic feet. However, the big C-hinges for the trunk lid are unprotected and could damage cargo.
The interior has a quality look and feel, anchored by a symmetrical dash. Instruments and controls are ergonomically correct. An unusual feature: interior pillars amalgamated of plastic mixed with volcanic rock and fibrous tissue that look and feel like cloth.
At the outset, the new Elantra is available only as a four-door sedan, although there were hints of other versions to come—perhaps including a GT hatchback. The Elantra Touring, a station wagon model, continues. But it is a completely different car from the new Elantra sedan.