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2011 Hyundai Elantra - New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader February 2011

The 2011 Hyundai Elantra is an all-new incarnation for the compact sedan class, apart from the fact that it has such a lot of passenger space it can rival cars from the next category up. One more important thing: it can make a gallon of gasoline stretch for 40 miles. That’s the best figure in its segment. And not as some dedicated economy package, but in every trim level. “We don’t believe our customers should pay extra for superior fuel economy” is Hyundai’s philosophy.

They won’t be paying much at all, by the usual standards. The 2011 Elantra starts at $15,550 (including destination charges) for a version with a six-speed manual transmission. That also buys air conditioning, a decent stereo, power windows and mirrors, six airbags, ABS brakes and that cool little shark-fin antenna on the roof. If anyone is thinking of downsizing their vehicle, but hasn’t yet been able to bite the bullet because they really like their space and amenities, this car could be the tipping point.

Contained and comforting

The dashboard looks pleasant enough – a sharp design with useful ergonomics. All the switches and controls feel substantial, while the seats make a decent attempt at keeping your backside comfortable. In a nod to eco-warriors, the foam in these seats is made from a soy-based compound, although all the cabin materials are more than acceptable at this price level.

Adjusting for an ideal driving position is easy and quick, while all-round visibility is good. The company claims best-in-class space for front occupants. Certainly a six-foot-five person can be comfortable and rear passenger space doesn’t suffer as a result – except for somewhat limited headroom as the roof sweeps down at the back. Trunk space is similarly accommodating, augmented by split/fold rear seats.

Speaking of stowage, Hyundai has paid particular attention to offering plenty of usable capacity in the center console and glove box. Other conveniences include a 12-volt outlet and keyless entry, plus the availability of heated rear seats (currently unique among the compact scene) and a seven-inch screen for navigation and as a monitor for the reversing camera.

Hyundai is also proud of the low noise levels in the cabin. That’s a less verifiable claim. The car employs low rolling resistance tires as part of its approach to fuel economy and these tend to make a drone that is more noticeable on some surfaces than others. But wind and engine noise barely register in normal circumstances.

Clean and classy

Hyundai’s research has found that many people make fuel economy the prime factor for choosing a car, to the detriment of styling and space. Having the space as mentioned above can’t hurt. And sporting a little style can surely sweeten the deal.

Like the popular Sonata, the 2011 Elantra enjoys the fruits of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” approach to exterior design (from the company’s California studios). It’s easy to tell the two cars come from the same family. That’s no bad thing; this model is light years away from the awkward previous generation. These sleek looks also help the car’s aerodynamic abilities, even down to the shape of the tail lights, which in turn contribute to that magic 40 mpg figure.

Composed and calming

To drive the Elantra is to experience a mix of power, comfort and frugality. It really is quite a feat to make a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, endow it with a respectable 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, yet get it to return 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

There are many aspects to this. Variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, and a lightweight aluminum engine head and block are some of the under-hood factors. Hyundai also makes its own steel, so it can create a structure rigid enough to satisfy the demands of crash tests, yet light enough not to over-strain the engine. This generation is 62 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but 37 percent stiffer.

Maximum muscle is also accessed further around the engine’s tachometer (peak power at 6,500 rpm, peak torque at 4,700 rpm), where folk venture less often. It’s not the sweetest engine note when revved hard, but not as coarse-sounding as Hyundai engines of old. In any case, there’s a useful amount of push for most situations.

Even suspension components are lighter. And in a stiffer body, they are easier to calibrate. It’s just that they have been tuned for the non-enthusiast. Not that the car feels sloppy, but there is no incentive to start attacking corners. With the slightest provocation, the nose of this front-drive car will wash wide and the electronic stability control (standard throughout the range) reduces engine power almost immediately.

And then there’s the steering. This system has electric assistance – great for not leeching power from the engine, not so good for tactile information. Here, the steering seems muted for a small . While the rest of the vehicle feels quite well planted and balanced, the steering is too numb and too light to please anyone who likes to indulge in a little spirited driving from time to time.

Even so, the brakes – discs at each corner – are excellent, the six-speed manual transmission is slick in its operation and the six-speed automatic transmission swaps between ratios more or less imperceptibly.

Competitive candidates

This class already has some great cars, so competition is brisk to the point of brutal.

Although Honda is readying a new generation of Civic, the current 2011 version is still in the United States’ top 10 best-selling compacts. Build quality, reliability and low running costs all work in its favor. Pricing starts from $15,805 and the 140-hp version returns 26/34 mpg.

There is no denying the Toyota Corolla’s popularity. Now in its 10th generation, it is one of the world’s best-selling cars. Which goes to show that more drivers care about reliability than cornering ability – so the Elantra can be just as serious a contender for the mass market. The 2011 Corolla has 132 hp, gets 26/34 mpg and costs from $15,600.

For more poise, the 2011 Mazda3 makes a fine choice. It has a chassis to please the partisan and pragmatist alike, plus an interior good enough to be mistaken for German. An entry-level price of $15,800 scores 148 hp and 25/33 mpg.

New on the scene is the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze with spaciousness, 10 airbags and OnStar going for it. The basic LS returns 22/35 mpg, but gives away 12 hp to the Elantra while costing from $16,275.

Sadly, the most interesting contender – which could have the broadest appeal – has yet to hit the streets: the 2012 Ford Focus. Keep an eye on this one in the spring.

Money and fuel economy are not the only areas where the 2011 Hyundai Elantra makes an excellent argument. Although not subjected to any federal crash tests at the time of writing, the company says the Elantra is engineered to meet new crash standards. Also keep in mind Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty and a recent Automotive Lease Guide (ALG) award for most improved residual value, a jump of 31 percent.

Trim levels are GLS and Limited, the latter sporting alloy wheels, one-touch up/down driver’s window, leather, heated seats and a sunroof. Even the most kitted-out version (a Limited with the Premium package) should be around $22,700 (including destination). For the majority of its cars, Hyundai seems to have styling, build quality, refinement, equipment, fuel efficiency and pricing down to a fine art. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before that final frontier, vehicle dynamics, is also addressed to the full.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Hyundai Elantra - New Car Review - Autotrader