Hyundai Elantra — Another extra base effort

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Hyundai hit a home run with the stylish 2011 mid-sized Sonata that offers eye-candy styling inside and out, outstanding fuel economy from a healthy four-cylinder engine, and resale value in the same ballpark with Honda and Toyota.
So when the equally stylish compact 2011 Elantra reached us we were poised to proclaim another base-clearing blast. But after considerable seat time over a couple of weeks on the East and West coasts we think it falls short; Elantra is a solid two bagger at best.
The styling — both inside and out — is hands down the Elantra’s strong suit. Hyundai designers managed to take Sonata’s so-called “fluidic sculpture” language and effectively translate it to a slightly smaller car. The sedan has almost a liquid look with a strong side crease flowing in a slight curve forward at door handle height with the headlights and grille flowing down toward the bumper.
The interior styling is almost as dramatic and, indeed, gives the owner the feeling he or she is driving a more upscale vehicle. The center stack tapers down into the center console and then widens out past the stylized climate controls in a graceful yet dramatic flow. The gauges are generally easy to read, and are attractive with blue illumination. Materials are of good quality and fit and finish in our test vehicle was excellent.
Pride in ownership is a big thing and this Hyundai does its best to enhance good vibes.
The Elantra has more than good looks going for it. Perhaps the biggest thing is its excellent gas mileage measured at 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with a combined 33.
Hyundai enjoys pointing out that while most of its competitors also offer 40 mpg, this lofty number can only be obtained by purchasing a special model at a higher price. All Elantras come with 40 mpg regardless of trim level, something Hyundai officials never tire of pointing out.
The Elantra also comes with decent passenger space and a spacious trunk measured at 14.8 cubic feet, which means the vehicle, has the requisite size and equipment to be a family’s only vehicle. We found rear-seat legroom to be adequate, and two average-sized adults can ride in the back in relative comfort if they can negotiate just a bit of foot space with those in front. Note that tall riders may not have adequate headroom because of the sloping roof.
The seats are generally comfortable both front and back, but during the West Coast portion of our testing, we found issues with the manually adjustable driver’s seat, unable to gain acceptable back comfort, making driving more of a chore than a pleasure. Unlike most compacts that have taken things upscale, power adjustable seats are still not available on Elantra; and strangely, automatic climate control is not offered.
Performance is adequate from the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, certainly up to compact sedan standards considering the segment-leading gas mileage. The 148-horsepower engine mated to a six-speed manual or automatic can climb from 0 to 60 with foot to the floor in about 9 seconds and complete a quarter mile run in 16.9 seconds at 84 mph.

What this means in the real world of driving is that the Elantra can merge and pass without unnecessary drama. But when higher rpm is demanded, the engine gets a bit noisy and harsh sounding.
The ride is family-sedan smooth and this is generally a good thing because, combined with an acceptably noise-free cabin, it leads to a relaxed environment. That’s a plus in this segment. But the softness has a downside because it’s a detriment to spirited driving, leading to more lean and flex than we would like. Severe road imperfections are more pronounced, as well. Elantra also has a habit of drifting a bit conquered by lots of inputs from the driver; but with a poor center on feel it at times left us feeling uneasy at highway speeds.
The interior ambiance is good, especially in this class and against the current formidable competition. The Elantra can be loaded up with high-end features some of which aren’t even offered on more upscale mid-sized sedans. Most of the goodies can be added simply by selecting the Limited trim and adding the premium package for an additional $2,100.
Sounds high, but when compared to the top-of-the-line offerings with the same level of equipment in the Ford Focus ($23,790), Chevrolet Cruze ($24,855) and Honda Civic sedan ($24,225) it’s a relative bargain. Some of the good stuff includes keyless pushbutton start, backup camera and heated rear seats.
Thinking of those families — or individuals — on a budget who desire to have the stylish Elantra parked in their driveway, it can be purchased for $15,695 with manual transmission or $17,945 with automatic. Those folks will not have to forgo the things we have come to expect in our modern vehicles including full power doorlocks and windows; keyless entry; air conditioning; tilt and telescoping steering wheel; 172-watt audio system with six speakers, CD/MP3 player, and satellite radio; and cruise control.
Safety is also loaded into all models and includes traction and stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes, active head restraints, and front side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags.
The Limited PZEV model such as our test car, added the premium package that included navigation, the backup camera, an upgraded 360-watt sound system, and automatic headlights. The Limited also comes with leather seating surfaces. The bottom line with destination charges came to $23,045.
Perhaps the largest downside to the Elantra it is not so much the Elantra itself, but with the competition that has improved dramatically with new offerings setting the bar considerably higher.

Base price: $15,695; as driven, $22,110
Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 148 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 131 pound-feet @ 4,700 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 181 inches
Curb weight: 2,749 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 40 mpg highway, 29 mpg city
0-60: 9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze

The Good
• Head-turning styling
• Class-leading fuel economy
• Loaded with standard and optional features
• Very competitive pricing

The Bad
• No power seat or automatic climate options

The Ugly
• Handling falls short of sporty