Hyundai has been riding a wave of success for almost two years now and the Elantra promises to bring the brand's newfound poise and refinement to a segment that's suddenly white-hot. Hyundai packs in all the technology, safety, and fuel economy shoppers have come to expect as well as the industry's best warranty. Oh, and the price is just as attractive as the new design.
Small cars with 40 mpg fuel economy are becoming increasingly popular as fuel costs become less stable, but the Elantra is a very desirable car regardless of mpgs. Outside, it looks better than anything else in its class with the possible exception of the Ford Focus hatchback. Though the Focus hatch might look better, hatchbacks have traditionally sold at a snail's pace compared with sedans in the U.S. Most shoppers will see some family resemblance to the larger Sonata in the Elantra's looks and that's a good thing. Though we aren't huge fans of the Sonata's chrome grille, there's no denying Hyundai has come into its own in terms of styling in the last year.
Inside the Elantra, there's an excellent navigation unit available for buyers who long for the luxury touches that used to be out of reach for compact car shoppers. Bluetooth, satellite radio, and intuitive iPod/iPhone connectivity are also on the Elantra's luxury features list. Top-spec Elantras come with luxury appointments that many larger, more expensive vehicles don't even offer. Heated leather front seats aren't very unexpected, but rear passengers will be pleasantly surprised to find their own seat heaters in the Hyundai. Choosing a small car no longer means you've got to give up the luxury appointments.
Hyundai only offers the Elantra with a 1.8-liter I-4 that produces 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. The power figures are very competitive and the all-aluminum engine is rated at 29/40 mpg with either six-speed transmission. GLS trim cars come standard with a manual to keep the price down and other Elantra models use a six-speed automatic. Though Hyundai manages to deliver competitive power and excellent fuel economy, the engine doesn't always feel or sound as refined as buyers trading down from mid-size cars might want.
Like most Korean cars, the Elantra's ride skews much more towards comfort than performance. A bit more steering precision would be nice as the Elantra sometimes requires several corrections in sweeping turns to stay on the desired line. Drivers looking for a compact car that's rewarding to drive on a twisting road will be much happier with a Ford Focus or the aging Mazda3, but the Elantra doesn't completely fall on its face during spirited driving like, say, a Toyota Corolla does. Occupants are well insulated from wind and tire noise and the seats are very supportive on longer trips.
Shoppers looking for a comfortable, stylish sedan with excellent in-cabin connectivity and lots of available luxury touches will be very happy with a 2011 Hyundai Elantra. Did you notice we didn't need to list Hyundai's legendary 10-year/100,000 mile warranty and very aggressive pricing as the main reasons to consider an Elantra? That's how far Hyundai has come in a few years.
Each new model is competing on design, fuel economy, and content instead of the traditional value proposition Korean cars have represented. We'd still like Hyundai to spend a little more time tuning the suspensions in its cars and creating a few more enthusiast-oriented trim levels, but it does make sense to focus on satisfying the biggest possible audience until Hyundai becomes one of the best selling brands in the country.