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October 18, 2011 > Auto Review: Hyundai Elantra

Auto Review: Hyundai Elantra

The Brand Rebirth Continues

By Steve Schaefer

Hyundai's been impressing the folks at the car magazines - including Consumer Reports - with its Sonata, which is taking market share from the big guys - Toyota Camry and Honda Accord - with its stylish body and strong platform. Now, it's the Elantra's turn.

The first four generations of the compact Elantra were Toyota Corolla wannabes, with cautious styling and uninspiring interiors. But now, the Corolla's looking positively ancient and even the new Honda Civic appears conservative. Long celebrated for reliability and environmental responsibility, the Elantra is all new, and looks much more expensive than its price.

The new body is nothing like the previous model, rather similar to the successful Sonata sedan and Tucson compact SUV. The "Fluidic Sculpture" theme includes overtly curving forms with some hard edges to keep it from being a jellybean. The sweep up and over the rear fenders is especially stunning, taking BMW-style flame surfacing in a new direction.

The interior is striking in its design as well as materials and assembly. Hyundai's stylists and engineers have come up with a rich, well-detailed, beautifully coordinated environment. The dashtop is actually padded-a rarity in cars in this segment. Armrest/door pulls are a rich silvery hue, made all the more sensuous when contrasted with a frenetic beige cloth. The center console is pinched in the waist, flowing out over the dash and onto the doors. Chrome and silver provide an unexpected richness.

Things work just fine, too. The temperature controls, while not automatic in my GLS mid-level tester, featured concentric dials for the temperature and fan, so they took up a smaller area within a handsome shield surround. Four easy-to-select contrasting buttons controlled airflow. Hyundai is good about supplying USB ports and satellite radio - two things that make the daily commute grind much more tolerable. And, they're smart enough to hide the USB port behind a door. The quiet interior and supportive seats help to keep you comfortable.

Elantra isn't that big on the outside, but comparing it to the compact competition, surprisingly accommodating. It's actually rated as a midsize car by the EPA - one class up. The new car is about the same length as the old one but the wheelbase is a couple of inches longer, so there's generous rear legroom. Although the roof is a couple inches lower, passenger space isn't compromised. The reduced profile and flowing forms help contribute to a low .28 coefficient of drag.

A new 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower engine makes the car feel fairly peppy; my only disappointment was the fuel economy. I averaged just over 27 mpg - pretty decent - but the sticker says 29 City and 40 Highway (average 33), and I drove a lot of miles on the freeway. Maybe more time with the car would deliver better results. You can select an automatic or manual six-speed with the Elantra; EPA mileage rating is the same either way.

Remarkable is the car's continued high scores with the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide. Numbers in California are 9 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas with the automatic - that's hybrid territory.

The Elantra takes off quickly when you press the accelerator - the 148 horsepower is well matched to the 2,700-2,800 pounds it has to pull. Sound is subdued but has a little sporty rasp if you get the revs up. It's not harsh, nor does the car seem to be working too hard - perhaps the six-speed transmission is part of the reason. It would be interesting to see how the manual performs. I drove three young men around for a bit and the car didn't handle any worse with the extra 500 pounds inside. Back seat riders were comfortable, too.

It's really about features in a car like this and Hyundai continues to pack them in for the money. The car comes standard with remote keyless entry, a trip computer, tilt and telescoping steering, air conditioning and loads more.

My tester, a GLS in a gorgeous Metallic Sky Blue, was only $19,510, not including transportation. That price did include 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls and more as part of the Preferred Equipment Package. Also, the Navigation Package added touchscreen interface and a rearview camera as well as the upgrade to the premium 360-watt audio system with separate amplifier.

So, the Hyundai story moves forward. A fully worthy competitor for the compact market, Hyundai is about to take more market share - you can see it in their products. They are in the middle of a "24/7 version 2.0 product initiative" - with seven new models in 24 months, which is remaking their lineup. Just wait till you see the incredible, youthful Veloster coupe this summer!

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