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EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The new 2011 Hyundai Elantra is a nice little car with good looks at a more than fair price, in my opinion. I think Hyundai finally has a small car that will take some hide out of the Honda Civic and the Mazda 3. Maybe throw the Chevrolet Cruze in there, too. The new Ford Focus--I don't know yet as I haven't driven it.
I'll say this: This car looks great inside and out--like a little Sonata, and that's a good thing--and drives well to boot. It's a whole lot more fun than it used to be.
Some things about the driving could use slight improvement. While the ride is smooth without really being sloppy, it could be a bit firmer once one begins to push a bit. Also, it's a little noisy inside. I'm hearing a little too many road sounds, even in a small car. Transmission shifts were smooth, but I'd like to try a manual.
It's a hell of an improvement over the outgoing model. That's hard to argue with. Where plenty of cars in this class are for getting from work to home and back again, this is one you can enjoy looking at and driving.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: Before anyone buys in this small sedan class, they ought to test-drive this back-to-back-to-back with a Civic, a Mazda 3 and a Chevrolet Cruze. I suspect this Elantra will fare well against the competition.
I tend to think the Cruze is the new top dog in this segment--at least for the moment--so I found myself mentally checking off comparisons. The Hyundai cuts a much more stylish line, interiors are about even, and the Cruze does better on ride quality, interior noise and handling. I really like the Elantra's pep and quick reflexes around town, but anyone who needs to drive long distances might not appreciate the amount of highway road noise and the overstiffened steering at freeway speeds.
This car, at this price, is extremely well equipped, with navigation in a giant center display screen, seat heaters, keyless locking and ignition. It's really a strong player in a field that is getting more and more attention every time gasoline prices go up. Speaking of which, I was kind of surprised when I stopped to fill the Elantra as it dipped just below half a tank. A mere 5.96 gallons filled it, which seemed impossible. But if you check the numbers, the car is quite capable of posting the 34 mpg I recorded. That's spectacular for the price of entry for this car.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It's always the same story line, isn't it? Every time a new vehicle gets released in this class (and the midsize-sedan class, for that matter) everyone asks if it can take a bite out of the sales leaders from Toyota and Honda. The thing is in the past, when you wondered aloud about that when it came to Korean cars, you always had a voice in the back of your head saying “fat chance.”
However, times have changed drastically. Hyundai is riding a wave momentum that not that long ago seemed impossible, and it--along with sister company Kia--is churning out competitive and attractive cars such as the Sonata and now this Elantra. Is this for real? Did I fall asleep at my keyboard again and am dreaming all of this? Somebody pinch me. Ouch! Oh, guess it is real.
So what do we have here in the new Elantra? Well, we have an attractive-looking piece with styling carrying on the flowing and wavy lines of the Sonata. It has quite a bit personality compared with the rather dull sheetmetal found on the Civic, the Toyota Corolla and the Chevy Cruze.
The curvy lines also find their way into the interior on the dashboard with a big touch screen at the center of it all for the navigation system and the backup camera, which looks stellar, by the way. One complaint that I've had about almost all Korean cars in the past is the lack of side support of the front seats, but in this Elantra, Hyundai addressed that with adequate bolsters. Materials are on par with everything in the class, and build quality also looks pretty good in there.
That's not to say that Hyundai doesn't have some work to do. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder is in need of some refinement. There is OK power from it and gets the job done with a heavy right foot in certain situations, but it still sounds coarse and a lot of that engine noise does intrude into the interior. It's certainly efficient, though, with a 40-mpg rating on the highway, which I have to tip my hat to. Keep in mind that this isn't some dinky, painfully underpowered car.
Then there's chassis tuning. The suspension offers plenty of absorption properties for the daily grind, giving way to the expected roll through corners. But my biggest complaint centers on the steering, which still feels too disconnected and artificial. Of course, the majority of people shopping this class don't particular care about those aspects and it is just fine for them.
So can this Elantra slug it out with the big boys? To that I have to say yes. The overall package, with its stylish looks both inside and out, better build quality and impressive fuel economy is more than enough to enable it to hold its own. And the value argument is strong here, too. Considering the amount of content in this car, $22,000 seems very reasonable. With some tinkering to the engine and chassis, it would become a complete threat to the Civic and the Corolla.
NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I had the Elantra for the Easter weekend, and I put about 245 miles on this thing commuting all over greater Detroit. My main impression is that this Hyundai is extremely competitive, fuel-efficient and it has a heck of a solid, hard-working powertrain.
Let's start under the hood. The 148-hp four-banger was up to the job in nearly all situations. I merged smoothly onto the expressway across four lanes of rush-hour traffic with ease as the revs built and power came on smoothly. Hyundai is also to be commended for this well-done six-speed automatic, which channels engine speed proficiently and makes for proficient upshifting and downshifting.
The body is a design to be proud of--the curves, the rising angled beltline, the pronounced wheel arches--Hyundai swings for the fences and connects with the appearance of the Elantra. Add in the wraparound headlights and taillights, and you have the look of a small car that has an identity. Inside is similarly satisfying to my taste, and the center stack is particularly well-laid out, almost sporty. The seats are comfortable and provide ample support, and there's a solid driving position. The trunk is surprisingly large.
I recorded 29.4 mpg when I filled up, which is a touch disappointing, but I could easily see how a higher figure is possible with one driver and a consistent pattern of movements. The price is fair. The package is nice. Hyundai delivers with the Elantra.
COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: This Elantra is a fine package. The price seems right, the sheetmetal is good, the interior presents well--aside from the seat material, which looks dated--the four pulls strong and the center console is sleek, compact and easy to use. The brakes were quite sensitive when I pulled out of the garage and started my commute home. But they seemed to regulate over time. Strange, though.
When you hit the gas, the Elantra moves on demand and easily merges into traffic and gets up to expressway speed. The car also was steady on rain-slicked roads on the morning drive to work. There is good legroom front and back and decent cargo space in the trunk.
On the down side, a lot of road noise enters the cabin, and broken roads, expansion joints and such really upset the suspension. Some refinement is definitely needed in those areas. But, just as the Sonata is getting more consideration in the midsize four-door market, I can see the Elantra being in the conversation with the Cruze, the Civic and others.
ASSISTANT ART DIRECTOR/DESIGNER TARA KLEIN: This year's Elantra, like the Sonata, created a newfound enthusiasm in me toward the Hyundai brand--not only regarding the updated design, but with overall quality, functionality, marketability, and the always important bang for your buck.
The Elantra's exterior, while featuring exaggerated and fluid body lines, oozes luxury and modernity. This vibe flows into the interior, which I must say is one of my favorites, period.
Close your eyes. Imagine the curved, organic lines and forms of the Jaguar C-X75 interior or of the Mercedes-Benz Aesthetics No. 2 sculpture from this year's Detroit auto show, and apply them in an everyday, practical design. When you open your eyes, you will find yourself sitting in an Elantra.
The door panels and the center stack alone are filled with so many intricacies that I found myself thinking I was in a car of the future. It's nothing like a lot of dull, generic interiors I've come across. Even small details, such as the arrangement of dials set inside other dials, were not only efficient as far as space, but easy on the eyes as well. This car has definitely got class, spunk and not to mention some technological goodies, inside and out.
The smoothness of the curves in the design transfers to how well the Elantra drives on the road. For the most part, I was pleased with the ride quality, but of course I did encounter some road imperfections that challenged the suspension. I do agree with most that the cabin noise was a bit much, but I'd say that the fuel economy more than makes up for that. Buyers who may not be early adopters of the array of new electric advancements should definitely take a peek at this car. If this doesn't take a bite out of the competitors, I'd be surprised.
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited PZEV
Base Price: $19,980
As-Tested Price: $22,110
Drivetrain: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 145 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 130 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,877 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 33/30.4 mpg
Options: Premium package including navigation with high-resolution, seven-inch touch-screen display, rearview camera, premium audio system with external amp, automatic headlights, proximity key entry with push-button start ($2,000); carpeted floor mats ($95); iPod cable ($35)
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