Globally, more compact cars are sold than any other size, and the competition is consequently fierce. The 2011 Hyundai Elantra is a new and very capable competitor that its maker has dropped into the fray, and early sales figures indicate it’s punching far above its weight. It makes the Toyota Corolla, which has been the best-selling compact in the U.S. for years, look dowdy, dated, and dull.
The 2011 Elantra is stylish, refined, well-detailed, full of features, and priced aggressively. Best of all, it’s the only compact sedan this year—as Hyundai will tell you frequently—that is rated at 40 mpg for highway mileage in all its model variations. Full ratings are 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. In other words, unlike the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze or 2012 Ford Focus, you don’t have to order a special model of the Elantra to get the highest gas mileage ratings.
The Elantra’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design theme clearly ties it to the mid-size Sonata, but it’s slightly crisper and looks less pudgy than its big brother. The room inside could almost be that of a mid-size sedan, except for tight headroom at the back. Hyundai isn’t the first to suffer bracket creep, with this entry among the “compacts” of 2011 that are the size of some mid-size models a decade older.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 148 horsepower, which is enough to move it along at a reasonable clip mated to either the six-speed automatic. The car weighs just 2,700 pounds, lighter than its predecessor, although it has all the requisite safety gear and the usual array of airbags. The electric power steering isn’t particularly stellar, and the handling is about average, but the four-wheel disc brakes (still a rarity in this class) are excellent.
The Hyundai Elantra interior is particularly good at storage, with multiple cubbies, trays, cupholders, and pockets for the variety of stuff we carry around and need to have handy inside a car. The power plug and USB jack are easily accessible, and you’ll be able to hear your music, with noise suppression that’s on the quiet side of average, even at highway speeds. The rear seat folds forward, though not quite flat, and the trunk holds more than you might think.
Even the base 2011 Elantra GLS model offers power windows, locks, and mirrors, plus keyless entry and, if you specify the automatic transmission, cruise control, air conditioning, and telescopic steering adjustment. Options include a navigation system with the largest screen of any compact car, including voice recognition, real-time satellite traffic and weather, Bluetooth wireless connectivity for your devices, and more.
The 2011 Hyundai Elantra sedan impressed us on our recent test drive, not just for its looks and features, but for the remarkable value it delivers. There were a few quirks, some of which we weren’t too fond of, among them the lack of an exterior trunk lock or opening button. But those are little quibbles.
There’s a new kid in town, and it’s clear to us that Toyota, Honda, Chevy, and Ford had better watch their backs.
It’s also worth mentioning the 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring, a wagon model of last year’s Elantra sedan that the company has carried over for a year. It is likely to be replaced for 2012 with a model based on the all-new 2011 sedan. The Touring has different styling, a different interior, and a sportier feel inside and out. It’s roomy and versatile, but far from the new sedan’s level of noise suppression and general refinement on the road.
The Elantra Touring powered by a 2.0-liter four that produced 138 horsepower, with either a five-speed manual gearbox or an ancient four-speed automatic transmission, and the EPA rates its mileage at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined.
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