The Elantra plays in a tough category that is traditionally dominated by the likes of the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla and has recently been joined by top-notch new models such as the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze. For 2011, Hyundai unleashed an entirely new Elantra sedan that is more than ready to take on the best in its class. In fact, every Elantra sedan, no matter the trim level or specification, receives an impressive 40-mpg highway rating thanks to a new 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, light weight, slick aerodynamics, and just plain smart engineering. The sedan is available with fancy features such as heated front and rear seats, navigation, and a backup camera. Its styling is distinctive, but ride quality is merely OK, and excess engine and suspension noise sometimes invade the otherwise pleasant cabin. The truly excellent Elantra Touring station wagon continues largely unchanged for 2012, even though the next-generation Elantra hatchback recently debuted for the European market. If you have too much stuff to fit into a small sedan but not enough space to park a typical mid-size car, then the Touring might be the perfect vehicle for you. It drives well, too, and not merely by station-wagon standards. Six air bags, antilock brakes, power windows and locks, tilt steering, an iPod-friendly stereo, and keyless entry are standard on all Elantras. Options such as heated leather seats and a power sunroof appear across the lineup. A lengthy warranty helps seal the deal in the fight for thrifty buyers’ cash.

Drive: Front-wheel
Trim Levels: GLS, Limited (sedan); GLS, SE (wagon)
Body styles: Sedan, wagon, 5-passenger
Engines: 1.8L I-4, 148 hp, 131 lb-ft
2.0L I-4, 138 hp, 136 lb-ft
Transmissions: 5- or 6-speed manual, 4- or 6-speed automatic
Passenger volume: (sedan/wagon) 95.6/101.2 cu ft
Cargo space: (sedan) 14.8 cu ft, (wagon, rear seats up/down) 24.3/65.3 cu ft

The Elantra sedan was all-new last year, but Hyundai has added the Active ECO system to automatic-transmission models, a feature that is said to improve real-world fuel economy by up to seven percent. Other changes are fairly minor: recalibrated steering for better feel, a better horn, a newly optional roadside-assistance kit. The Elantra Touring gets available sixteen-inch wheels and two new colors — volcanic red and dove white.

Dual-stage front air bags, front and rear side air bags, and side curtain air bags are standard on all Elantras, as are antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and tire-pressure monitors.

All: 23-33 mpg city/30-40 mpg highway

  • Sedan has distinctive styling
  • Tons of available features
  • Great mileage from sedan
  • Noisy ride quality
  • Wagon exhibits older, less chiseled design theme

A stylin’ compact and an excellent wagon.

  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Mazda 3

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