With the new Elantra, it’s as if Hyundai has shrunk the Sonata in a dryer, resulting in a car that’s slightly tighter fitting but otherwise identical. Look around the nicely appointed cabin, and you’ll find a similar arrangement of controls, the same navigation system, and best of all, the same impressive mix of materials.
The Elantra also drives much like its big brother. That means confident, if not quite athletic responses to driver inputs, accurate steering, and smooth-as-glass shifts from the six-speed automatic. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder sounds a bit wheezy but is in fact nothing of the sort, as the Elantra feels much faster than the spec sheet’s 145-hp figure would lead you to expect. Credit another number on the spec sheet: 2877. That’s the Elantra’s curb weight with an automatic transmission and all the trimmings (a manual-equipped base model weighs in at a truly impressive 2661 pounds). In case you haven’t been paying attention to curb weights recently, note that it’s now a real achievement for a compact car to tip the scales at less than 3000 pounds. The only area where the Elantra -– and all Hyundais -– can really improve is in ride tuning. Large ruts and potholes jar the Elantra more than they do most competitors, especially those from Europe and America.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This is a remarkable car in the compact class. An incredibly nice interior. Very good telematics. I was able to very quickly pair my phone with Bluetooth, just as I am able to do in the Hyundai Sonata. The interior exudes quality and style in a manner that is unfamiliar to this segment. The car is very eager, has very good acceleration, very good brake pedal feel, nicely accurate steering. It does a reasonably effective job of dealing with badly pockmarked mid-winter pavement, but its ride quality is not quite as refined and creamy as that of, say, the new Volkswagen Jetta. Lacks a grab handle on the underside of the trunk lid to close it. This is an incredible bargain as equipped for $22K.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Hyundai has really nailed how to make a first impression. While the engine can be loud and strained under acceleration, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder doesn’t sound unrefined. And although it’s small, the engine has plenty of pep both around town and on the highway, and I found it fairly well sorted as a highway cruiser. The transmission bordered on Lexus-smooth, once you got past the 1-2 shift. Granted, the chassis isn’t nearly as planted as the new Jetta’s, but I find that the style, price, ergonomics, and materials outshine the German competitor. That said, there is a certain solid teutonicness of the VW that Hyundai just can’t replicate. With a fully loaded price tag of less than $23,000, though, the Elantra’s value is hard to beat. It even has a backup camera(!), which the $117,000 Cayenne Turbo we recently tested did not. I see little reason for anyone shopping in this class to buy a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic over this Hyundai, given its equipment levels, refinement, style, and price.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The story isn’t that the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is a wonderful compact car, but rather that we’ve come to expect nothing less. It took Hyundai just one car — the 2010 Sonata — to earn the respect and reputation it has today. And despite the youthful success, we now anticipate that every car will be better than the Honda and Toyota equivalent. And indeed, the Elantra handily outclasses and outdrives the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla.
The Elantra’s simple 1.8-liter and six-speed automatic may sound like an unexceptional combination, but Hyundai has eked out an excellent 29/40 mpg city/highway fuel economy EPA rating, and 148 hp makes easy work of this light car. I’m also delighted by the improvements Hyundai has made where the Sonata has come up short. The Elantra’s steering effort is much more natural and confidence inspiring than the springy feel of the Sonata. The seats, while still a touch too firm, at least aren’t as flat as a park bench. And the front end isn’t nearly as fussy as that of the Sonata, while the stylish fluidic body is even more shapely.
The Elantra’s chief flaw is a stiff-legged ride. Over Metro Detroit’s most lumpy, Mars-like surfaces, the Elantra often jostles occupants from side-to-side. Occasionally, the Elantra produces the sensation that it’s ever so slightly rotating, yet there’s no corresponding feedback through the steering wheel, thanks to either the suspension geometry or the damping of the electric power steering. The new Volkswagen Jetta may ride better, but it certainly doesn’t steer as well as the Elantra, and highway fuel economy is 7 mpg lower with the VW’s 2.5-liter engine. The Hyundai also boasts a far, far, far nicer interior. (Are you listening, Volkswagen of America cost-cutters?)
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
The new Elantra’s styling is rather peculiar, but I think it works a lot better here than on the Sonata, particularly since the Elantra’s grille seems more cohesive than the Sonata’s melted-chrome look. The interior design is quite attractive, too, and I love the simple concentric dials for the climate controls.
Regardless of its appearance, the Elantra is a revelation for having so many high-end features available in a small car (although many competitors are moving in the same direction). This $22,000 test car has navigation, a backup camera, heated front and rear seats, a sunroof, and an automatic transmission. I wish that the driver’s seat offered lumbar adjustment, however, and didn’t feel so flat.
The Elantra is very good indeed, but it isn’t perfect: A fair amount of suspension and engine noise permeates the cabin. One minor oddity is that the doors don’t bump open when you pull the inside handle; it almost feels as if you’ve tried to open it with the door locked, but in actuality the door opened and just didn’t pop out at all.
Still, this car drives very well, shifts quickly, and rides OK, and the fact that the Elantra is so good in such a competitive class is just the latest evidence of Hyundai’s world-class position. This is a company that has learned very quickly.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This Elantra is certainly an impressive package. The list of features crammed into this car for $22K is unbelievable. And if you can live without the Premium Package (navigation, premium audio, backup camera, and keyless ignition) you can drive away for under $20,000.
Comparing the Elantra to the Sonata comes naturally since the cars so clearly share the same bloodlines. The flowing lines of the Sonata don’t work quite as well on the Elantra’s more compact body, but many of the style details actually are an improvement on its larger sibling. Up front, the headlights are beautifully done and the less glitzy grille of the Elantra is more attractive. Inside, the instrument cluster without the concentric gauges is nicer to look at and easier to read, and I like the division of controls and the visual contours of the center console better here than the Sonata. Everything else is just as nice — or nicer — than the Sonata, and the Elantra honestly didn’t feel much smaller inside.
I didn’t get a chance to drive the new Jetta, but this car clearly blows away the aged Civic and Corolla. Hyundai has a huge lead on its competition in terms of style, materials, fit and finish. Both Toyota and Honda will soon introduce new models, but I suspect that with their typical conservatism they might fall short.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Base price (with destination): $19,980
Price as tested: $22,110
1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine
6-speed automatic transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring system
Electronic stability control
Power sunroof with tilt/slide
AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with 6 speakers
iPod/USB/auxiliary audio inputs
Power windows and locks
Remote keyless entry system
Steering wheel-mounted audio/cruise control
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
60/40 split rear seats
Options on this vehicle:
Premium package — $2000
Navigation system with 7-inch display
Premium audio system
Proximity entry with push-button start
Carpeted floor mats — $95
iPod cable — $35
Key options not on vehicle:
Wheel locks — $50
Size: 1.8L 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 148 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 131 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Curb weight: 2877 lb
Wheels/tires: 17-inch alloy wheels
215/45R17 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires
Competitors: Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Ford Focus