First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra

And the Elantra delivers that in droves. Inside and out, there's not a cheap part and not a single bad angle. It looks elegant, expensive, and well-built. And it's more of the same from behind the wheel. The steering is path-accurate. The brake pedal feels positive, with immediate bite and response. Handling is excellent on smooth surfaces. The ride quality is surprisingly supple, with excellent body control. The cabin is quiet. The 1.8-liter engine produces 148 hp, but only 131 lb-ft of torque, so it needs lots of revs to keep up with traffic. That's no problem, since it's relatively quiet, smooth, and unobtrusive (under 6000 rpm, anyway-the highest couple hundred rpm on the tach are accompanied by a determined, somewhat harsh note). The six-speed automatic is ready, willing, and able to pull off big downshifts with the utmost of smoothness-and redline upshifts are similarly well executed. Unfortunately, the six-speed automatic has an unacceptably long first gear, making off-the-line getaways far slower and more labored than in, say, the Jetta or Cruze, both of which squirt off the line with short first gears.

The only cheap touch in the Elantra's interior is the hard plastic on the backs of the fold-down rear seats; it's easily scratched and will show its age quickly. Otherwise, every touch point is padded, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel on uplevel Elantras feels great. (So do the heated leather seats.) The climate controls are not only easy to use, but far better looking than anything else in this class (and the vent fan is surprisingly quiet.) The infotainment interface is merely okay unless you order navigation-some of the functions require multiple steps to access.

The back seat of the Elantra offers suitable amounts of space, but the sloping roof really cuts into headroom -- a problem that the other expensive-looking car in this class, the Jetta, doesn't have. But the Hyundai's interior materials are a world better than the VW's. And the Jetta's base 2.0-liter 8-valve engine is no match for the Elantra's 16-valve 1.8-liter, not in power or economy or refinement. The optional 2.5-liter five-cylinder is a far better match for the Jetta. Of course, it comes at a price -- in additional MSRP and diminished fuel economy

You won't mistake the Elantra for a Volkswagen GTI or a BMW 3-series from behind the wheel, but as a practical commuter, there's not much to complain about. And that's what this type of car is about -- comfortable, economical, and practical. Right now, it's without question at the top of its class, and until the next Ford Focus goes on sale, we have no doubt that it'll remain there.


2 of 2
I have the 2011 Elantra with automatic and actually get 41 on hwy with 2 people on board. I got 35 with 2 people pulling a small trailer with 2 kayaks. Don't really do much city driving.
I agree with Longo. The only thing to get excited about in these cars is the mileage. So what can we expect in the real world. 35 average and I am buying one asap. Tell me 30mpg tops and I have think about it. I will be driving mostly highway, 84 miles round trip.
"According to Hyundai, about half of buyers choosing one of these cars are downsizing -- and their number one reason is fuel economy."So then, were's your mpg report from the test dirive?You simply divide gallons used into miles driven and give us the number!We all know that the window sticker says 40 mpg, what we all want to know is how far off is that number +or-To start off with the statement that this segment is all about mpg's (I agree) and then drop the subject to go off on another "looks like this or looks like that" tangent is a waste of our time.Fill it up, cruise out onto the freeway, set the speed at the posted limit and take your lead foot off the gas, sit back and relax for an hour or so, turn around and drive back to the same pump, re-fill and do the simple math, give us the mpg number...that's what we all want to know.
Sounds like an impressive car, and it looks like it would cost about twice as much as the previous Elantra. I've driven a Mazda3, and while it does look like a toy, I disagree that it FEELS like a toy!
The Civic's biggest problem is that it is 6 years old. The new Jetta is deliberately "cheap". When the global version of the Cruze came out a couple of years ago the leading Australian car mag rated it N0.3 behind the Golf and Focus in a broad test of compact cars from Asia and Europe. From memory the Civic placed mid-field, the Corolla placed 11th (out of 13), and the Versa came dead last. 4th and 5th were the Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 (a compact hatch on the same platform as the Elantra). The US version of the Cruze get's a fancy new rear suspension and the trick 42 mpg powertrain, and so is arguably an even better carat least as good as the old (European) Focus, if not as good as the new one (which finally has better engines and transmissions). The Elantra? Will continue to be seen as "underrated" by the aggrieved Hyundai fanboys. As good as the Cruze? Maybe, maybe not. Let the war begin.
OMG Jason, you've hated the Civic's styling from day one. It's still a pretty decent compact considering it's like 6 years old. I am not a huge fan of the Elantra's interior styling, it looks kind of pigeon toed. Both the Cruze and '12 Focus have much more handsome interiors, and the Ford also looks alright on the outside too. Still an impressive car, and I can't think of any reason to buy a Corolla anymore

New Car Research

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price


new cars

Read Related Articles