In a segment about as competitive as the application pool for Harvard, the Elantra stands out as one of the most well rounded entries. It has a ton of standard equipment, gets great fuel economy, and has an attractive and comfortable interior. It also drives very competently, if not engagingly. The only flaw is ride quality. It's not terrible in any conventional sense of the word - I drove the Elantra for several hours on the highway and then through some rough city roads and was never really uncomfortable. As with those Harvard wannabes though, small issues become magnified because the other candidates are so darn good. Models like the Ford Focus, the new Honda Civic, and the Chevrolet Cruze offer similar (if not quite equal) equipment and fuel economy, but ride like luxury cars. The Focus is also much more rewarding to drive, as is the Mazda 3. Of course, each of the models I just mentioned has a few imperfections of its own, so it really comes down to a buyer's priorities. Those looking primarily for value and fuel economy who don't often drive on awful roads - in other words, most compact car customers who live in the southern half of the United States - can do no better than the Elantra.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
What's perhaps most amazing about the all-new Hyundai Elantra is just how much of a quantum leap it represents over the last Elantra. This is a car that used to define the bottom of the barrel; now, it's a leader in the compact-sedan class in terms of styling, refinement, comfort, and amenities.
The Elantra, the Honda Civic, and the Ford Focus are all new this year and will be competing fiercely with each other for the attention of buyers who are newly concerned with fuel efficiency but are accustomed to enjoying the luxuries and conveniences of more expensive cars and crossovers. The Elantra is well equipped for this task. There has been, and will continue to be, a debate about which of these three cars is the best to drive, but the differences between them are probably too subtle for most general-interest buyers to discern. What shoppers in this segment are going to react to are considerations like value, styling, comfort, roominess, and the Elantra has these attributes in spades. One small example of how user-friendly this cabin is: it took me all of about 30 seconds to sync my iPhone with the Elantra's Bluetooth.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor