2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring SE

Matt Tierney

I had the chance to drive the Elantra Touring shortly after it came out in 2009. That car had a peppy four-banger with a lively chassis and a communicative clutch; sadly, this Elantra Touring was not that car. Two years on, the Elantra Touring still has plenty of around-town pickup from its 2.0-liter I-4, but the formerly lively chassis now suffers with body roll and the clutch has zero feel. The car's character -- or lack thereof -- begs for the automatic transmission, even if it is a few cogs short of the competition with only four forward speeds.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

I once got into a fairly nasty spat with a relative who unfairly knocked the Elantra Touring I was driving. It's been two years since that episode, but the Elantra Touring is still a car I'll defend. It's still stylish, still somewhat enjoyable to drive (it's a small wagon, Donny, not a hot hatch), still roomy and practical, and -- at roughly $20k for this top-spec, leather-clad example -- very affordable.

Of course, there is room for improvement. Although the Elantra Touring appeared here in 2009, the car itself -- known as the i30 abroad -- actually debuted in Europe back in 2007. As a result, it's a little behind Hyundai's design renaissance, which is currently sweeping through the company's portfolio. This is perhaps most notable inside, where the design is bland but ergonomically acceptable, and plastics continue to be dark and rather hard to the touch.

I wouldn't be surprised if much of this is rectified when the next-generation car arrives, reportedly within the next year or two (here's hoping Hyundai can also add a clutch that feels as good to use as this sweet B&M shifter). Still, those who can't wait aren't to be faulted -- this remains a great little car that always manages to pleasantly surprise me every time I slide behind the wheel.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

I'll join the the Elantra Touring fan club. This car does a fairly good impersonation of an Audi A3 at a fraction of the price -- and with more room inside. True, it won't be confused with the A3 on a twisty road or a track, but around town, I thought the power was ample, and the handling better than expected. I tried a little slalom one morning, and I was surprised how controlled the car felt.

The fact that the Elantra Touring even comes with a stick inoculates it from nit-picking about clutch feel or anything else. In general, I'll take a flawed manual over an automatic any day.

The only real complaint I have with the car is that it hasn't gone through the new Hyundai styling machine. Give this car the new Elantra's front end and dashboard/interior, and you have a world-beater of a wagon in this price class. Throw in the 2.4-liter I-4 found in the new Sonata (or even the new Elantra's 1.8-liter) and things would get even better.

Matt Tierney, Art Director

An Elantra Touring with chrome-accented wheels and a B&M Racing shifter? C'mon, stop trying to be something you're not. There's no way a wagon, especially a Hyundai wagon, could be a peppy, road-hugging, street sprinter.

But when you get down to brass tacks, the powertrain's not half bad. With the electronic stability control turned off, our Hyundai managed to fill the cabin with the smell of smoking tire(s). (Granted, I was on a slight incline.) Shift action is an absolute pleasure, thanks to B&M's touch, and driving never turns into a chore.

That being said, there are a whole lot of rough spots. The steering is as numb as an eskimo's nose, the clutch is flaccid, and the suspension is not convincing. And the sunroof shade seems to have a mind of its own under hard braking. Even so, I'd be hard pressed to say that I wasn't surprised by Hyundai's little wagon that could.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

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