2011 Hyundai Elantra
Base price: $14,945 – $19,980
As tested: $22,110
MPG: 29 city/40 highway
- Attractive new styling
- Outstanding fuel economy
- Good value for the money
- Extra for air conditioning on base model
- Limited rear seat headroom
- Air conditioning struggles to keep up in hot weather
By Jim Prueter
Restyled Elantra is attractive, offering good mileage, and great value
Hyundai has been tearing up the sales charts in the U.S. in recent years. The all-new 2011 Hyundai Elantra compact sedan is likely to continue that momentum.
The Elantra’s combination of affordability and style already makes it one of the best cars in America, something that’s difficult in a fiercely competitive class of compacts that also includes the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Chevy Cruze.
The new Elantra comes with a choice of either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, both versions getting 40 mpg on the highway. Competitors also promise 40 mpg, but only in some versions of their cars.
The Elantra shares its curvaceous, fluidic design with its big brother, the Hyundai Sonata sedan. While exterior design has long been an important part of purchasing decisions, interiors are a new battleground, as carmakers work to incorporate better design and materials.
You certainly can’t accuse the Elantra of looking like every other car on the road. Its look is similar to the larger Sonata sedan, with swoopy sheet metal styling that prevents the Elantra from looking like a dreaded “econo-box.”
Inside, the Elantra has a very aquatic feel. Flowing, layered lines run across the dashboard. It’s surprisingly spacious and relaxing, even though some of the surfaces are still hard plastic instead of soft fabric. Gauges and controls are large and easy to use. We liked the soft blue illumination of the gauges at night. Unfortunately, the controls are unnecessarily confusing, emphasizing style over function.
There is an amazing amount front seat leg, hip, head, and shoulder room in this car. The back seat felt roomier than expected, and will comfortably accommodate adults, though the sloping roofline will leave taller passengers a bit cramped. The rear seats fold down, extending the trunk space to accommodate larger cargo.
Speaking of cargo space, don’t look for a spare tire in the trunk. That’s an option on this car. Instead, you get only an air compressor and a Fix-A-Flat ® kit, a trend that’s becoming more common on new cars these days.
We tested the top-of-the-line Elantra Limited. The car was fully loaded, even coming with heated rear seats, something we usually don’t see outside pricy luxury sedans. Other standard equipment included 17-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof, side mirror-mounted turn signal indicators, heated side mirrors, power windows with one-touch up on the driver’s window, remote keyless entry with an alarm, push button start, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, perforated leather on the seats and steering wheel, a rear center armrest, AM/FM/MP3/SM Satellite radio, an auxiliary input jack, a USB jack, and an integrated Bluetooth hands-free phone system.
Those amenities on a standard six-speed automatic transmission came to about $26,000, plus shipping feeds. While that isn’t cheap, it didn’t seem egregious.
Our test Elantra also included the $2,000 Platinum package with navigation on a 7-inch display screen that works with a rear backup camera, premium audio system, and automatic headlamps. The package would put the car’s MSRP at $22,110.
If your budget won’t accommodate such a plush compact car, you can choose the Elantra GLS that starts at $14,945 with manual transmission and no air conditioning. I can’t remember the last time I saw air conditioning as an option in a modern car — perhaps the Smart Car?
An automatic transmission is an extra $1,000 and air comes in a package that includes cruise control, telescopic steering wheel, solar glass, and 16-inch wheels for an extra $1,250.
Both the Limited and the GLS are front-wheel drive, powered by a new 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an estimated 29/40 mpg city/highway with either the manual or automatic transmission. That’s as good as it gets in the class without paying extra for a fuel efficiency package or a hybrid model. The trip computer in our automatic test car indicated 30.6 mpg in a mix of both city and highway driving during a weeklong evaluation.
The car drove well except when hard acceleration caused the engine to be noisy, with a noticeable buzz. It was otherwise smooth and quiet. Similarly, the ride was smooth, like a much larger sedan, until hitting a pothole.
The (optional) air conditioning was inconsistent, struggling to adequately and comfortably cool the cabin during in-town driving. Only at highway speeds did the air conditioning keep up with Arizona’s summer temperatures.
Standard safety gear includes electronic stability and traction control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, front, front side impact, and side curtain airbags, and tire pressure monitoring.
The 2011 Elantra earned the highest possible rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength test results. It was also awarded as a Top Safety Pick for 2011 by the IIHS. It has not yet been crash tested by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Hyundai’s sales are booming with total sales up 44 percent, led by the Sonata, which is up 35 percent and Elantra, which is up a whopping 92 percent over 2010.
That’s not surprising considering that, overall, we found the new Elantra to be highly satisfying, great looking, and a good value.