How much of a roll is Hyundai on? We held this review in favor of another stylish small car — the brand new Hyundai Veloster. That wasn't meant as a slight to the Elantra, which we had been eager to drive. Hyundai's compact sedan was totally redesigned for 2011 in the image of the hot-selling Sonata and its "Fluidic Sculpture" look.
Appearance: At first glance, the elegant Elantra is easily mistaken for its big brother, the Sonata; both share sculpted lines that make them appear to be in motion even when standing still. Peter thinks the design works even better on the smaller Elantra. In a field of mostly bland compact sedans, the curvy Elantra stands out with its sporty, coupelike profile, prominent upswept headlights and silver-accented hexagonal grille.
Performance: Despite its looks, the Elantra is not sporty, but it is fuel efficient, getting an estimated 29 mpg in the city and 40 in highway driving. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder is more than adequate for comfortable acceleration and interstate merging. We thought the 6-speed automatic, which comes standard on the Limited trim and optional in the GLS, shifted precisely and smoothly, even under hard accelerations. Our Limited tester rode on 17-inch wheels and had a planted feel for a small car, with handling response that, if not overly nimble, gives enough feedback for a pleasant driving experience.
Interior: The expansive cabin feels more like a midsize sedan. Peter and one of our taller colleagues, who is 6 feet 5, had enough head- and legroom, and we felt that without a sunroof, the fit would be even better. Another thing that made Peter wish for a better fit was the driver's seating position. He couldn't quite find a good angle in the otherwise comfortable leather seats on a trip to Tallahassee. Elsewhere in the cabin, the materials — even the plastic — were a nice combination of textures and trim that made for a more expensive look. The fit and finish were excellent. The buttons on the sloped center console are simple and easy to use, with the silver accent trim giving it a slightly futuristic vibe. The large gauges in the instrument panel — tach, speedometer and the digital info readout — are sharp and easy to read. The cabin, as with most cars in this class, allows some road noise to intrude, but not enough to be annoying. Navigation and rearview camera weren't on our tester, but they're available as an option.
Our 3 favorites
Trunk: Lots of space. I moved all of my daughter's belongings to college in it and only needed half the backseat for overflow.
Design: I agree with Lyra. It's best in class.
Headroom: Great for a compact sedan.
Fluidic sculpture design: Modern and attractive. A standout in a class of vanilla.
Console: Sleek and simple. Built narrow to allow for more legroom.
Price: $20k for this Limited trim. Not bad at all.
The bottom line: What's not to like? Roomy, stylish, good gas mileage and lots of features for the money — even in the base model. If it lacks anything, it's the sportiness of some of its competitors, but that's a quibble.