A week spent in the swoopy compact from Hyundai
Interior quality and design
As I write this, Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai is in the fast lane. And while it has yet to overtake either Honda or Toyota in the compact car segment, the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra outsold both the Toyota Corolla/Matrix and the Honda Civic in May and June of this year.
It also outsold the new Volkswagen Jetta in April, May and June.
For a vehicle that was considered a throwaway car by new car dealers for most of its existence, that’s some pretty heady company it’s been keeping lately.
Hyundai Elantras for 2011 come in just two trim series – the entry-level GLS, available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission or the uplevel Limited that’s sold only with the automatic.
Standard safety features include stability and traction control, 4-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, ABS and EBD and six airbags.
Equipment highlights include power windows, locks and heated mirrors as well as remote keyless entry. Air conditioning, an audio system with CD, satellite radio with USB and audio input jacks are also standard. Steering wheel-mounted cruise control is also standard.
Our Phantom Black metallic GLS was equipped with the optional preferred equipment package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, cloth door trim and a sliding center armrest.
Another option it came with, which is not available on the GLS for 2012, is a navigation package that includes a 7-inch touch screen, rearview camera, premium audio system and automatic headlights.
Interior fit and finish of the Elantra as well as the quality of materials used by Hyundai is world class. Tasteful shades of gray and black soft-touch surfaces contrast with brushed metal bright work.
All controls operate smoothly and are within easy reach of the driver. Steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system, cruise control, hands-free phone system and driver information center were both easily understood and intuitive – something especially appreciated when you consider that many manufacturers, in their quest to cram as much technology as possible into a vehicle, only end up confusing drivers.
The headlight and turn signal stalk to the left of the steering wheel features a tap/flash to pass feature, while the right stalk controls the wiper functions.
The center stack is both stylish and easily understood. Buttons flank the left and right of the touch screen and control the navigation and media functions. Below the screen, a second set of controls handles the radio/CD functions as well as the navigation options.
The exterior is undoubtedly the most striking aspect of Hyundai’s newest compact – encompassing the company’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language. In this case, think of it as a very successful nine-tenths interpretation of the larger Sonata – beginning with Hyundai’s signature trapezoidal grille.
From the grille, large headlamp enclosures sweep up over the flared front wheel well openings, while a prominent body crease begins at the leading edge of the front door and sweeps back, ending at the leading edge of the rear taillamp lens.
The cab-forward greenhouse features a steeply-raked windshield and peaks at the B-pillar, where the nearly coupe-like sweep of the rear roof begins.
Styling is, by its very nature, a very subjective thing. Some think the Elantra goes a bit overboard in this department. I happen to think it’s the best-looking sedan in its class.
Aside from its styling, other changes for the 2011 model include an increase in length by nearly an inch and a wheelbase that’s grown by nearly two inches to 106.3 inches – three inches longer than the new Honda Civic and nearly four inches longer than a Toyota Corolla.
The Elantra’s width remains the same, but it is nearly two inches lower than the outgoing model (cutting into the headroom of rear seat passengers) and both its front and rear track have increased – to 61.5 and 62 inches, respectively.
On the road
My week with the Elantra included a road trip to Chicago. Despite its lower roofline, rear seat passengers never complained of a lack of headroom and, in fact, were quick to note that the rear seats, especially for a compact sedan, were very comfortable.
On freeways, the Elantra’s suspension easily soaked up small bumps, although larger ones or a series of bumps could upset its rear torsion axle suspension.
In Chicago, itself, the GLS was also up to the task and able to handle smaller bumps, but the larger ones or a series of road imperfections, again, could affect its composure.
Fuel economy, as advertised, was exemplary. Around town, I averaged 29.5 miles per gallon, while freeway cruising between 75 and 80 resulted in an observed 38.7 mpg.
Aside from the suspension, I do have one other nit to pick.
As I’ve stated previously, electric steering has to be fine tuned in order to give the right amount of feedback to the driver in all situations. Like the Sonata, there was a nice weight to the steering on the highway. Unlike its larger sibling, however, this same heaviness carried over to the Elantra’s urban driving where it resulted in reduced feedback at lower speeds.
New car pricing for the 2011 Elantra starts at $14,945 for a GLS model equipped with a manual transmission which offers air conditioning and cruise control as options. The GLS automatic comes with both at base price of $17,080.
Adding the $550 preferred equipment package and $1,750 nav package along with carpeted floor mats ($95), an iPod cable ($35) and destination (at $720) brings the grand total of this particular Elantra GLS to a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $20,230. That price is roughly $1,500 less than a comparably-equipped Honda Civic EX (the only Civic with navigation and deleting the difference for the Civic’s sunroof) and $500 less than a Toyota Corolla LE (a Corolla, by the way, that lacks a navigation system and comes equipped with a 4-speed versus the Elantra’s 6-speed automatic transmission).
The Bottom Line
So what does this all mean?
The coming of the 2011 Elantra signals that Hyundai finally has a serious contender to the Cruzes, Focuses, Civics, Corollas and Jettas of the world – all vehicles vying for the top spot in what has come to be a hotly-contested market segment.
So here, as I see it, is the bottom line: A few years ago, American small car buyers had little to choose from and even less to look forward to when buying a compact car. During the past two years, higher corporate fuel economy targets along with higher fuel prices have had a hand in raising the bar for the compact sedan class.
As it stands now, the all-new Elantra can hold its own in this class.
But what should give other manufacturers pause is that Hyundai has shown itself to be a quick learner and, with a couple of tweaks, it could soon be at the top.