In a flooded segment handily conquered by cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the current Hyundai Elantra is a forgettable-looking also-ran. But the 2011 model changes that. This new car, debuting at the L.A. auto show, boasts slick and attractive styling, boatloads of features, and an EPA rating of 29 mpg city/40 highway no matter which trim level or options you select.
Hyundai hit its stride with the 2011 Sonata, which offers not only first-rate ride and handling but delivers very distinctive styling in a price bracket sheltering some of the blandest cars on the road. In similar fashion, the Elantra is, dare we say, a strikingsedan for the budget-minded. Obviously modeled after its bigger sibling, with sharp creases and swoopy lines, the Elantra—together with the Sonata and Tucson—finally brings a consistent design language to Hyundai. With the Sonata on track to sell about 200,000 units in the U.S. this year, we don’t see why a smaller and cheaper version won’t be a similar sales success.
Beneath the surface, the Elantra rides on a wheelbase two inches longer than that of the outgoing car. Overall length increases by less than an inch. Width stays the same, but height is down 1.8 inches. Headroom takes a slight hit and the total interior volume is down by a little more than two cubic feet, but the Elantra still lords its EPA classification as a mid-size car over the Civic and Corolla, both of which qualify as compact.
Disc brakes reside at all corners. The front rotors grow 0.2 inch, to 11 overall, but the rears stay the same size. While the last Elantra was never a stellar handler, we’re interested to see how the 2011 behaves in comparison, as the rear suspension moves from a more costly multilink setup to a cheaper torsion-beam axle.
Perhaps the most significant upgrade is the new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Dubbed Nu, it puts out 10 hp more than the old 2.0-liter, totaling 148 at 6500 rpm. Torque output is down 5 lb-ft, to 131, but its all-aluminum construction saves about 74 pounds. The Nu will hook to more ratios than its predecessor, with an available six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. Combine this updated powertrain with the Elantra’s new electric power steering, low-rolling-resistance tires, and decreases in both curb weight and coefficient of drag—0.28 compared to 0.32—and you’ve got that 29/40-mpg EPA rating.
When the 2011 Elantra goes on sale—which will happen yet before the end of the year—buyers will have their choice of two trims, GLS and Limited, with a total of just seven available configurations. While that isn’t a lot of choice, the Elantra is loaded with standard equipment. Safety gear on each Elantra includes six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, and anti-lock brakes. Base GLS models will come equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, body-colored mirrors and door handles, 15-inch steel wheels, a cabin-air filter, power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a six-speaker audio system with auxiliary and USB inputs. Optional equipment on the GLS includes the automatic transmission, two different 16-inch wheel options, auto headlights, air conditioning, a telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, and a seven-inch touch-screen navigation unit that has Bluetooth streaming audio capability, eight gigs of memory, XM satellite radio with XM data services, and a rearview camera.
Those with a little more dough might want to step up to the Limited trim that rolls many of the GLS’s options into the standard-equipment list and adds treats like 17-inch wheels, heated mirrors, a sunroof, and heated leather seats both front and rear. Additionally, the nav system is available, as is push-button starting.
Hyundai is withholding pricing info until later this week, but when the redesigned Sonata surfaced, Hyundai kept costs right around the level of the outgoing car. We expect similar discipline with the Elantra, which means the company should be positioned to make a significant mark on the economy class, too.
Thanks to: Car and Driver