New & Used Hyundai Elantra: In Depth
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The Hyundai Elantra is the South Korean automaker's compact sedan and hatchback. It's in its fourth generation on the U.S. market, and in its current form, it's won many honors, including the 2012 North American Car of the Year award.
Today's Elantra has earned a place alongside our favorite cars in the class, the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. It also competes against a host of newer compact entries, from the Chevrolet Cruze and Dodge Dart, Nissan Sentra, and Volkswagen Golf, even its recently redesigned cousin, the Kia Forte.
MORE: Read our 2015 Hyundai Elantra review
With its 2011 redesign, the Elantra made a bold gamble, with a radical new style, building on the automaker's "fluidic sculpture" theme seen on the larger Sonata. On the Elantra it has a slightly more athletic look, and a stylish new interior, that gives it a more dynamic stance. Power comes from a new 148-hp, 1.8-liter engine, and with weight reduced, the model gets a 40-mpg highway figure across the entire lineup. While these models aren't especially enjoyable to drive, they're well-equipped small sedans, with refinement a step above past efforts, and wind and road noise much improved.
The Elantra has decent safety gear, although its crash-test ratings were initially a mixed bag. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it the Top Safety Pick award and today's car achieves a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Today's Elantra also offers some features that aren't necessarily commonplace in this size class, including a touch-screen navigation system with real-time weather and traffic; heated rear seats; and a backup camera.
One potential black mark on the 2011-2013 Elantra lineup: Hyundai was found to have overstated its fuel-economy numbers, due to what it deemed procedural errors during its testing. Hyundai initially claimed up to 40 mpg highway for some models, but after a consumer campaign alleged lower real-world economy, the EPA ran a confirmation check of the Elantra lineup and of several other Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The tests resulted in restated fuel economy numbers for all involved model years. Owners can register with Hyundai to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels. For more details, head to HyundaiMPGInfo.com.
The 2013 model year marked the introduction of a new Hyundai Elantra Coupe, essentially a two-door of the Elantra sedan, as well as a Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback. The Elantra GT has more in common with the compact Hyundai hatchbacks sold in Europe. It's related to the Elantra sedan and coupe, but has its own bodywork that's about 9 inches shorter overall, with sharp fastback styling with some overt Mazda3 cues. The interior isn't quite the same as that in the other models: the dash is shallower, without the hourglass shape that defines the center stack of controls. The GT does have its own rear suspension design, and a three-mode electric steering rack that offers added heft, though effort isn't variable.
The 2014 model year brought a new Elantra Sport four-door model that uses a 174-horsepower version of Hyundai's 2.0-liter four-cylinder. That engine was also added to the Elantra GT range as an option. This was also the last year of availability for the Elantra Coupe, which did not return for 2015.
Hyundai Elantra history
From 1992 to 2000, the first two generations of Hyundai Elantras were, like most Hyundais of the era, inexpensive economy cars. After 2000, the Elantra made great strides toward mainstream levels of equipment and quality, including standard front and side airbags, power locks, air conditioning, and power windows.
Redesigned again in 2007, the last-generation Elantra and the Elantra Touring wagon offered even more room, more powerful and efficient engines, and standard safety features like electronic stability control, brake assist, side curtain airbags, active head restraints, and all-disc anti-lock brakes. The modern-day Elantra GT five-door hatchback has replaced the Touring wagon in the current Elantra lineup, however.
With that 2007-2010 model, Hyundai managed to earn a new level of respect for reliability and resale value--even against stalwarts like the Civic and Corolla. This Elantra was offered in just three trims, with the Limited model available from 2001 to 2006 cut from the lineup. The GLS and SE trims were complemented by the Blue, a special fuel-efficiency-focused version of the sedan available only with a five-speed manual transmission. The Elantra Touring was only available in GLS and SE trims.