My dad proudly wore his nerd insert-a plastic shirt-pocket sheath. Attached to his belt: a slide rule. Eventually, he bought a scientific calculator. Nonetheless, his cents and sensibility were consistent. When, it came to our family's car, he would pick something economical, serviceable and, well, dull.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's a verity: getting groceries or car-pooling doesn't require hot wheels. So dad, here's one budget-car contender: the 2010 Hyundai Elantra Blue.
The Elantra Blue M/T is a softy. Hyundai tuned its ride for comfort. As long as you dont rev the 2.0-liter, 138-hp engine too much, the car sounds and feels composed. The manual transmission's gear ratios are tall. Its shift lever moves through five forward gears. When it's cold, snatching first requires skill. Clutch pedal effort is low, engagement fuzzy.
An upshift/downshift indicator prompts you when to shift. The Blue doesn't have a mpg-calculating trip computer. It's available on the slightly less thrifty GLS or SE version.
Numb motor-assisted steering doesn't inspire confidence. Nevertheless, this vehicle motors through most maneuvers without drama. The Elantra, therefore, is a civil car.
Pleasant surprises: Its hard-plastic door panels look upscale. The "W" shaped dashboard places large knobs within the driver's reach. Hyundai's bright-blue LCD displays are easy to read, but cruise control indicator and overhead phone-interface buttons are too bright at night.
Front seats support average-size adults; the nicely contoured rear seat isn't a penalty box. Unpleasant hard-plastic front seat backs intrude, however. Hyundai offers up-to-date safety gear.
Hyundai cuts corners. For instance, the decklid isn't lined. And the base price doesn't include air conditioning, electronic stability control or a telescoping steering wheel. With air, Hyundai asks $17,000, which it claims is more mpg for the money.
Fuel economy: 28 mpg overall. The EPA says: 26 mpg city; 35 mpg hwy.