Steering feel is better than what's offered in the larger Sonata, but it's still not on par with that of the Mazda3 or the Suzuki Kizashi—or, even, the new Kia Optima. While the steering felt fine at lower speeds, it was overly light around center at higher speeds, with a peculiar weighting (and that dreaded 'digital' feel) off center. Brakes on the other hand—four-wheel discs, while a number of models are still only offering drums in back—come with a nice, confident and firm pedal feel.
40 mpg? Yep.
Our drive route, which took us up into the mountains east of San Diego and along the Mexico border, was kind of a worst-case scenario for fuel economy; it had us up and down, skirting 5,000 feet elevation at times. To keep going with some gusto, that engine was revving. A lot. So it wasn't terribly surprising that we saw 26 mpg over a mountainous, quite aggressively driven stretch. On the way back into San Diego, we decided—mostly Interstate slog—we'd take it easy and see what we'd do going the speed limit. Over about 50 miles, mostly 65-70 mph, including a few mountain grades and traffic slowdowns, we saw 39 mpg on the trip computer. At first test, the 40-mpg highway figure looks easily achievable given a 70-mph flat freeway.
This 6'-6" driver had no problem getting comfortable in the Elantra, though as is typical for this class, the lower cushions were on the short side. Front occupants get plenty of headroom with or without the sunroof, thankfully. The front seats of our test Limited and GLS cars looked like they would have some lateral support, but the slightly risen seat edges do nothing for sharp corners. The leather that's available is perforated in a wave pattern and won't be mistaken for luxury hide, but it feels supple enough.
First climbing into the Elantra, we were concerned about the hard edge of the center console (we've had too many experiences with bruised knees), and with the rather low-mounted vents, one of which is just beside the start/stop button and looks like it's just above the driver's right knee. But the inward curve of the center stack proved perfect in keeping knees away, and our kneecaps were well below the vent.
Backseat space is a little bit better than what we're accustomed to in this size of vehicle, but a shortage of headroom (just like the Cruze and Civic) keeps it from being a true mid-size offering. While rear-seat heaters are on the options list—kudos for being first ever in this class—there are no true backseat heater vents, curiously (just what makes its way under the front seats. Pop the trunk and up high there are two easy-release pulls to fold down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks. They don't quite fold flar, but there's enough of an opening to easily fit skis, or a lamp.
There are a few very nice, thoughtful touches in the Elantra. Flip up the big center-console lid, and you'll find a power plug and USB input, so you can hide away your iPod or the like; but over on the passenger side, there's another side compartment and power plug for the passenger, or for another device.