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TheCarConnection.com's experts have driven the Elantra and bring their firsthand driving impressions to this Bottom Line. But that’s not all; it’s coordinated with a full review of the 2010 Hyundai Elantra, with expert-gathered information from other sources.
The 2010 Hyundai Elantra includes both sedan models and the sportier Touring wagon; size-wise, they slot between the bargain-basement Rio and the mid-level Sonata. For 2007, the Elantra was redesigned and became significantly larger all around; as it is, the Elantra qualifies as a mid-size car by some numbers.
Last year, the five-door Elantra Touring wagon joined the lineup. With a sportier appearance inside and out and a more premium European-influenced look and feel, the Touring almost comes across like a different vehicle from the sum of its details, even though its powertrain and basic platform are the same. Matching Hyundai's other vehicles, the interior follows a soft—not edgy—design, with rounded borders and flowing curves.
Across the model line, a 138-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is quite gutsy whether you choose the automatic transmission or the five-speed manual. Although the engine is smooth and quiet for most driving, it’s a bit loud and boomy—and not in a sporty way—when accelerating hard. Overall, the Elantra is quite softly sprung, which allows it to soak up bumps very well, with the ride quality of a larger sedan; Elantra Touring models get a different calibration, along with bigger stabilizer bars, with a much sportier feel overall. On either model, the electric power steering system in the Elantra works very well, light at low speed and firm yet responsive at high speed. Through some relatively simple engineering enhancements—such as a smart alternator, lower-friction components, and revised/taller gear ratios, along with revised engine calibration—Hyundai has improved fuel efficiency on the Elantra Blue base model by up to 8 percent versus last year. EPA ratings now stand at 26 mpg city, 35 highway with the standard five-speed manual transmission—up from 24 mpg city, 33 highway on last year’s model. On other Elantra GLS and SE models, fuel economy ratings have gone up about 1 mpg in both city and highway ratings, to 26/34 mpg.
Interior space is a strength in the 2010 Hyundai Elantra no matter which model you go with. Seating in front is generously proportioned and comfortable, and there's enough headroom and legroom in back for two—or, in a pinch, three—normal-size adults, which is unusual among small sedans. With 97.9 cubic feet of passenger room and 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space, it has the most interior volume for a sedan in its class—and could almost be called a mid-size car. Touring models have a high roofline, which allows them almost SUV-like utility and versatility, and the split backseat folds forward flat. It’s a neat, well-designed layout. Switchgear and gauges in the Elantra are straightforward and tactile, and the instrument panel's design, with the high-mounted sound and climate-control functions, is convenient. With very little road and wind noise to speak of, it’s also one of the quietest cabins in its class.
Crash-test ratings for the 2010 Hyundai Elantra are just acceptable, with mostly five-star ratings in federal tests but four stars for side impact. The IIHS gives it "acceptable" ratings for rear impact and a "marginal" rating for side impact. Front, side, and curtain airbags are standard across the Elantra lineup, as are anti-lock brakes and active head restraints. Stability control and brake assist are standard on the SE and included on Touring models.
Offered for the sedan—but not the Touring wagon—is a new, fuel-economy-optimized Elantra Blue model. The base Blue includes power heated mirrors, power locks and windows, keyless entry, a split-folding rear seatback, and a tilt (though not telescopic) steering wheel. Options include air conditioning, an upgraded 172-watt audio system with MP3 compatibility, iPod and USB inputs, and cruise control. In short, it's a gas-saver but not a blue-light special. The GLS moves a bit upscale from last year, adding most of those options plus a few more minor features, such as fog lamps, while the top-of-the-line SE includes steering-wheel audio controls, leather trim, telescopic steering-wheel adjustment, sport-tuned steering and suspension, and 16-inch alloy wheels. At the top of the range you can get a sunroof and heated seats. Bluetooth is offered only as a port-installed option, and it's a mediocre headliner-speaker system rather than integrated with the audio system.