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The compact-sedan class has hardly been an area of innovation in the auto industry, but Hyundai has pushed past rivals like the Toyota Corolla with a very stylish, well-detailed, and technologically advanced new version of its Elantra sedan. While holding the line on performance compared to previous versions, the Elantra achieves much-improved fuel economy—38 mpg highway over the entire model line, as well as improved passenger comfort and interior refinement.
From the back you might mistake the Elantra for its large Sonata sibling; but with the Elantra an even smoother take. Hyundai intended to take the Elantra in a "sporty and modern" design direction this time, and we think it succeeded—this new compact sedan looks, from some side angles, like it's about to leap forward. The exterior builds on the automaker's Fluidic Scupture theme that applies to the mid-size Sonata, but in the Elantra it's a little more crisp and aggressive, a little more athletic. Inside, the Elantra combines traditional Hyundai swoopiness with some interesting new cues—specifically, the pinch point where the center console meets the rest of the dash, as well as the strongly hooded gauge cluster.
Hyundai has downsized its engine in the Elantra for 2011, to 1.8 liters and thanks to an all-new engine design the automaker is able to significantly improve fuel economy (and reach a 40-mpg highway figure) while keeping performance on par or better than with the outgoing 2.0-liter. Performance is pretty respectable from this engine, provided you're not afraid of eliciting downshifts. And its 148 hp and 131 lb-ft is enough because the new Elantra weighs less than 2,700 pounds (and, actually, 62 pounds less than its predecessor). Still, there's nothing particularly athletic or inspiring about the Elantra; throttle response can feel dulled and delayed, and steering feel isn't close to on par with that of particularly crisp-handling small sedans like the Mazda3 or Suzuki Kizashi. Brakes are great, though; they're four-wheel discs, rather than the rear-drum setup that's pretty common in this class, with a nice, firm pedal feel.
The 2011 Hyundai Elantra has an interior that's almost mid-size caliber—almost if it weren't for the tight headroom in back that's so often the mark of a compact cabin. Front seats could use a little more support, and while backseat space is a little bit better than what we're accustomed to in this size of vehicle, there's simply not enough headroom for taller adults. Seats fold forward easily—though not quite flat—but there's a wide trunk opening, and throughout the interior you'll find plenty of thoughtful cubbies and storage touched, plus a power plug and USB input. Ride quality is excellent; the Elantra soaks up road noise better than most small cars, and wind noise is well-muted at 70 mph—at the level you'd expect in a mid-size sedan.
Hyundai has become known, in any of its vehicles, for sweetening the package with a few more features than you'll find standard elsewhere in that model's class. That's again the case with the 2011 Hyundai Elantra; even the base GLS comes with power windows, locks, power mirrors, keyless entry, and (on automatic models) air conditioning, cruise control, and telescopic steering adjustment. Hyundai boasts that the nav system has the largest screen size in this class. For the price, its beautiful. And it really is a great system, incorporating voice recognition for phone, audio, and nav control, plus XM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports and Stocks integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, 16GB of onboard flash memory, Satellite Radio capability, and the capability to play picture slideshows.
- Unparalleled design and details
- Excellent fuel economy
- Quiet, refined cabin
- Smooth ride
- Impressive feature set
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- Delayed, dulled throttle response
- Lacks rear headroom
- Uninspiring, too-light steering