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The Hyundai Elantra is a handsome economy car that's risen from the ranks to become one of our top-rated compacts. With a full feature set and good safety ratings, it outshines stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
Now offered in sedan and five-door hatchback guises, the Elantra is a great example of how quickly South Korea has learned from Japanese automaker successes and rewritten their playbook. However, the former Coupe model--only in the lineup for two years--has been dropped, leaving the Elantra as a two-car affair.
Last year brought a relatively mild rework to the Elantra lineup. The accomplished styling of the current car received new front and rear ends, with LED fillips around the headlamps on Sport and Limited sedan models. The rest? It's still a convenient metaphor for Hyundai itself, more interesting and more accomplished than ever. The Elantra wears a complex set of curves that collect in one fell swoop toward the rear end, where the boomerang door cuts give it a shove forward. It's an energetic look backed up with a daring cockpit, with the hourglass of the center console a defining shape that just happens to function perfectly as a comfy knee rest.
The Elantra remains lean and efficient, with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine standard in the base SE sedan and the Limited. Rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, this powertrain's fairly smooth and accelerates respectably through a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. There's a new 2.0-liter four in the Elantra Sport, with 173 hp.
Generally, the Elantra doesn't feel as energetic or engaging as the best drivers in the class. Its throttle is slow to respond to inputs, and its steering could be quicker and more responsive: it's been improved with better on-center feel, but it isn't especially natural in its feedback. Ride quality is fine, though, and the Elantra soaks up road noise as well as, or better than its competitors, with noise levels about as low as some mid-size sedans. That's an important metric for the Elantra, since its interior space spills over into mid-size territory.
The Elantra's an excellent value on many fronts. By its spec sheet, it's a mid-size vehicle, and it shows. The sedan's front seats could use a little more bolstering and lateral support, as in the coupe, but on either, they're surrounded by ample space in all directions. In back, the leg room is fine for adults, but head room can be tight, even for medium-height passengers. The Elantra's interior has lots of useful cubbies and storage bins, including a covered one that sits ahead of the shift lever: it also contains the aux jack, a power point, and the USB port in an easy to reach module, perfect for connecting smartphones.
Last year, all Elantra sedans were rated at five stars overall by the NHTSA, and were IIHS Top Safety Picks, with an "acceptable" rating in the new small-overlap test. The IIHS has ratcheted up its standards, and the Elantra carries over the Top Safety Pick award for 2015.
The Elantra sedan lineup now includes the SE, Limited, and Sport models. All Elantras come with power windows, locks, and mirrors; keyless entry; and (on automatic models) air conditioning; cruise control; Bluetooth with audio streaming; and telescopic steering. All versions can stream audio via the Pandora app and a USB connection. A 4.3-inch touchscreen radio with a rearview camera is now standard on the Sport and Limited sedans, and an option on the SE.