The new, all-aluminum 'Nu' engine, with a host of improvements and/or weight-saving measures like a composite intake, silent timing chain, and electronic throttle (but not direct injection), is now the only engine offered on the Elantra in the U.S. Its idle quality is glassy-smooth, and it never reaches that coarse, buzzy range that makes so many small fours unbearable in their peak powerband.
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). This is an engine that's right at home in the 2,500 to 4,500 range—and one that does well with the six-speed automatic transmission, the way about 93 percent of Elantras will be sold, Hyundai estimates.
That said, some of the same annoying Hyundai powertrain traits remain—namely ridiculously slow, delayed throttle response. You can literally floor the gas pedal for a pass, in a fraction of a second change your mind and lift back up, and the electronic throttle or ECU pretends it never happened.
Steering feel is better than what's offered in the larger Sonata, but it's still not on par with that of particularly crisp-handling small sedans like the Mazda3 or Suzuki Kizashi. While the steering felt fine at lower speeds, it's too light on center at higher speeds, with a peculiar weighting (and that dreaded 'digital' feel) off center. 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.