With 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, the Elantra performs respectably with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, thanks in part to a lightweight body of less than 2,700 pounds, or more than 60 pounds lighter than the car it replaced.
The new, all-aluminum 'Nu' engine is a major advance in itself. With a host of improvements and/or weight-saving measures like a composite intake, silent timing chain, and electronic throttle (but not direct injection), it's 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. And it's right at home in the 2,500 to 4,500 range—where it'll be pretty much whenever you're increasing speed with the six-speed automatic transmission, which will be far more popular than the perfectly fine six-speed manual.
The Elantra doesn't feel as energetic or engaging as the Ford Focus, though, because its throttle is slow to respond to inputs, and its steering--while improved with better on-center feel this year--isn't especially natural in its feedback. On the other hand, ride quality is great, and the Elantra comes with standard four-wheel disc brakes and a firm pedal feel--better than the cost-cut rear-drum setup that's now so common in this class.