In reaching for a 38-mpg EPA highway rating, Hyundai trimmed the Elantra in some key but relatively unnoticeable ways that boost performance slightly, without pitching the Elantra completely into the sharp-handling niche occupied by the likes of the Ford Focus.
The four-cylinder's down from 2.0 liters of displacement in the last-generation car, to 1.8 liters. Still, power's more than acceptable, with acceleration equal to or better than the prior version. Likely, that's because this Elantra sedan weighs about 60 pounds less than that pre-2011 model--it's just about 2700 pounds in base form, coupe or sedan. Hyundai's also steered clear of adding expensive, weighty technology on the engine--tech like direct injection or electronic throttle control.
Even so, the Elantra has a smooth idle, and stays silky throughout most of the rev range, an achievement that eludes larger four-cylinders and wasn't particularly a Hyundai forte in years past. In the Elantra, the four's right at home in the 2,500- to 4,500-rpm range—where it'll be pretty much whenever you're increasing speed with the responsive six-speed automatic transmission, which will be far more popular than the perfectly fine six-speed manual. Manuals get an ECO shift light, while automatics have an Active ECO mode that slows down shifts and throttle to boost fuel economy up to 7 percent.
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. The wandering common to first- and second-year Elantra sedans has mostly been filtered out, too. The coupe's slightly better for overall feel, since its electric power steering gets a ratio that's a bit quicker.
There's also a small but noticeable handling distinction between the two body styles. The Coupe's rear suspension is an improvement on the sedan's: it's a V-shaped beam with more rigidity than the four-door's straight beam. On the other hand, ride quality is sporty without feeling overly firm in either body style, 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. It's a little shy of the performance paradigm set by VW, Mazda and Ford in this niche, but the Elantra feels at least as good as the current Civic.