The Hyundai Elantra is a pleasant vehicle to pilot in traffic, but it falls a little short of the performance offered by rivals from Volkswagen, Mazda, and Ford. That said, it's an above-average effort that drives at least as well as the latest Toyota Corolla.
The Elantra remains lean and efficient, with a 1.8-liter inline-4 standard in the base SE sedan and in the Limited. Rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, this powertrain's fairly smooth and accelerates respectably through a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. Generally, the Elantra doesn't feel as energetic or engaging as the Ford Focus, though, because its throttle is slow to respond to inputs.
Even so, the Elantra has a smooth idle, and stays calm throughout most of the rev range, an achievement that eludes larger four-cylinders and wasn't particularly a Hyundai strength in the 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 6-speed automatic transmission, which will be far more popular than the perfectly fine 6-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.
To add some luster to the spec-sheet numbers, a Sport trim for the sedan comes with a 2.0-liter inline-4 shared with the Kia Forte. In the Elantra sedan, it's good for 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque, up 23 hp and 25 lb-ft from the smaller inline-4. We still haven't been able to drive an Elantra four-door with the new 4-cylinder engine, though in the Elantra GT hatchback it's more notable for extra engine noise than an improvement in acceleration. The Sport model comes with a round of handling changes that include stiffer shocks and springs and a bigger stabilizer bar.
The finer inputs are what separates the Elantra from those other compacts. Its steering isn't especially natural in its feedback, though the wandering common to first- and second-year Elantra sedans has mostly been filtered out. Ride quality is sporty without feeling overly firm, 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.
For 2015, all Elantra sedan models received selectable three-mode steering and revised steering feel; the modes provide different levels of heft for the wheel, but none of them really sharpen up the feedback on this electric rack.