2011 Hyundai Elantra First Drive Review

December 14, 2010

The new 2011 Hyundai Elantra has potential for greatness.

Of course Hyundai’s design renaissance is no longer a secret. If awards were given for the most improved styling of a product line, Hyundai—and indeed its sister brand Kia—would easily be at the top of the list. And now we have the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, whose gracefully fluidic lines immediately recall those of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata introduced earlier this year. Hyundai calls the design language “Fluidic Sculpture”, and designer Cedric D’Andre’s Elantra is easily the most successful execution of it to date.

Another thing the 2011 Elantra has going for it is an exceptional level of available equipment. To enhance the gracefully organic interior design, two audio systems are offered. A 172-watt AM/FM/Satellite/CD/MP3 audio system with six-speakers and iPod/USB/auxiliary input jacks is the base system. Plus, Bluetooth audio wirelessly streams music. All you could really do to improve upon all of that is add more power—so the upgrade is an externally amplified 360-watt system with all of the same capabilities.

The available touch-screen navigation system employs a high-resolution seven-inch screen and voice-activation. With Nav, the XM Satellite Radio interface is integrated and features channel logos, real-time NavTraffic and XM Data services. A rearview camera, along with leather upholstery plus keyless entry and start are available as well.

In the mechanical department, with the six-speed automatic transmission, the 131 pound-feet of torque produced by the 148-horsepower 1.8-liter in-line four is more than enough to get the small car moving.  However, with the six-speed manual, the engine's free-revving nature is immediately revealed. The 1.8 loves to wind and produces usable thrust throughout the rev range.

This, when coupled with the Elantra’s willingness to attack corners, practically screams for a more-performance oriented six-speed manual “SE” version of the car. In fact, all the Elantra needs to be a delightfully fun car in the vein of an old Alfa Romeo sedan is a cold air intake, a less restrictive exhaust system, a slightly lowered ride height, bigger wheels with stickier tires, a more robust pair of sway bars, a set of progressive rate springs, and more dynamic shocks.

Yes, we realize that in addition to the engine mods, we just prescribed practically a whole new suspension system for the car. But the Elantra’s basic platform would show those substitutions to great advantage. Drive the 2011 Elantra briskly on a mountain road—as we did—and you’ll see the car absolutely wants it.

Thing is, given Hyundai’s positioning of the Elantra as the only true 40-mpg offering in its class, you’ll probably never see that version of the car from the factory. However, absolutely nothing would stop you from doing it yourself. If you buy one and incorporate those changes, you’ll have a nicely equipped, remarkably affordable, great looking little sports sedan that is an absolute joy to drive.

The 2011 Hyundai Elantra's pricing starts at $15,550 with destination. A fully loaded Elantra Limited Premium comes in at $22,700.

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