The South Korean marque has produced a car just as special inside as out.
2011 Hyundai Elantra
If looks are the sole criteria by which automobiles - even econo-class saloons - were judged, the 2011 Elantra would be the top-selling compact in the world. Simply put, the Elantra is the sexiest ride in the econo-car segment. Indeed, this new Hyundai is one of the best-looking cars in any segment. From the front, it looks almost Italian, with a deep, aggressive grille that looks like it could swallow a Civic whole. From the side, the aerodynamically sloping rear roofline dominates and, from the rear, the dramatically styled boot lid and rear lights make yet another bold statement. With the optional 17-inch wheels, this is the first Hyundai (with apologies to the old Tiburon coupe) that looks unabashedly sporty. It's quite a turnaround for the South Korean car maker long known for outstanding value but somnolent styling.
That same improvement applies to the Elantra's new powertrain. The new Nu (yes, I know it's awkward) 1.8L four cylinder pumps out 148hp, superior to most in the segment and equal to the class-leading Mazda3's 2.0L. The little four-banger also has more torque, a significant addition when you're dealing with such small-displacement motors. More amazingly, that newfound power is accompanied by an increase - a significant increase - in fuel economy. Hyundai is very proud of the new Elantra's 4.9L/100km motorway fuel economy rating and, while that might not seem like a significant benchmark, its equivalent miles-per-gallon rating in the United States is 40 mpg and, as USA Today recently reported, 40 is the new 30 in US fuel economy benchmarks.
Indeed, Hyundai takes great pains to note that, while other mainstream cars - notably the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet's Cruze - achieve the same target, their figures are for specific economy-engineered versions - the SFE and Eco models respectively - only. Hyundai, meanwhile, brags that all Elantras will attain the magical 40mpg figure, mainly a result of the Elantra's efficient new six-speed automatic transmission's efficiency (the automatic matches the manual's 4.9L/100km motorway rating and consumes only 0.1L/100 km more in the city) and new engine internals like a friction-reducing, offset crankshaft and two-step variable intake system. Judging by how much the accomplishment was trumpeted at the press conference in California, one can expect to hear more about the Elantra's frugality.
Despite this emphasis on fuel economy, the new Elantra is an able performer. That 148hp, mated to the close-ratio six-speed gearbox, moves the Hyundai with more than competitive alacrity. No world records will be set, nor will Lotus drivers quake in fear of the Elantra's launch from stoplights. But the Elantra passes long trucks with ease, cruises at 140kph without breaking a sweat and will leave Corollas in its wake.
If you're looking for reasons not to like the new Elantra, the Nu (once again, I remind you that that is the correct spelling) 1.8L is a little louder than it should be. It's fine when you're just puttering along, but when the transmission downshifts for maximum warp factor, there's more thrashing than necessary. Considering that the wind noise inside the cabin is more than it should be as well, it points to a dearth of insulation rather than any particular raucousness.
The rest of the interior proves exemplary, if not quite as radically styled as the exterior. Even the base model, the GLS Standard, features a modern, sculpted dashboard, large, easily manipulated switchgear and controls well integrated into the steering wheel. Panel gaps are remarkably even and the various plastic bits that make up the main dash are soft to the touch. That said, the silver knobs and buttons are most obviously plastic and the gauge set not as avante garde as the rest of the car.
There is plenty of room, however, the new Elantra squeaking into the EPAs's mid-sized category rather than the subcompact class. In all dimensions, save rear-seat headroom, the Elantra's interior is generously proportioned. In the rear seats, though, that stylistically pleasing sloping roofline does cause my 180cm bald pate to just brush against the roof's mouse fur. Anyone shorter will be fine and rear legroom is generous. Ditto for the cargo capacity, which, at 420L, is among the most commodious in the class. The boot floor is also flat and the lift-over height reasonable.
The new Elantra also excels in the ride and handling department. Credit the stiffer chassis, a new power-steering system or revised suspension tuning, but the Elantra carved up California's twisty roads at a pace that would have its predecessor well and truly in the woods. Nor was it at the cost of ride, which, though firm, was not overly choppy.
The bottom line for any car is, of course, the cost. Here again, on the bottom end at least, Hyundai doesn't disappoint. There is no UAE price as of yet for the Elantra for when it arrives in April, but in North America, the base model starts at US$14,830 (Dh54,475). The most popular model in the US (we know this because it's actually called the GLS Popular) starts at US$16,080 (Dh59,000). It represents big value as all Elantras now come standard with six air bags - front, side and side air curtains - ABS and vehicle stability control.
I'm less convinced of the Limited Edition pricing. For sure, it boasts big-car features such as leather seating, Bluetooth connectivity, a 360-watt audio system, power sunroof and a touch-screen navigation system with built-in rearview camera. They're all worthwhile features (save perhaps the navigation system, which is a little wonky to operate), but I can't see many people forking over almost the same amount of money on an Elantra as they would spend on a full-zoot Sonota. Hyundai might be just making a statement of its continuing move upscale, but, depending on what models and prices we get here, I suspect the volume seller will be the much less expensive GLS Popular.
I also suspect that it will fuel Hyundai to another record-breaking year in 2011. The new Elantra is everything a Hyundai is supposed to be - inexpensive, well built and economical to operate. It's also newly sophisticated, more powerful and easily the most attractive car in the compact segment.
Price, base / as tested n/a
Engine 1.8L inline four-cylinder
Gearbox six-speed manual
Power 148hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 177Nm @ 4,700 rpm
Fuel economy, L/100km 5.9L / 100km