The Elantra features handsome styling with nice lines. Its four-cylinder engine offers the latest technology, offering a good balance of power and fuel mileage. A 2008 Elantra with the optional four-speed automatic gets an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway using the new 2008 test methods.
Elantra is a compact, competing against Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevy Cobalt and Dodge Caliber. Elantra offers lots of interior space for the class, a high level of standard safety equipment, and a strong warranty. And by other measures, it holds its own against those cars.
Hyundai claims that the Elantra warranty, 5 years or 60,000 miles, plus 10 years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain, is the best in its class.
Bigger than the previous-generation model, this fourth-generation Elantra offers a spacious cabin, storage compartments galore, and we found the seats very comfortable. It can seat up to five, but the Elantra is more comfortable with four. The back seats offer ample hip room and adequate legroom.
With its long-legged gearing, the Elantra can run 80 miles per hour all day without straining, and it's quiet at high speeds. The ride is good, although a bad freeway with relentless sharp bumps is more than the Elantra can accept without passing on some of the annoyance to the front seats. We found the brakes excellent and the cornering good.
For 2008, the Elantra SE comes with electronic stability control and Brake Assist, which were not available on 2007 models. A tire pressure monitoring system has been added.
Because the Elantra generally costs less than the competition, it might well be a long-term bargain. However, resale value always needs to be considered, and that competition includes the stalwarts from Honda and Toyota.
Hyundai Elantra GLS ($13,525); SE ($16,225)
The Elantra received a lot of careful design work, and could pass for being seamless. At the front and rear fascia, the seams are so tight that the body appears to be one piece, until you look very closely. That quality fitting also reveals itself in the smooth opening and closing of the doors.
The Elantra's good looks move this Korean compact car toward the world of the stylish. Its sculpture is clean, with a high beltline running along at the body-colored door handles. It's got a subtle face, with trapezoidal headlamps having rounded edges, leading down and in to a cup-shaped grille with three simple chrome bars. At the bottom of the fascia is a long, slim air intake with two bars. It lacks definitive fender flares because it doesn't need them; the Elantra doesn't shout to be seen. The wheel covers, which are silver plastic on the GLS, look good from a distance.
The front seats are quite comfortable, with good bolstering, and the standard beige cloth is smooth though unexciting. There's an especially large dead pedal to support the driver's left foot.
The blue backlighting of the gauges has a youthful spirit, and makes the driver feel like it's a cool car. The arcs of the speedo and tach are a thin blue line, with red needles pointing the way.
The radio control knobs are blessedly simple, like radio knobs should be. But we didn't care for the trim on the dash; imagine a silver plastic golf ball.
In the rear, the 35 inches of leg room is a half-inch more than the Civic and Sentra, and 1.5 inches less than the 2009 Corolla, give or take a tenth. But the Elantra has good hip room.
Elantra has a large trunk. For carrying cargo, the rear seatbacks fold down to allow a pass-through into the trunk. However, the opening isn't vast like the Nissan Sentra's.
Storage compartments are abundant. There's a neat box inside the top of the dash, and a sunglasses container in the headliner. The fixed door pockets have built-in bottle holders. Below the three climate control knobs there's a small companion to the glovebox, and below that, forward of the shift lever, there's also an open storage area. There are two cupholders behind that, and a double console under the driver's elbow.
Generally, the interior is notably quiet, for a compact car. Then the wind picked up, and as we watched the dust devils ahead of us on the road, we listened to the whooshing against the glass.
One thing it doesn't do, surprisingly, is plow the front tires when you stand on the gas in a slow corner. We're not suggesting you drive like that, but we do test like that, because such extremes reveal limits, in this case capabilities of the suspension. It's a rare front-wheel-drive compact car that can pass this test. The Elantra will spin the inside front wheel, but it keeps turning around the corner instead of sliding straight ahead. The suspension engineers have done something right, in the front end of the Elantra.
The Elantra is softer all around than the sportier Nissan Sentra or Mazda3. The ride is good, although after a couple hours on a bad freeway, the sharp bumps will wear on you. Overall, it's a good fit for someone who just wants good transportation without attitude. It asks less involvement from the driver than those other two.
The brakes are excellent. We really stood on them a few times, and they didn't allow the car to dart or weave while they sharply brought down the speed.
The five-speed manual gearbox worked well. Out on the freeway, 80 miles per hour doesn't feel like 80, always a good sign, especially for a compact car. The tachometer shows 3500 rpm at that speed, and it's not in the least bit buzzy. It feels long-legged for such a small car.
There's plenty of oomph in the four-cylinder engine, which makes 138 horsepower, nearly matching the Sentra. Our test model had the five-speed, and the engine revved right up to the redline of 6500 rpm, and liked it. It also accelerates away at low rpm in a higher gear, with 136 pound-feet of torque. As with many vehicles nowadays, the throttle is overly sensitive at tip-in; with the manual transmission, it requires a deft touch with the throttle to pull out from a standstill without giving it more gas than it needs.
Fuel economy using the new 2008 EPA standards is 24/33 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox, 25/33 mpg with the automatic.
The Hyundai Elantra offers a roomy interior for the class, a good package of safety equipment, and a strong warranty. Redesigned for 2007, the styling holds its own in the class; it looks very clean but doesn't try to draw attention to itself. The seats are comfortable, the brakes are excellent, and cornering capability is good, making it enjoyable to drive. The engine offers the latest four-cylinder technology; it can power the Elantra to 80 miles per hour without much effort and delivers good fuel economy when driven conservatively. With a price that's lower than most other compact cars, the Elantra is a worthy competitor in the class.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border.