The Hyundai Elantra is a compact car with handsome styling, a notable complement of safety features, commendable driving manners, a responsive and fuel-efficient powertrain, a strong warranty and above-average value for the money.
The 2009 Hyundai Elantra comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback versions, the latter a sporty model called the Elantra Touring.
The Elantra competes against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevy Cobalt and other compact cars. The Elantra offers lots of interior space for the class and, by several other measures, it holds its own against those cars. Hyundai claims the Elantra warranty, of five years or 60,000 miles, plus 10 years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain, is the best in its class, which gives buyers peace of mind.
Fuel economy is quite good. A 2009 Elantra sedan with the optional four-speed automatic transmission is EPA-rated at 25/33 mpg City/Highway.
Elantra's spacious cabin can seat up to five. We found the front seats very comfortable. The back seats offer ample hip room and adequate legroom, though it's more comfortable with four than it is with five people. Storage compartments galore add to its practicality and convenience.
The Elantra can cruise down the highway at 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 those in the front seats. We found the brakes excellent and the cornering good.
For 2009, a sporty new Elantra Touring model joins the line-up. The Touring is a five-door configuration, with styling that's different than that of the sedan, and on a longer wheelbase. It's a sportier, yet more functional alternative that, by virtue of its sports suspension and more responsive steering, is fun to drive and, at the same time, delivers the versatility and utility of a five-door body style. In fact, it has more interior volume than any other five-door vehicle in its class. Elantra Touring comes standard with Electronic Stability Control, unusual for this class.
Other changes for the 2009 Elantra are minor. For 2009, the audio system has a larger display and improved XM Satellite Radio reception, and there have been enhancements to the instrument cluster design and suspension.
The fourth-generation Hyundai Elantra sedan was designed by Americans in Hyundai's California Studio, and is a good-looking compact.
The Elantra received a lot of careful design work, and could pass for being seamless. At the front and rear fascias 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 sedan'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 into 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 Touring model, even taking into account its five-door configuration, looks much different. At the front, the headlights have a more stylized shape that wraps up and over and around the corners. Below the edge of the hood is a thin opening with the Hyundai emblem in the center, and then below that is a large trapezoidal opening that is flanked by prominent foglamps. At the rear are large, vertical taillamp units that should be easy to see by just about anyone, thus enhancing safety. There are also fairly thick pillars at the rear corners that might inhibit outward vision of some drivers.
The Hyundai Elantra is a larger, roomier car than the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. Cabin volume is 112.1 cubic feet, among the best in the compact class.
Elantra sedans ride on a 104.3-inch wheelbase, while the Touring five-door has a 106.3-inch wheelbase. Not surprisingly, the interior volume of the Touring is larger, at 125.5 cubic feet total, and a generous 65.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
The front seats are quite comfortable, with good bolstering, and the standard cloth is smooth though unexciting. There's an especially large dead pedal to support the driver's left foot. The Touring model's seats have a premium cloth.
The blue backlighting of the gauges has a youthful spirit, and arcs of the speedometer and tach are thin blue lines, 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 bit more than the Civic and Sentra, and a measurable amount less than the 2009 Corolla, but the Elantra has good hip room. It also offers 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 and 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. While driving on a really, really windy day, there was noticeable wind noise against the windows, but that's to be expected.
The Hyundai Elantra offers spirited handling with predictable response and calm confidence. The Elantra rides softer than the sportier Nissan Sentra or Mazda3. The ride is good, although after a couple hours on a bad freeway, the sharp bumps might wear on those who are perhaps more tender. Overall, it's a good fit for someone who just wants good transportation without attitude.
The brakes are excellent. We really used them hard a few times, and they didn't cause the car to dart or weave while they sharply, and evenly, brought down the speed.
The five-speed manual gearbox worked well. Out on the freeway, 80 miles per hour doesn't feel like 80, which is always a good sign, especially for a compact car. The tachometer showed 3500 rpm at that speed, and it's not in the least bit buzzy. It feels long-legged for such a small car, as if it could cruise cross-country with smoothness and ease.
There's plenty of oomph in the four-cylinder engine, which makes 138 horsepower. Our test model had the five-speed, and the engine revved right up to the redline of 6500 rpm. And, with a sufficient supply of torque, 136 pound-feet, it also accelerates easily at low rpm. We felt that the throttle was perhaps a bit sensitive upon initial acceleration; with the manual transmission, it required a deft touch with the throttle to pull out from a standstill without giving it more gas than it needed.
Fuel economy is 24/33 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox, 25/33 mpg with the automatic. The Touring model, which weighs about 200 pounds more than the sedan, is rated at 23/31 mpg with the manual and 23/30 mpg with the automatic.
The Hyundai Elantra offers a roomy interior for the class, a good package of safety equipment, and a strong warranty. 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 the 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 and offers a very good value for the money.
Sam Moses contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.