The 2011 Hyundai Elantra is the next generation in the line, with new body, interior, features engine and transmissions. The all-new 2011 Elantra is offered only in four-door sedan configuration with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. (Note: the 2011 Elantra Touring model is a hatchback wagon based on the previous-generation.)
New bodywork highlights the 2011 Elantra sedan and makes the old one resemble a deformed jellybean with lights and door handles. Taking influence from the larger, recent Sonata, this Elantra is crisp, clean, downright sporty looking for an economy car. It is lighter, larger in many respects, with gains inside that appear larger than those outside.
The cabin has added enough volume to be classed by EPA a mid-size car and by key dimensions like head and legroom, and real-world space and comfort we would consider it a roomy compact. The fastback roof doesn't offer the rear-seat headroom of a hatchback.
The 2011 Elantra leads the class in power output and promises decent performance and good fuel economy aided by light weight. Only a diesel Golf or hybrid is likely to do notably better. Fuel economy is 29/40 miles per gallon City/Highway, according to the federal government.
We found the new 2011 Elantra a nice car to drive and a nice one to ride in, with some driver involvement and good control of noise and bumps.
Value has long been a Hyundai staple and this Elantra shouldn't disappoint, although air conditioning is not standard. The least-expensive model includes XM radio and iPod/auxiliary inputs, heated outside mirrors, and a trip computer. The loaded Elantra Limited model features leather seats, heated front and rear, Bluetooth audio streaming, navigation with traffic, moonroof, and proximity key, a great value for less than $23,000.
By sales volume the Elantra competes in one of the largest classes in the world. If you have a Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Fiesta or Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda 2, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen Golf on your shopping list, we think the Elantra should be on it too.
The all-new 2011 Elantra will stand out more than its predecessor ever did, with crisper, edgier styling from every angle. It very likely will never be described as dull, economy-class, boring, or cookie-cutter, although some of the creases in the sheetmetal could cut cookie dough.
From the rear the Elantra is very similar to its big-brother Sonata, so much so that in the distance or without anything for scale you have to be well-versed in both to tell the difference. The tail lights are long, wavy wraparound fixtures echoing the curves that lead in to the rear bumper and promote airflow to help keep the lights clean; on a dirty road surface the license plate should be the first part shrouded in muck.
Up front a hexagonal grille presents a more sinister smile than Mazda's 3, perhaps more eager to play or a Dustbuster with attitude. The headlight housings wrap into the fenders, the trailing edge back as far as the centerline of the front wheels. This is the face of in-your-face styling as far as commuter compacts go, and makes some of the competition look quite dated.
In side view the Elantra again borrows from the Sonata school with a raked windshield, roofline flowing into the trunk, coupe-like rear side window shape, and a generally-forward leaning shape. The crease that runs a rising arc from the front wheel, through the door handles and over the rear-wheel openings into the tail lights closely mirrors the shape of the last Triumph sports cars, the TR7 and TR8, suggesting their tag-line, “The Shape of Things to Come,” was indeed accurate.
The Elantra appears to have the sleekest, highest tail in its class and looks faster because of it. For the time being it's overall the most distinctive shape in this segment, with only the 2012 Ford Focus and Honda Civic likely to offer cosmetic competition.
Elantra Limited models can be distinguished by their larger alloy wheels, fog lights, and mirror-mounted signal repeaters. None of those is reason enough to step up; the tires offer better performance but the aftermarket (or your dealer) can address that too.
The Elantra's interior doesn't resemble that of some cost-cutter compacts, marrying a good dose of style with some interesting materials. If you don't feel you're getting your money's worth here, we think you'll struggle to find any better in a compact. It has no hint of cheapness nor pretense of luxury, though standard heated rear seats for $20,000 will cause a lot of people to take notice.
That's right, heated rear seats are standard on the Limited, along with leather upholstery and faux leather door panels all perforated in a wave pattern. GLS models use cloth covering but all the seats are the same construction. The headliner employs a mix of material that includes volcanic rock to an interesting effect more attractive than fuzzy cardboard or plastic. There is of course plastic on many surfaces though the only area we found that looks it is the backs of the front seats. We were pleasantly surprised to find the center AC vents were color-matched to the surrounding trim, not always the case on far more expensive cars.
Room up front is very good and the seats are set well in from the doors for extra elbow space. Both of our 6-foot, 3-inch test dummies fit fine, even with a sunroof, and neither had the seat all the way back. With the front seats left in place they squeezed under the low door opening into the back, when both found sufficient knee and toe space while one could sit upright without head against the headliner as the other was. There's a lot of passenger volume in the Elantra (EPA labels it midsize, though we consider it a compact) and it has competitive dimensions, but different shapes will find numbers aren't everything.
Front seats proved comfortable for hours with no back complaints about lack of lumbar or inadequate bolstering; longer-legged types may wish for longer seat cushions. It's worth noting the least expensive model does not include a telescoping steering column, which aids comfort and driver awareness. The rear seats are also comfortable, the center floor nearly flat and the center seat higher but well padded.
Analog road and engine speed complement digital fuel and temperature, bathed in blue at night. Most steering wheels have redundant control options and on cars so equipped telephone buttons for hands-on operation. Radio or navigation/audio atop the center stack was easy to work and see in sunlight, though occasionally we'd stumble upon some slightly odd logic like the low-frequency (bass) adjustment on top and the high-frequency (treble) adjustment on the bottom; alphabetical isn't what we're accustomed to. Ventilation controls are in their own section and quickly deciphered.
Cabin storage is fairly good in quantity, variety and location. Each door has a map pocket, electronics plugs aren't right next to the cupholders waiting to fill with coffee or cola, and there's a pocket on the right side of the console with an adjacent 12-volt power point. It's handy for charging things but anything in it takes away the passenger's left knee-rest.
Outward visibility is fairly good. The windshield pillars are thicker (a new set of safety standards is coming) than they were but so far away that rarely presents any issues. A tall windshield and articulated mirror mount ensure a good view on winding or hilly lanes, and the hood can only be seen by those sitting far forward and high. Despite the high trunk and sloping roof we had no problems with rear or rear-quarter vision.
The trunk offers nearly 15 cubic feet of space; only the Chevrolet Cruze and Mazda3 might hold more. It's not a big opening, but sufficient, and there are pulls to drop the 40/60 folding rear seats (not flat) for more capacity. There's only a small area of paint to lift things over so the rear bumper should stay pretty, and a hole in the trunk about the size of a tire has a filler with storage bins in it.
It wasn't five minutes into our relatively quiet drive that we were commenting positively, even before the price tag was factored in. Only one jaded observer seemed less than duly impressed, noting that Hyundai made such major strides with the Genesis and Sonata he was accustomed to expecting huge changes. The styling might have changed more than the chassis but this Elantra is much better and fully competitive with anything in its class, the solidity, dynamics and style such that you may soon forget about any price and warranty advantages.
The 1.8-liter engine makes as much power as the 2-liter in the Mazda 3 (148 hp, or 145 in PZEV emissions trim for some states) and 131 lb-ft of torque. Like most, it has to be revved to get the most out of it, and it's fairly happy and unobtrusive doing so. Peak power is at 6500 rpm and, in the manual gearbox, at that point felt a soft limiter engage for engine protection; it felt like there was no point in going beyond 6300 to extract maximum performance. Like many Hyundai models, the gas pedal is calibrated for significant response, feeling like it initially gets a lot of power for just a little pedal, which then makes the second half of pedal travel not so exciting.
EPA fuel economy ratings on the new Elantra are 29/40 mpg regardless of trim or transmission. The only competition with similar values are limited editions of the smaller Ford Fiesta and the Eco version of the Chevrolet Cruze. We were not able to verify the accuracy of our tester's odometers but the computer showed a best of 40.3 and a worst of 30.9 on various traffic and terrain 50-mile legs.
The 6-speed manual shifts effortlessly and allows max performance or economical driving habits. The 6-speed automatic is just as good, holding gears as needed to maintain speed and eliminate a lot of gear changes trying to save fuel by uphsifting only to have to downshift two seconds later because speed fell off.
Electric-assist steering points the car where you want to go with minimal effort, reasonable feedback and U-turns in less than 35 feet. Brakes are all disc on all models and more than capable of slowing down anything the 1.8-liter engine gets going. Directional stability is good, with little of that vague on-center feeling that characterizes some electric-assist steering systems.
Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard across the board, and the steering assist is now part of the system: it adds assist when the steering wheel is turned in the correct direction, and lessens assist, requiring more driver effort, when the steering wheel is turned the wrong direction. It won't steer for you in case of a slide, only help you steer the correct direction.
The Elantra's structure is very stiff so the car feels solid, tight and squeak free. Suspension is tuned more for ride comfort than outright speed but the vault-like structure means it can do a commendable job on twisty roads and still glide down the highway. It does exhibit body lean in hard cornering but this is more than acceptable; it remains controlled and makes the driver aware it is working toward its limits.
It just pitter-patters across expansion joints, and it didn't make much difference if we were on the 16-inch steel wheels or lower-profile Limited tires and aluminum wheels. The latter have higher cornering limits, look better, won't be subject to rust long-term but aren't as forgiving on potholed infrastructure.
Hyundai claims a 500-mile range on the highway and we found nothing like wind noise, vibration or other fatigue-inducers that would make us stop for a break mid-way. Human endurance or hunger will more likely be the deciding factor.
The all-new 2011 Hyundai Elantra is a major step forward for the model and will help push the redesign of other cars in the segment. You can buy it for the quiet ride, the airy interior, the fuel economy, the stylish wrapper, or all of the above. And then you can note the minimal impact on your budget in purchase, at the gas pump, and at the service drive, as those traditional Hyundai values have taken a back seat to the car itself.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 2011 Hyundai Elantra near La Jolla, California.