2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS Sedan Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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With new compact offerings from seemingly every manufacturer freshly on the market, 2011 has been a banner year for economy-minded car buyers. Not only is there plenty of choice out there, but the new models are leaps and bounds ahead of the compact cars from only five or ten years ago. So while "compact" and "economy" once meant uninspired, bare-bones transportation, manufacturers today are offering ever-increasing content in their compact offerings (yes, even leather seating and proximity-sensing entry!) and staking out distinct niches in the crowded marketplace.

Ford and Mazda are gunning for distinction as drivers' machines with the Focus and Mazda3. Toyota and Honda duel head-to-head based on their reputations for practicality and reliability (Honda with its all-new ninth-generation Civic and Toyota with a refresh of the tried-and-tested tenth-generation Corolla). Chevrolet's new Cruze is blazing a trail of Euro-influenced refinement and sophistication. And Volkswagen has trimmed the price (and to some extent the content) of its perennially popular Jetta to go after a bigger slice of the everyman pie.

Hyundai, meanwhile, has been moving steadily upmarket, and where once the company was simply the price leader, it now aims to woo buyers with a real value proposition - not necessarily the outright lowest price, but the most car for the money. Enter the all-new 2011 Elantra.

If first impressions count, the Elantra is an immediate winner. It continues the "fluidic sculpture" design language that we first saw on the bigger Sonata. The Elantra's overall shape is defined by a smooth, arching roofline, with bold creases sweeping up along the sides then blending into the taillights. A smart looking, if slightly pinched, front end follows contemporary trends with upswept headlights and a big lower grille. The overall effect is eye-catching without being gaudy and my test car, painted a deep Indigo Blue Pearl colour, drew plenty of praise from my wife and daughter.

Inside, the Elantra is surprisingly spacious and equally stylish, with a sculpted two-tone dash, narrow-waisted centre stack, and generous use of aluminum-look trim. Everything fits together well and the materials are of reasonably good quality, though as expected in this segment there's plenty of hard plastic.

What's less expected in this segment is the high level of equipment included in the Elantra, and this is Hyundai's party piece. For starters, standard throughout the range - including the $15,849 base L model - is a six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is a $1,200 option), heated power mirrors, power locks, power windows, a trip computer and not only an audio auxiliary plug, but a USB plug as well. Oh, and all the expected safety features like six airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, and stability control. Not bad!

Jump up a trim level to the $17,999 GL and you also get air conditioning, heated front seats, keyless entry, an alarm system, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and a telescopic steering wheel. Outside, the GL trim increases the wheel size from 15 to 16 inches.

The mid-range GLS, which I tested, bumps the price up to $19,799, but really gets the party going with alloy wheels (still 16 inches), fog lights, a power moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, XM-capable audio and - wait for it - heated rear seats. Now that's gonna make the kids happy on a cold winter morning!

The equipment list for the Limited trim reads like something from the luxury segment, with included automatic transmission, leather seating, automatic light control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, solar glass and 17-inch alloys. Order the Limited with Nav and you also get proximity entry with pushbutton start, and a navigation system with rearview camera. Even with all this, the price still clocks in at less than $25K - $24,699 to be exact, not counting the $1,495 destination charges.

So the Elantra looks good and is nicely equipped. "But how," you ask, "does it drive?" Well, that depends. If you're the kind of person who carefully read the foregoing equipment lists and rubbed your hands in glee thinking "XM radio! Rear seat heaters!" then you'll not be disappointed with the Elantra's reasonable power, competent handling and commendable city/hwy fuel economy ratings of 6.8 / 4.9 L/100km (6.9 / 4.9 L/100km with the automatic).

But if you're the kind of person who skipped right past the list of goodies to get to the driving experience, then there may be some quibbles: The 1.8L, DOHC 4-cylinder engine makes decent power once the revs build up (148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque), but is quite raspy when pushed hard and doesn't generate a lot oomph down low. With my test car's optional automatic transmission it felt sluggish off the line, despite the Elantra's svelte 1,225-kg (2,700-lb) curb weight (the manual transmission might help provide quicker launches). The suspension is a bit nervous and floaty-feeling at times, with somewhat numb steering. And the thickish A-pillars and very wide rear C-pillars interfere with outward visibility more than I'd like. I also found some of the centre-stack controls less-than-intuitive (especially the rotary audio selector, which has the power button in the middle where you'd expect an "enter" button). Finally, if the USB input is an important feature for you, I'd recommend checking that it recognizes your favourite devices, because I had little success connecting my iPod Touch (Internet forums suggest a special Hyundai cable is needed).

But these quibbles aside, after living with the Elantra for a week I remained impressed. It's a stylish looking car, is spacious inside and loaded with features, and it delivers a civilized and thrifty driving experience if not an exceptionally dynamic one. In terms of car-for-the money, it is certainly at or near the front of the pack, and well worth a look for compact car buyers who place a premium on style, fuel economy and interior amenities.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Hyundai, 2011, Elantra, $10,000 - $19,999, Compact,

Organizations: Hyundai

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