Reviews

2011 Hyundai Elantra Driving Impressions


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.

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