Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, Autos.ca
With the exception of a few retro vehicles such as the Mini and Beetle, it isn’t often that a car becomes a runaway hit right out of the box. That said, that was precisely the case with the Hyundai Elantra, which is completely redesigned for 2011. In January, its first full month of sales and before the company even started aggressively advertising it, it became the best-selling car in Canada, ahead of the triumvirate of Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 that usually jockeys for the top spot.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a model that always did its job in workmanlike fashion, but without much pizzazz. It’s all in the overhaul, which turns the styling from snoozy to sexy, outfits the Elantra with some unexpected features for the segment, and provides an overall driving experience that’s really quite good.
It doesn’t photograph quite as well as it looks in person. In the flesh, it’s mindful of the Sonata, which is actually presenting a bit of a quandary for Hyundai right now: those soaring Elantra numbers have been offset by a substantial bite into Sonata sales. I’m not surprised, since one of the first things I said when I drove the Elantra was, “Why would I move up to a Sonata?” And indeed, unless you need the room – the Sonata’s total cabin volume is larger by 232 litres, or 8.1 cubic feet – it’s not easy making a case for moving up, especially since the Elantra runs from $15,849 to $24,699, while the Sonata starts at $22,649.
Built at Hyundai’s plant in Alabama, the Elantra comes only in sedan form; the Elantra Touring hatchback may share the name, but it’s an entirely different vehicle. For 2011, the Elantra swaps out last year’s 138-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder for a 1.8-litre with dual continuous variable valve timing, churning out 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque. Last year’s five-speed manual/four-speed automatic transmission options are gone. This time around, there’s a six-speed manual in the L, GL and GLS trim levels, and which can be bumped up to a six-speed autobox that was the sole choice in my tester, the Limited trim.
The $18,549 tag gets you the base L, which includes six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic stability control, power locks, heated mirrors, stereo with USB port and auxiliary input and power windows, although you have to move up to the next step, the GL, to get air conditioning. That GL model also adds such features as heated seats, keyless entry, Bluetooth and cruise control, while the GLS throws in a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sunroof, fog lights, XM satellite radio, and the only heated rear seats in the segment.
My Limited, at $22,699, included 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, leather seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and garage door opener. The final step up, for an additional $2,000, is the Limited with Navigation, which includes an electronic map, plus pushbutton start, stereo amplifier and rear-view camera. There is certainly no arguing about the number of features you get for the price.
I was going to Windsor, Ontario, almost five hours from my house. Hyundai originally planned to give me the Equus, its low-production, $70,000 flagship sedan, but the car had a part on backorder, and so I was given the Elantra instead. There were many apologies, but none were needed. Not only was the Elantra easier on my gasoline card, but it worked very well throughout the trip. The Equus’ seats would have been more luxurious, of course, but the Elantra’s chairs didn’t get hard until after about the fourth hour of driving, which was far better than I’d expect from any compact car.
The Elantra looks as nice inside as it does from the outside, with a curvy dash that blends down into the centre stack and console, and out to the doors. There’s a lot happening style-wise, and yet it isn’t overpowering. The Limited’s automatic climate control has its buttons and dial tucked into a shield-shaped design, and everything is easy to figure out and find quickly. The stereo is equally simple, and I especially like that the volume control is a big dial in the centre. This style of “waterfall” centre stack frequently comes at the expense of storage space, such as with Volvo, but Hyundai has managed to wedge a little covered storage cubby below the heater controls, along with a couple of open bins on either side. The only things missing are lights in the controls for the power locks and mirrors, which are hard to find in the dark.
The front chairs are set in from the door sills, which Hyundai said is done to improve side crash protection for the passengers. A drawback is that it adds to the space you have to cover when getting out, and I ended up getting dirt on my pant legs off the sill since I’m not tall enough to clear them. The back chairs have good legroom for the segment, but the sloping roofline makes for a low door opening, and taller passengers must be careful not to smack their skulls when getting in. The trunk is enormous, measuring 105 cm in length, and stretching to 185 cm when the rear seats are folded. Unfortunately, they only lean forward and don’t fall flat, and the trunk lid could really use an inside handle to make it easier to close.
There is a perception problem with such a luxo interior: this is an entry-level car, with a few reminders that it is, and so they loom even larger by comparison. The ride is firm and the undercarriage is noisy when it goes over bumps. The engine works quite well, with good acceleration, but it also gets noisy and thrashy as the tachometer rises. Sit back and think of the price tag when it does.
The electric power steering is a bit numb, but that’s pretty much the norm in this segment. Steering wheel movements transmit quickly and accurately to the front tires, making this car more fun than expected when the road turns twisty. The published fuel economy is excellent, at 6.9 L/100 km (41 mpg Imp) in the city and a hybrid-like 4.9 (58) on the highway. I didn’t do nearly as well, ringing up 7.8 (36), which I attribute to pounding it across five hours of highway at a few clicks above the speed limit. I generally find that most four-cylinders will start to chew fuel any time they go much above that magic 100 km/h spot on the dial.
All in all, it isn’t hard to see why the Elantra so easily captured that top sales spot. It’s roomy, it’s extremely well-equipped, it works well, and it has a price-tag that’s lower than expected for what you get. Throw in a warranty that covers pretty much everything for five years or 100,000 km, and I’m predicting that this model will hover around the top of the sales charts for a while to come.
Pricing: 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Base price: $22,699
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $24,294
Crash test results