Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
Hyundai is on a tear. If you hadn’t noticed, the new Hyundai Sonata, Tucson, Elantra sedan and Accent have all been dramatically re-shaped in the past couple of years and the reaction has been generally positive. Still, major styling changes are always a bit of a gamble: they can backfire if the styling is seen as too trendy, overstated, or perhaps even ugly – just ask Acura! While handsome new styling is often the easiest and most cost effective way to attract new customers, bad styling is also the easiest way to lose them.
But you can’t argue with Hyundai’s sales numbers: since its introduction in December, the new Elantra has shot to the top of its class, a considerable achievement when you consider that its main competitors include Canada’s (formerly) best-selling car, the Honda Civic, the popular Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, and a host of other worthy compact sedans and hatchbacks.
While the 2011 Elantra might look like a “baby Sonata”, we think its sculpted bodywork, flowing form, and wraparound head and tail lights work better in this smaller package. The Elantra is tighter, leaner, more cab-forward with shorter front and rear overhangs. It has presence.
The general kerfuffle over its styling has overshadowed other important changes to the Elantra, primarily its new, more technologically advanced 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that offers improved acceleration and excellent fuel economy, new six-speed transmissions, improved handling and fun-to-drive factor, and its very competitive price.
Pricing and standard equipment
In Canada, base 2011 Elantra L models, for example, start at $15,849, and include standard six-speed manual transmission (replacing a five-speed), 15-inch tires and steel wheels, four disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability and traction control, power windows (with driver’s automatic down feature), power door locks and power, *heated mirrors, height-adjustable driver’s seat, USB/auxiliary ports, CD/MP3 player and six speakers, and six airbags. A six-speed automatic transmission (replacing last year’s four-speed) is another $1,200.
GL models ($17,999) add 16-inch tires, air conditioning, telescopic steering wheel, keyless door unlocking and alarm, heated front seats, audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and cruise control.
GLS models ($19,799), segment-first heated rear outboard seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, sunroof, alloy wheels, fog lights, and XM satellite radio.
Limited models ($22,699), like this week’s test car, add a standard six-speed automatic transmission with “Shiftronic” manual mode, leather seats and leatherette door inserts, automatic climate control, 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, pinch protection in the power windows, sliding centre armrest, and automatic headlights. Limited models also have a chromed lower front grille with black surround.
Top-of-the-line Limited models with navigation, ($24,699), add a navigation system with seven-inch touch-screen and rear-view camera, premium stereo, and keyless, push-button start.
More and more, we are seeing economy cars available with upscale features formerly available only on luxury cars, such as leather, navigation, keyless start, and rear camera. In fact, it’s difficult to describe the Elantra Limited as an “economy car”.
When styling takes precedence, there’s always the risk that design will trump practicality. Coupes, for example, often sacrifice rear seat legroom and headroom for a stylish profile. So we were a bit surprised that the Elantra’s flowing roofline, which is 45 mm lower than last year, hasn’t reduced rear headroom substantially, in part because of a hollowed-out rear headliner. Adults up to six feet can sit back there, though all passengers have to be careful not to bump their heads on the arching roofline when entering or leaving the rear seat. Rear legroom in the new Elantra is surprisingly generous for a compact car, thanks to a 50-mm increase in the car’s wheelbase. Up front, the bucket seats are comfortable and the driver’s seat features a manual height adjuster but no lumbar adjuster. A tilt-telescopic steering wheel helps accommodate most drivers.
The Elantra’s new instrument panel design is as dramatically different as the exterior, but thankfully, controls and instruments aren’t lost in the design. The tachometer and speedo are backlit in a nice white and blue hue with large numerals that are easy to read; the power window switches are angled towards the driver for easy use; audio controls on the steering wheel, such as volume and Seek, can be used without reaching for the radio; central black-on-blue LCD radio and heater displays can be read even with sunglasses on; the shift lever falls readily to hand as does the handbrake lever; the footwells are wide and the driver’s side includes a footrest; and the sliding centre armrest in the Limited model is a nice resting place for the driver’s right arm.
A trip computer (standard on all Elantra sedans) that includes a small illuminated white-on-black display between the two round gauges offers useful info such as average fuel consumption, average speed, estimated time of arrival, driving range, and an “Eco on” light that tells you when you’re driving “fuel-efficiently.”
Things we didn’t like about the interior included the bright silver buttons around the heater and radio which aren’t always easy to read (although the automatic climate control has the advantage of being a “set-it-and-forget-it” system); the cupholders don’t have cup grippers; and there is no lumbar adjuster on the driver’s seat. As well, the curvy instrument panel could be accused of being “over-designed”.
Elantra L and GL models have a standard 172-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, while GLS and Limited models add XM satellite radio. A $2,000 price premium for the Elantra Limited with Navigation model substitutes a powerful 360-watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with external amp, and a seven-inch touch-screen with rear-view camera that operates when the shift lever is put into Reverse gear. The latter is a great safety feature when backing into a parking space because it allows the driver to judge the distance to objects behind the vehicle which he/she can’t see when looking out the rear window.
As well, the Elantra Limited with Navigation has keyless ignition which means that you can lock and unlock the driver’s door by pushing on a button on the door handle, and start the car by pushing on a button – all without removing the key from your pocket.
Bluetooth is standard on the Elantra GL, GLS, Limited, and Limited Navi. Once you pair your phone with the Elantra’s standard Bluetooth cell phone system, you can make and receive calls anytime you’re driving the car without taking your hands off the steering wheel.
Storage spaces in the Elantra include a bin under the centre armrest big enough for a camera, a covered bin in front of the shift lever for iPods and MP3 devices next to 12-volt, USB and auxiliary ports, two small slots on either side of the centre tunnel with a 12-volt outlet on the passenger side, a glovebox, four door pockets, two cupholders between the front seats, and two more in the rear centre armrest.
The new Elantra has a big 420-litre trunk, up from 402 litres last year. It’s fully lined but the arching metal hinges take up some space on the sides. Split folding rear seatbacks are released from inside the trunk for security, and fold down on top of the rear seat cushions in a not-quite-flat position.
Though about the same size as the previous Elantra, the 2011 model is 59 kg lighter (with automatic transmission). This is due in part to a new 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, which has a lighter aluminum alloy engine block than the previous 2.0-litre iron-block four-cylinder. The new engine also features continuously variable valve timing and a variable air intake system to increase torque at both low and high rpms. With improved performance and a lighter curb weight, the Elantra is slightly quicker in a straight line: Consumer Reports tested a similar model with six-speed automatic transmission, recording a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.5 seconds. That compares to the previous model with four-speed automatic transmission at 10.4 seconds.
The engine can be a bit noisy when accelerating, but most of the time it’s fairly quiet. On the freeway in top gear, it turns over just 2,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h thanks to a tall sixth gear in the new automatic transmission. The tranny shifts seamlessly and can be shifted manually by moving the shift lever over into the manual gate.
At highway speeds, wind noise is minimal, but there is some tire noise which varies with the road surface (and the tires). Like most economy cars, sound insulation is minimal.
The 2011 Elantra’s fuel economy numbers are outstanding, if you believe Canada’s Energuide figures: 6.9 city/4.9 hwy (L/100 km). More realistic are the U.S. EPA figures of 8.1 city/5.9 hwy.
A pleasant surprise was the new Elantra’s improved handling. Whereas the 2010 Elantra sedan was a competent but unexciting handler, the new Elantra’s feels much more nimble and driving is more enjoyable. The steering is light and responsive and the turning circle is small (10.6 metres). Thanks to its longer wheelbase and compliant shocks, the Elantra has a comfortable, if firm, ride.
Stopping is also confidence-inspiring. Standard four-wheel disc brakes provide a competitive braking distance of 136 feet (41.5 metres) from 60 mph (in the dry), according to Consumer Reports.
The Elantra driver has good visibility despite a rather high rear decklid, and the lower centre rear head restraint doesn’t impede the rear outlook. However, it would be nice to see backup sensors as an option on base models to help avoid low objects like concrete walls, hydrants, pillars, and tricycles – or even young children.
All in all, the 2011 Elantra is a tempting package for under $20,000 equipped with most popular options – if you’re a fan of its sculpted styling…
The 2011 Hyundai Elantra sedan is built at Hyundai’s plant in Alabama, U.S.A.
Pricing: 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Base price: $22,699 (GL: $15,849)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $26,294
Crash test results