I’ve already given you a fairly detailed review of the new Hyundai Elantra, but I recently had a chance to spend a week with one, as opposed to a single day behind the wheel. This time it was a GLS model with the Preferred Equipment Package, which will most likely be Hyundai’s best-selling version. The GLS comes with cloth seats, not leather, but still includes a long list of standard equipment. On the safety and handling side, four wheel disc brakes are standard, as is electronic stability control and traction control. You’d expect ABS to be standard, but the Elantra also gives you Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution; if those aren’t enough to avoid trouble, the Elantra comes with front, front side impact and side curtain airbags.
Inside, the Elantra GLS gives you XM Radio, USB and Auxiliary jacks, A/C with a cabin air filter, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and solar glass to reduce cabin heating. These aren’t features I’d expect to find in a car at a budget price point, but all of them are included with the Elantra GLS. Add the Preferred Equipment Package, and you also get 16” alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone integration, a sliding center armrest and cloth door panels. In other words, the Elantra GLS with the Preferred Package is everything you need for cost effective daily commuting.
I’m not a fan of cars that don’t provide at least some entertainment behind the wheel, and I continue to be impressed with the Elantra’s ride and handling. The suspension is on the stiff side, but I count that as a good thing as it sharpens the compact sedan’s handling. It’s not a sports car and I’d even stop short of calling it a sporty car. That said, the whole is better than the sum of the parts: you know it only has 148 horsepower and you know that the last version’s independent rear suspension is gone, but somehow the Elantra feels quicker and more nimble than it should. Maybe it’s the car’s curb weight of only 2,701 pounds, which gives it the best power to weight ratio in its class.
Hyundai has tried to emphasize the Elantra’s fuel economy, which is rated at 40 MPG highway regardless of the trim level purchased. I came close to that driving the car in Montgomery, but it took considerable effort on my part. I short shifted as much as possible, tried to avoid sudden stops and starts and even gave consideration to drafting a semi-trailer on the highway (in the interest of safety, I didn’t). This time around, most of my driving was on city streets, and I averaged 30.4 MPG without trying particularly hard. That’s pretty good for a sedan large enough to accommodate four passengers, especially when that same sedan has a surprising amount of style and comfort.
The Elantra attracts a significant amount of attention, too. People love the style, and I can’t remember having as many people ask questions about any other car I’ve driven. For years, I’ve used the Honda Civic as the benchmark in the compact class, since I knew I could tell people to “just buy a Civic” without it coming back to haunt me. The Elantra has forced me to rethink that position, especially when you stack it up directly against a non-Si Civic. I’ll still steer driving enthusiasts towards the Civic Si, which remains one of my favorite bang-for-the buck cars, but when the average driver asks me for a recommendation on a compact commuter, I steer them towards the Elantra. No other car on the market gives you as much content for that small a price.
My 2011 Elantra GLS had a base price of $17,800, including a destination charge of $720. Options on my tester included the $550 Preferred Equipment Package (detailed above), the $95 Carpeted Floor Mats and the $35 iPod cable for a total sticker price of $18,480. By comparison, a similarly equipped Chevy Cruze 2LT would cost $21,870, a comparable Toyota Corolla LE would run $20,235 and the equivalent Honda Civic EX would sticker at $21,155. All are fine cars in their own right, but I’d have a hard time justifying their additional price against the Elantra.