Test Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra

?Hyundai Bows with 5th generation Elantra??

After only a four year lifecycle, (4 years and 4 months to be even more precise), the Korean automaker has redesigned and reengineered the popular Hyundai Elantra sedan. This dramatic makeover takes place well before the prior generation became stale or outlived its popularity and appeal ? an unusual occurrence in the world of automobile production, as the lifespan of many vehicles is often 5 or 6 years or more.

?The all-new 2011 Elantra will compete in the marketplace with the likes of theToyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Nissan Sentra and?Mazda 3 ? certainly no lightweight lineup. The 5th generation Elantra will be?available in only two trim levels ? the base GLS and top-of-the-line Limited. Both?models will be powered by a new NU 1.8-liter 1.8-liter NU DOHC D-CVVT, 16?valve inline four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine with Multi-point fuel injection.?

There are actually two versions of the engine in terms of emission levels ? a?PZEV version and a ULEV example. The more common PZEV version makes?148 horsepower at 6,500 rpm while developing 131 pound feet of torque at 4,700?rpm. The new engine is 74 pounds lighter and more powerful (7% more) than the?2.0-liter Beta engine of its predecessor.

There are two transmission choices: a six-speed manual gearbox, or a?six-speed AG6F1 Shiftronic automatic with manual shift capability. The engine is mounted in an East/West orientation up front, driving the front wheels.

Fuel economy expectations are on the way to achieving Hyundai?s 50-mpg goal by 2025, with a city rating of 29 mpg and highway rating of 40 mpg regardless of transmission choice. Elantra?s highway only range is 512 miles per tank.?

The 2011 Hyundai Elantra moves from a traditional or conventional positioning in the marketplace to a sportier and more modern placement. Its design statement adopts Hyundai?s new overall styling philosophy of ?Fluidic Sculpture? which is evidenced by the sculpted hood creases, Hyundai?s signature hexagonal grille, the black chrome lower air intake of the Limited trim, futuristic and jewel-like tear drop, wrap-around headlamps, side repeater exterior mirrors, sleek and aerodynamic side character lines and pronounced, muscular wheel well arches?that wrap the 17-inch, 7-spoke Euroflange alloy wheels of the Limited. Out back, the wrap-around taillamps and Shark-fin XM satellite radio antenna contribute to?the expressive ever-in-motion image. In a word, the new Elantra makes an elegant statement in a condensed package. The greenhouse or daylight opening?is rakish and streamlined without intruding on the car?s interior space ? okay, those well over 6 feet tall may have to scrunch a bit in the rear seat, but the coefficient of drag is 0.28.?

Moving to the inside, the interior takes on the same fluidic motion or sculpted styling cues as the exterior. The center console is unique in its flowing appearance, with ergonomic and intuitive placement of gauges and switchgear. The seating is also unique, constructed of eco-friendly soy-foam material. Interior volume has been increased thanks to the Elantra?s stretched wheelbase and overall length. The EPA rating places the Elantra in the mid-size range ? a class above both the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and it actually boasts more interior volume than some premium level vehicles such as VW?s CC, Nissan?s Maxima and the Acura TSX. Elantra provides multiple storage areas, with more storage capacity than many key competitors.

The Elantra utilizes large amounts of high strength steel to ensure a strong, light and stiff body structure (37% stiffer), made possible in part to the fact that Hyundai is the only automaker with its own steel plant. The Motor Driven Power Steering weighs less than a hydraulic system and contributes to fuel economy.?

The 2011 Elantra isn?t short on safety features either, it comes with six airbags, Vehicle Stability Management, Electronic Stability Control with Traction Control, ABS with Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Brake Assist ass well as daytime running lights and new dual rear door beams. Elantra also stops shorter than the Civic, Corolla and Mazda3.?

The Elantra GLS is well equipped with many standard features, but also offers a host of premium optional features and equipment, such as a segment first, heated rear seats. The Limited edition Elantra obviously delivers more goodies at a minimal increase in expenditure. The Nav screen is an impressive 7-inches ? larger than the competitive set.

Elantra is available in eight exterior colors and three interior colors with either an embossed knit patterned cloth or a perforated wave design leather pattern. The?interior pillars showcase a cloth-look but are composed of fibrous tissue and volcanic rock for both a unique appearance and increased durability.

The pricing of the Elantra is indeed surprising, with the GLS base model equipped with the manual transmission starting at $14,830. The flagship Elantra?Premium begins at $21,980. Add a $720. Freight charge for each. The GLS may be ordered with a Popular equipment Package, the Preferred Package or with a Navigation Package ? an automatic transmission is also available for the GLS trim.?

I was able to test drive both levels of the new Elantra at the National Media Launch held in La Jolla, CA. My first experience came in a Limited model with the 6-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission base priced at $19,980. It sported a Radiant Silver metallic exterior and Gray interior. Extras included: the Premium Package with Navigation and high resolution 7-inch touchscreen display, rearview camera, Premium Audio system with external amp, automatic headlamps and Proximity key entry with push button start; Carpeted floormats, an iPod cable and the freight charge, which elevated the final sticker price to $22,110. I later tested the GLS version with the manual gearbox.

SUMMARY:? The Elantra represents the fourth vehicle in Hyundai?s 24/7 version 2.0 product initiative with seven new models in the next 24 months, following the all-new Tucson, Sonata and Equus ? a bold undertaking to be sure.

This newest Elantra serves up some interesting perspectives such as: a compact car can be sleek, modern and provide an emotional and sophisticated design; it can offer advanced safety features at affordable prices; it delivers exceptional room in a compact car, eliminating the need for a mid-size sedan; and it yields the fuel economy of a subcompact vehicle in the form of a compact sedan.?

The ride quality of the 2011 Elantra in either trim level is quite comfortable. The handling is pot on with a good on-center feel ? particularly with the Limited model, which is due to its larger alloy wheel and tire package. The handling isn?t quite as crisp in the GLS trim level which rides on smaller steel wheels with composite covers. Acceleration is peppy in and around town and even on the highway. Steep grades at freeway speeds when attempting to pass presents a somewhat different scenario ? a turbocharged version engine would be a plus here, and will probably be in Elantra?s future before long.

All in all, the Elantra is an extremely attractive sedan with a surprising level of amenities and features at a most affordable price, considering its content. Add to that, Hyundai?s outstanding warranty program and the Elantra becomes even more attractive.

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