Test Drive: Hyundai Elantra

? ? ? ? ? ? Hyundai continues to amaze us with each new product introduction. ?The most consistent thing has been that each time a new generation model arrives it represents a significant leap forward in innovation, quality and design.

If for no other reason than design, the fifth generation Elantra is yet another major advancement in the Hyundai lineup ? a direct result of Hyundai?s ?Fluidic Sculpture? design principles.? That means a sophisticated look and design worthy of a much more expensive model. There is no confusing the distinctive Elantra silhouette when one goes by, except perhaps with the larger and slightly older the Hyundai Sonata sibling. ?The attractive lines actually help efficiency with a slick 0.28 coefficient of drag. ?The front end also gets Hyundai?s distinctive family hexagonal grille and swept-back headlights.

The second most important feature of the Elantra is the outstanding fuel economy, which the EPA estimates at 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.? A multitude of elements contribute to the numbers, but the most important components are the new 148-hp, 1.8-liter Nu four-cylinder engine with six-speed automatic transmission. ?The new smaller Nu engine weighs74 poundsless than the 2.0-liter Beta engine it replaces and it breathes through a sophisticated Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-CVVT) camshafts system.? The new engine also qualifies as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle in versions sold in California and several Northeast states; in the rest of the country, it gets an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle rating.

Cars at this level are not usually noted for their breathtaking 0 to 60 mph times, and the Elantra isn?t either, but for a car that gets up to 40 mpg, a 9.1-second time seems good to us.? On the highway, it has good passing power, if you plan your passes.

One of the things that give Hyundai a product advantage over most competitors is that Hyundai owns its own steel mill.? This means Hyundai pays less for steel, which in turn allowed engineers to use more high strength steel so they could improve torsional rigidity 37 percent over the previous model.? ??Hyundai also designs and builds their engines and transmissions.? By doing this, they are able to create components perfectly suited for the task without having to adapt a universal part to their product.? It also allows them to price their vehicles more aggressively, not having to mark up parts.

A significant partner in the Elantra?s performance and efficiency is the automatic transmission.? The six-speed automatic even has a Shiftronic manual shifting mode for those of us that like the ability to manually shift at times, but still appreciates the ease of an automatic.? Six-speed automatic transmissions are rare in cars at this level and that?s part of the reason this car performs so well.? Elantra does come standard with a smooth shifting six-speed manual transmission for drivers that want total control.

The Elantra has one of the largest interiors in its segment, which includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cruze, Nissan Sentra and Ford Focus.? It also boasts the largest trunk in the group at 14.8 cubic feet.? That?s the kind of space we normally equate with larger sedans.

Elantra is more than a gas-sipping pretty face ? it?s a fun car to drive.? It is equipped with a McPherson strut front suspension, with coil springs and gas shock absorbers in the front and rear torsion beam suspension.? The steering is a motor-drive electric system that has good feedback, a precise feel and tight 34.8 feet turning radius.? We also appreciated that the actual steering wheel telescopes and tilts making it easy to get the best driving position.

Hyundai designers didn?t scrimp on the Elantra interior, either, because that?s where owners spend the most time. The well-designed interior has a user-friendly instrument panel and quality-feeling controls.? The seats are just soft enough to be comfortable, and supportive enough for longer trips or more aggressive driving.? We liked the distinctive wave perforation pattern on the heated leather seats, and environmentalists well appreciated that the seat foam is made from sustainable soybeans.

The Elantra comes in the GLS and Limited models.? The GLS with a standard manual transmission has a base price of $15,550, including the destination charge, with the six-speed automatic transmission as a $1,000 option. ?The top-level Limited with Premium trim level and automatic transmission is $21,205 adding features like moonroof, leather seating (heated in front), hands free phone and satellite radio.

The Limited version is available with the optional $2,100 technology package that adds navigation with 7-inch screen, rearview camera, premium audio, automatic headlights, and electronic push-button start. ?The Elantra navigation system is one of the better ones we used.? It uses a seven-inch touch screen and has a voice activation system for those fluent in ?computer talk?, which we define as the ability to give voice commands that a system understands correctly.? The Nav system is combined with an excellent audio system, streaming Bluetooth audio and a variety of audio input options.? It also has real-time Nav Traffic and XM Data services like weather, stocks and sports.? The Nav screen gets double use as the display for the rear-view camera that activates when the car is shifted into reverse.? Features like these are rare on entry-level vehicles like the Elantra.

Elantra has a high level Vehicle Stability Management system similar to the one used in the company?s top-level $60,000 luxury sedan. ?The system takes stability control to a higher level that helps keep the car under control using both the brakes and steering systems. It also has an excellent braking system with the electronic assists and six airbags, all standard.

Still several of Hyundai?s big advantages include the industry best 10 year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a guaranteed trade-in value and 60 month 24/7 roadside assistance program.

At this price level, the Hyundai Elantra is one of the best values you?ll find.

?By Bill & Barbara Schaffer

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