Hyundai's initiative to update seven models in 24 months has transformed the Korean carmaker into a new-car juggernaut. The brand's renaissance has spawned the striking Sonata and the luxurious Equus , and the most recent recipient of Hyundai's redefined vision is the Elantra.
Graced with Hyundai's new "fluidic sculpture" design language, the Elantra expands one inch in length and two inches in wheelbase, and the increased interior volume of 95.6 cubic feet actually bumps the sedan into the EPA's "midsize" category; front legroom is now best-in-class, and the Elantra offers more interior space than the 2010 Volkswagen CC , 2010 Acura TSX and 2011 Nissan Maxima .
Underpinnings have also been redesigned for efficiency. Despite its bigger proportions, the 2011 Elantra has shed weight by featuring a smaller, lighter and more powerful engine that also achieves an impressive 40 mpg highway.
What’s to Like
A whole lot; from its contemporary, streamlined silhouette to its significantly upgraded interior, the new Elantra—like the Chevy Cruze —is virtually unrecognizable from its predecessor. Performance and fuel economy are up, curb weight is down, and the word "desirable" is increasingly becoming associated with the once unfavorable Hyundai brand.
What’s Not to Like
Despite mechanical improvements all around, Elantra's independent front and non-independent rear suspension never fully inspire confidence, especially during higher speed maneuvers. The electric motor-driven steering system requires constant adjustments, even during straight-line driving. And though ride quality is generally supple, we'd happily trade some of that plushness for more body control and directional stability.
We enjoyed seat time behind the wheel of two Elantras—a GLS Standard model with a manual gearbox ($15,500) and a fully topped out Limited Premium model with an automatic transmission ($22,700). Though we usually prefer three-pedaled driving, we found that the manual's long-ish gear ratios sapped a bit of the fun; despite the reduced driver involvement, the automatic maximizes the engine's torque curve and propels this 2,701 pound sedan with smooth, seamless power. Sounds levels are low, especially at stoplights when engine noise is virtually imperceptible, though a bit of tire noise creeps into the otherwise hushed cabin at highway speeds.
The only major faults in the Elantra's road manners pertain to steering and handling; the electric power steering's on-center feel is vague, which demands more attention than it should. There's also some perceptible weight transfer mid-corner that can lead to somewhat disconcerting inertial shifts; when driven less aggressively at lower speeds, though, the Elantra's smooth ride ...