Road test: 2011 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai has just raised the stakes in the compact sedan market with the introduction of its 2011 Elantra sedan. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if it becomes the car to beat in this segment, currently dominated by the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

Topping the two Japanese marques is a tall order, as they have been among the most popular cars in Canada for decades. But if anybody can do it, the new Elantra has what it takes to get the job done.

This week I drove a 2011 Elantra GLS with an automatic transmission.

Size-wise, the Elantra exterior is within millimetres of its two main rivals. Where the Elantra pulls ahead is in the interior, specifically for the first-row occupants. Head, shoulder hip and legroom are more generous, meaning people with larger builds will find the Korean car more comfortable. The tide turns against the Hyundai in the back seat where its headroom and legroom still trails the Honda and Toyota. Still further back, the Elantra regains its lead with greater cargo volume.

Under the hood, the Hyundai still leads. Not only does it have the most powerful engine with 148 horses, it is by far the most frugal with a 6.9 litres/100km rating for the city and an outstanding 4.9 litres/100km on the highway. To give a bit of perspective, the Smart ForTwo (which is a much smaller two-seat car) boasts only a 4.8 litres/100km highway rating. Credit better aerodynamics and state-of-the-art direct-injection technology for those impressive numbers.

The Elantra also benefits from a six-speed automatic transmission, two more gears than the Corolla and one more than the Civic. At 100 km/h, the Elantra turns over at only 2,000 r.p.m.

Even though it is the most powerful in its class, 148 horses doesn’t make this a performance car. A well-balanced chassis means drives on windy roads are pleasant but won’t get the blood elevated. Although the transmission allows manual shifting, the gate is to the right of the console, not the left, where it is closer to the driver. Shifting the gears manually didn’t appreciably improve performance, so eventually I just left it in Drive.

The car itself is quiet at speed, but one can hear the sound of vehicles going by on the highway. Perhaps Hyundai uses thinner glass or less acoustical insulation. I test cars with the audio system off, so I tend to hear a bit more ambient sound than a typical person driving with the radio on.

Other more pleasant sensations more than compensated, though. The cabin is a cut above the sometimes monochromatic interiors found in this segment. There is obvious attention to detail in the choice of materials and overall styling. Hard surfaces have been banished to secondary areas. Any surface a driver would normally touch has soft materials or fabric. Matte black is complemented by titanium or brushed aluminum-look details and tastefully highlighted with chrome and piano-black trim. Wow — the bar has been raised with this car.

The GLS is the second from the top trim level, so this Hyundai was well-equipped. The list is long but several items, including satellite radio, Bluetooth, steering-mounted controls and a trip computer stand out. But the most surprising feature — and a first in this segment — was standard heated rear seats. This is more commonly found on high-end luxury cars, not an economy car.

Surprisingly, with such a comprehensive list, there is no lock on the glovebox. Although the rear seats fold 60/40 to increase the trunk’s 420-litre cargo capacity, there is no pass-through on the foldable centre armrest. Also, with the seat backs folded, the cargo floor is not flat.

Parents with kids take note: The backs of the front seats are reinforced with hard plastic. If you have kids who like to kick the backs of seats, you can now laugh it off as any mud or dirt can be simply wiped off. Good for dogs in the back as well.

Packrats will also find details of the Elantra to love. Apart from the usual door and armrest bins, there are two small ones flanking the bottom of the centre console suitable for cellphones or whatnot. One even has a power outlet. A closed bin at the bottom of the centre console hides another power outlet and aux-in, iPod and USB slots.

Safety is addressed with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, six airbags, stability control and traction control standard on all models.

At a starting price of $15,849, the Elantra is now priced higher than the Honda, $14,990, and Toyota, $15,450. Of course, a buyer needs to take into account the different standard features offered by all three cars to make an informed decision.

As it stands today, the Elantra has become a must-see model for families looking for an economical four-door sedan. Although it has raised the bar for now, don’t doubt for a moment that Honda and Toyota will fight tooth and nail to claim back their crown. A revamped 2012 Civic will likely appear before summer. A new Ford Focus will also debut about the same time. The new Chevy Cruze is also worth consideration in this class.


Type: Compact four-door-sedan, front engine front-wheel-drive

Engine: 1.8-litre four cylinder, 148 h.p at 6,500 r.p.m., 131 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,530; width, 1,775; height, 1,435; wheelbase, 2,700

Curb weight (kg): 1,305

Price (base/as tested): $19,799/$22,494 (includes $1,495 freight and PDI)

Options: Automatic transmission $1,200

Tires: 205/55 R16 on alloy wheels

Fuel Type: Regular

Fuel Economy (L/100km): 6.9 city, 4.9 highway

Warranty: Five-years/100,000 new car warranty, three-years/unlimited km roadside assistance