Much better car for same money

Buoyed by phenomenal sales growth and hugely successful models like Sonata and Santa Fe, high-flying Hyundai has boldly predicted the new Elantra will soon be the number one selling compact car in Canada.

Compact car sales are by far our biggest car market segment, accounting for about half of all car sales in Canada.

Currently, the established leader in this segment is the Honda Civic, followed by the Mazda3.

Other new arrivals in the segment include the much acclaimed Chevrolet Cruze, recently voted the 2011 Canadian Car of the Year, and there’s also a completely new Ford Focus on the way. And a redesigned Civic is due out later this year, so this is an unbelievably competitive market sector – the compact car buyer has never had it so good.

In addition to giving the 2011 Elantra more interior room than the outgoing model, Hyundai has upgraded trim quality and made new premium features available. Push-button start, an in-dash touch-screen navigation system plus rear-view camera, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, iPod and USB media inputs, automatic headlights, leather seating surfaces and even heated rear seats are all standard trim or optional inclusions in the new Elantra.

Better fuel economy is courtesy of a new 1.8-litre engine (appropriately called the “Nu” engine) that’s mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. This combination allows the new Elantra to claim a combined fuel economy rating of just 5.9 L/100 km, an 18 per cent improvement over the car’s predecessor.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Elantra’s base price ($15,849), but considering all the upgrades the new car is undoubtedly better value. The base L trim comes with the same powertrain and safety equipment as a top-line version. It’s also reasonably well equipped inside and includes stuff like a tilt steering wheel, split fold-down rear seatback, a height adjustable driver’s seat cushion, power windows and a trip computer.

Those heated rear seats come standard if you step up a rung to a GL or a higher trim level. This is also necessary if you want popular options such as air-conditioning, cruise control or a telescopic steering wheel.

My test GLS with a automatic was priced at $20,999, and came with some nice extras like a power sun roof, 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.

More than anything else, it is style that really sets this Elantra apart from its pleasant but mundane predecessor. Called “Fluidic Sculpture” by Hyundai, the new Elantra really is a delightful work of auto art with all sorts of interesting lines that blend together beautifully. A little longer (by 25 mm) and lower (by 46 mm) than its predecessor, the fifth-generation Elantra also has a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 50 mm.

Elantra has a total interior volume of 3127 litres, which is bigger than the current Honda Civic sedan and even the new Chevrolet Cruze. It even surpasses some mid-sized vehicles in cabin volume, and the trunk size (420 litres) is also near the top of its class. A handy storage compartment in the centre console has hook-ups (iPod/USB/auxiliary inputs) for those popular personal listening devices.

In addition to a full array of passive safety features, which includes dual intrusion beams inside the rear doors, every Elantra comes with disc brakes at all four wheels and an antilock (ABS) system. It also comes with a new Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system that takes electronic stability control (ESC) to a higher level, by adding a steering management feature.

A rigid structure gives Elantra a solid feel that’s squeak free. Its suspension is tuned to provide decent ride comfort when gliding down a highway, yet its firm enough to do a commendable job and make it fun to drive on a twisty road. The new state-of-the-art 1.8-litre engine is great. Even though peak power is at 6500 rpm, which is very high, it still provides decent power in the lower end of the engine’s speed range. Most important of all (especially with gas prices soaring) fuel economy is excellent.

The all-new Elantra is a giant leap forward for Hyundai. Super styling, a very roomy interior, great fuel economy and a great price are a hard-to-beat combination.

2011 Hyundai Elantra
Trim levels: L, GL, GLS & Limited
Sticker Price: $15,849 to $24,699
Power (SHO): 1.8-litre I4 (148 horsepower)
Transmission: 6-speed manual/automatic
Fuel consumption (man): 6.8/4.9 L/100 km (city/highway)
Fuel consumption (man): 6.9/4.9 L/100 km (city/highway)
Basic Warranty: 5 years / 100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years / 100,000 km
Rust Warranty: 5 years /unlimited km

Chevrolet Cruze: $14,995 – $24,780
Ford Focus: $13,999 – $20,999
Honda Civic: $14,990 – $25,880
Mazda3: $16.295 – $26,625
Nissan Sentra: $15,398 – $23,398
Toyota Corolla: $14,835 – $23,480
Volkswagen Jetta: $15,875 – $28,055

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Photograph by: Brian Harper, National Post