Road Test

2011 Hyundai Elantra adds style to compact class

New Hyundai compact is bigger and roomier, lighter and more powerful, yet more fuel-efficient

 2011 Hyundai Elantra sedan

If beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder, these eyes think the new 2011 Hyundai Elantra is the best-looking small car in the market. Designed to look like a slightly smaller version of the new Sonata, the entirely-new 2011 Elantra adds style to a portfolio that already includes quality, reliability and value.

An all-new platform and engine are wrapped in panels made of steel developed specifically for automobiles in the company’s own mill. Hyundai is the only major vehicle manufacturer with its own steel mill. More than 400 engineers and metallurgists there created new stronger and lighter steel helping make the new Elantra 37% stiffer than the outgoing model – and 28-kg lighter despite its larger size.

Boasting the same "fluidic sculpture" theme that first surfaced on the current Tucson and then the Sonata, the Elantra wears its new designer duds with flare.

The team at the company’s new California design studios dressed this small car to look much larger. But that is more than a optical illusion because the Elantra has grown 23-mm in length and the front and rear wheels are 51-mm further apart adding to the new look.

The added length has resulted in a trunk with 18 additional litres of capacity and a roomier back seat.

Bigger and roomier, yet lighter. More powerful, yet more fuel-efficient. These seemingly disparate accomplishments are the hallmarks of thorough development.

The new Elantra is yet another example of this company’s growth and goals. Hyundai has become the fifth largest car company in the world through a steady process of progress.

Design has become the most recent and evident sign of a relentless pursuit of a long term goal – becoming one of the primary automobile manufacturers in the world.

Each step toward that long-term goal has been carefully planned and executed. Quality was an issue and was addressed. Hyundai products are now ranked by virtually all independent assessors as at or near the top of the charts.

Engineering played a part in this achievement – initially at the manufacturing level but more recently in the design and production of its own components. Engines, transmission and other major components are now developed and produced in house.

Beneath the new designer clothes lies a new engine mated to a new transmission. The engine is the "Nu" 1.8-litre four, the latest in a line of engines named after letters of the Greek alphabet.

This one is 34-kg lighter, produces 7% more power and uses 16% less fuel than the "Beta" unit it replaces. Putting out 148-horsepower it is rated at a class-leading 4.8 litres/100 km.

Therein lies another of Hyundai’s goals – world class efficiency. What is even more impressive is that this rating stays the same whether the engine is mated to a manual or an automatic transmission.

Traditionally, automatics mean a penalty in fuel consumption, but the new six-speed automatic developed by Hyundai engineers, the subject of 279 patents, has 62 fewer parts and is five kilos lighter than the five-speed automatic it replaces, It is also less expensive to produce!

In addition to the appearance and significantly upgraded and stylish interior, the first thing you notice when driving the new Elantra is the lack of anything untoward to notice.

Interior sound levels are greatly reduced. The instrument panel is highly legible with pleasant lighting that is easy on the eyes at night and the seats provide plenty of lateral support for back and thighs.

The new Elantra is significantly larger inside than the outgoing model. It is actually classified by volume as a mid-size car. There is room for six-foot-plus occupants in both front and rear seats.

And, while on the topic of rear seats, it is heated on the Limited trim level! No more cold bums on the way to school.

The ride is firm, yet not punishingly so. The new rear suspension is by torsion beam rather than truly independent.

While less expensive to produce, that minor skimping is offset by the fact the car comes with four-wheel disc brakes. In fact, all of the safety bases are covered with ABS, electronic stability control, traction control and six airbags standard across the entire line-up.

As noted, fuel-efficiency has become a Hyundai priority and the new Elantra goes 15.5% further on a given unit of fuel than the outgoing model. In addition to the new engine and transmission, it has a smart alternator is driven only when the battery needs a charge, low rolling resistance tires, reduced weight and a more aerodynamic body also contribute.

We achieved 7.1 litres/100 km on a 300-km winter run.

Pricing stays the same as last year but now includes lots more equipment. The GL starts at $15,849, $17,049 with automatic transmission; GL at $17,999/$19,199, GLS is $19,799/22,699 and Limited $22,699, $24,699 with nav.

My test vehicle was a Limited, which meant that for $22,700 it had dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and an alarm system, six-speaker, 172-watt audio system with iPod, USB and aux connections, power windows, locks and mirrors, heated seats (front and rear) and mirrors, cruise control, tilt and telescope wheel, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, leather upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels, power sunroof and mirror-mounted signal repeaters. Whew!

On the option front, how about heated rear seats, a 360-watt premium audio system, seven-inch touch screen navigation system with 16-GB of memory, voice recognition and slide-show capabilities,

Elantras bound for Canada come from Hyundai’s new state-of-the-art plant in Alabama. Ironically those sold in the U.S. are imported. The new six-speed automatic also comes from the American plant.

Pending the arrival of brand new competitors from Ford and Honda in the coming months, the new Elantra just might be best-in-class. Hyundai’s goal with this car is to take over sales leadership in the compact segment just as it has with the Accent in sub-compact class. While that might have been a stretch in the past, don’t bet against it.

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