It has been over 25 years since Hyundai made its first foray in the United States selling cars, starting with the Hyundai Excel, designed by famed Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. My brother had one for years and he loved how well the front-wheel drive worked in the Sierra snow and he could park it anywhere. Now one of the fastest growing car companies in the U.S., Hyundai had shed its cheap car image to one of a major player with quality and design that is second to none. The new generation Sonata, the Genesis and Equus are prime examples of their quality.
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Now in its second year of its new generation, the 2013 Hyundai Elantra demonstrates why it was chosen as the 2012 North American Car of the Year. Looking like a chip off the old block of its sibling, the Sonata, the Elantra design follows the theme of “Fluidic Sculpture.” Hyundai thinks it creates the illusion of constant motion. I see a series of conflicting character lines flowing down the body interacting with muscular circular wheel arches. Overall it is a pleasant design if not too busy. The window lines are well done, making the Elantra look low, long and sleek. Coefficient of drag is a very wind cheating 0.28.
Size-wise, the Elantra with a length of 178 inches and a width of 70 inches fits in the compact category, but its interior size of over 110 cubic feet puts it in the midsize category with a voluminous, well shaped trunk of nearly 15 cubic feet.
Under the hood is a sophisticated all-aluminum DOHC, 16-valve in-line four of 1.8 liters with continuously variable valve timing mounted transversely (sideways). It pumps out a solid 148 hp at 6,500 rpm with torque peaking at 131 pounds at 4,700 rpm. It sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or automatic tranny. My tester was graced with the auto. EPA mileage ratings are the same for both trannies.
Performance is about mid-pack, if not slightly above average, for this class of cars with a 0-60 mph time of 9.18 seconds. Passing times were 5.45 seconds on a level road and that time lengthens to 7.65 seconds up a six percent grade. It actually feels stronger than the numbers reflect showing strong part throttle response. Helping that performance and snappy tip-in is its light weight of 2,701 pounds.
Fuel economy is rated by the EPA 28/38 mpg city/highway. Pretty amazing how good the fuel economy is in the new generation of cars. In reality the Elantra averaged 36 mpg on a 225-mile road trip averaging 75 mph and lots of hill climbs. At a steady 70 mph on a level road it averaged 40-42 mpg with no A/C. Overall for 600 miles of stop-and-go and road mileage the Elantra averaged 32-33 mpg. The engine spins a relaxed, quiet 2,200 rpm at 70 mph.
In fact, about the only time this engine makes any noise is if you push it hard and get into the upper rpm ranges. In most situations the engine is simply unobtrusive and never feels like it is working hard. And that is a good thing as four-cylinder engines just don’t make the right kind of noises unless they are a high winding inline four-cylinder motorcycle engine and then it is sweet music.
Underpinnings are McPherson struts up front with coil-overs and a torsion beam in the rear with coil springs and monotube shocks. There is a front stabilizer bar. It adds up to reasonably nimble small car handling. No, it is not a Mini Cooper or a Lotus, but it serves up very predictable handling. Steering is electronic power steering with decent feel and it is quick at 2.9 turns lock to lock. Tires are also a bit oversized at 205/55X16s on alloy wheels. The lower profile adds to quicker turn-in. Understeer is moderate and predictable. When you dive into a corner at speed there is body lean, but the line remains stable. If you step up to a Limited not only do you get luxury touches like leather, but 17-inch wheels and 215/45 tires, so handling should be crisper.
Where the Hyundai Elantra excels is in its ride quality. It is smooth with a very compliant, supple ride. You add those qualities to its quiet nature and you could be comfortable on a long road trip never mind a commute. Elantra really isolates and coddles its occupants. Big bumps can get a little sloppy, but they have to be big bumps. It is impressive and never busy.
Elantra comes with a plethora of airbags and standard four-wheel disc brakes (fronts are ventilated) plus ABS, stability control, traction control and stability management. It also comes standard with an event data recorder. Will big brother always be along for the ride? Brakes are strong and easy to modulate.
Inside you will find a roomy cabin for four. The three-place rear bench center section is a place I would not want to spend significant time, but that issue plagues most cars. The interior is cloth and it is a quality material. The front perches are large and quite comfortable with excellent support making over the road travel a pleasure when coupled with the lack of road and wind noise.
Instrumentation is complete (tach and speedo), including a trip computer. Cruise control is also standard. The center stack with radio/cd and HVAC controls are intuitive. Plug in your iPhone or MP3 and have your own music.
Pricing starts for a GLS at $16,965 with a you-shift tranny. If you want an automatic, add a grand. And its very well equipped with everything you need, such as full power everywhere, windows, door locks, mirrors, steering, brakes, trip computer cruise and more. And don’t forget the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. If you want to spice it up a bit you can add fogs, heated front seats, cloth door trim, Bluetooth and more for just $650. A loaded Limited will add $2,350. A nav package is also optional, with a rear view camera and more.
If you wonder why you see so many Elantras on the road, now you know why.
Price $16,965 to about $23,500 all in
Engine 1.8L DOHC, 16 valve inline four 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm
131 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
Front transverse engine, front-wheel drive
Length 178.3 inches
Wheelbase 106.3 inches
Width 69.9 inches
Height 56.5 inches
Track (f/r) 61.0/61.5 inches
Ground clearance 5.5 inches
Fuel capacity 12.8 gallons
Trunk capacity 14.8 cubic feet
Passenger volume 95.6 cubic feet
Steering lock-to-lock 2.9 turns
Turning circle 34.8 feet
0-60 mph 9.18 seconds
50-70 mph 5.45 seconds
50-70 uphill 7.65 seconds
Fuel economy EPA rated 28/38 mpg city/highway. Expect 36-40 mpg o the highway and 33-34 mpg in rural country driving.