When we took our first look at the 2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS a few months ago, our initial impressions were good. We gushed about the fit and finish, the attractive styling, the nimble handling, and the great cabin tech package. But today's automotive landscape is rapidly changing, and in the three months since our last encounter with the Elantra, we've also found ourselves behind the wheel of the new Ford Focus and the new Chevy Cruze Eco, vehicles that join the incumbent Honda Civic in the competition for buyers' C-segment dollars.
With more seat time under our belts, we take a second look at Hyundai's shot over the bow of Honda and see if some of the sheen of our first impression has worn off.
Power for the Elantra is provided by a rather pedestrian 1.8-liter engine that makes 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Although a six-speed manual transmission is available, we're sure that most examples of the Elantra--our tester included--will put power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual shift mode. No, the Elantra doesn't exactly back up its sporty windswept look with mind-blowing performance, but acceleration is adequate. When left in its automatic mode, the Elantra supposedly hits 60 mph in just a hair under 8 seconds. However, in the Shiftronic manual mode, we had the hardest time getting under the 10-second mark. That's due to the manual shift mode's habit of automatically upshifting just as we reached for the shift lever, causing us to end up a gear higher than expected. For best results, just leave the shifting to the computer.
The EPA estimates the Elantra's fuel economy at 29 city mpg and 40 mpg on the highway. However, we came nowhere near those numbers. Mixed driving kept the trip computer hovering around 25 mpg for the duration of our first tank of gas. After refueling and trying again with more highway driving in the mix, we were able to tickle, but not exceed, 32 mpg. Perhaps an instantaneous fuel economy gauge would have helped us to boost that number, but the Elantra is only equipped with an Eco light in its instrument cluster that illuminates when the driver goes easy on the throttle.
On the road, the Elantra feels like the Honda Civic used to in the '90s: making up for its notable lack of power by emphasizing lightweight, nimble handling. However, although the Elantra's handling is good, the sedan still has an economy-car feel. Its torsion-bar rear suspension doesn't stick to the road like the Civic's multi-link rear end. Over uneven pavement at highway speeds, the Elantra's front suspension soaks up bumps surprisingly well, but we were able to feel the rear end rolling over when the road got curvy. Expect the Elantra to understeer when pushed to its moderate limits before the standard stability control, traction control, and brake force distribution systems step in to keep things in line.
The Elantra's electric power steering feels a bit over-boosted, which makes it feel slightly numb for performance driving but perfect for effortless milling about town. The sedan also has a small turning radius, a valuable asset for city dwellers. When equipped with the optional rearview camera, which we'll discuss shortly, the light steering, quick turning, and small footprint make the Elantra remarkably easy to parallel park. We're thinking that most potential Elantra drivers will value the sedan's low-speed handling and manners over all-out high-speed performance.
When equipped with automatic transmission, the GLS trim level comes standard with a 172-watt six-speaker stereo system with a good mix of audio sources, including XM Satellite Radio, AM/FM terrestrial radio, a single-disc CD player with MP3 decoding capability, and USB and auxiliary inputs with iPod connectivity. In order to best use an iPod or iPhone with Hyundai's system, you'll need to drop an additional $35 on an iPod cable that simultaneously connects the iPod or iPhone to both the auxiliary and USB inputs for full-speed music library browsing. Additionally, the Elantra can be equipped with Hyundai's standard array of cabin tech options.