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2011 Hyundai Elantra

2011 Hyundai Elantra
2011 Hyundai Elantra Wheelbase Media

Hyundai has gone and done it again.

As if stunning new-car buyers with the ultra-sharp Sonata wasn’t enough, the hotshot Korean automaker has just introduced its fifth-generation knock-your-socks-off Elantra sedan.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Korean automaker’s model lineup, the Elantra slots between the entry-level Accent and the larger Sonata in Hyundai’s pecking order. It was last updated for the 2007 model year and charmed buyers with a combination of generous interior space and extensive standard comfort and safety features.

Those stellar attributes led to a significant uptick in Hyundai converts, despite the fact that the car’s nondescript sheetmetal and underwhelming fuel economy numbers garnered tsk-tsk finger wagging from some quarters. Whether it was stung from such admonishments, Hyundai’s all-new 2011 Elantra, which should reach dealers in high volumes by early 2011, addresses both fuel economy and style while improving on several areas where it’s already perceived as being dominant.

Hyundai’s California design studio gets the credit for creating the Elantra’s silhouette. The stylists were obviously pretty satisfied with their work on the 2011 Sonata since they clearly stuck to the same basic pattern, albeit in a somewhat smaller scale. However from a purely subjective standpoint, the Elantra’s pronounced front-fender openings work wonders for appearance. Also, the nose is more attractive, with less chrome and a lot more detail displayed in the three horizontal bars between the lower air intake and the single bar and logo below the hood. If the front end looks familiar, check out Honda’s hybrid CR-Z for comparison.

The swoops and swirls theme that’s visible along the Elantra’s flanks and rear end also show up on the ultra-modern dashboard. Compared to the outgoing model’s ho-hum gauge pod and control panel, this one’s a genuine work of art.

The end result of Hyundai’s artistic handiwork is an Elantra that’s only about an inch longer, but gains two inches between the front and rear wheels and is lower by nearly two inches. The result is greater front and rear passenger legroom, while also giving the car a more planted appearance. From a technical standpoint, the Elantra retains its official mid-size status, even though overall interior volume has decreased ever so slightly. In its defense, Hyundai can point to a slightly larger trunk that was already considered voluminous.

What has also increased is the output. The Elantra’s all-new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is smaller than the previous 2.0-liter unit, but the 1.8 puts out 148 horsepower (145 horsepower for states that require partial-zero-emissions tuning), a gain of 10 over the 2.0. It’s also 74 pounds lighter and is rated at 29 mpg in the city and a seriously impressive 40 mpg on the highway with the standard six-speed manual transmission, or optional six-speed automatic. That’s a significant improvement over the 2010 model’s 26/35 city/highway numbers.

In terms of content, there are only two Elantra trim levels for 2011. The $15,550 base model includes the usual power-operated assortment plus a six-speaker audio system (air conditioning is optional). Stepping up to the $20,700 Limited edition adds the automatic transmission plus air conditioning, leather seats (heated in front and back), power sunroof, cruise control, telescopic steering wheel, fog lights, Bluetooth hands-fee communications and 17-inch wheels (15-inchers are standard).

The relatively brief option list includes keyless push-button start, automatic headlights, premium 360-watt sound package and a touch-screen navigation system with rearview camera.

Of course one standard feature not to be left out is Hyundai’s lengthy five-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. That deal sweetener is in addition to the Elantra’s inspired styling, roomy cabin and a fuel economy rating that outpaces nearly every other non-hybrid compact car on the road.

Dial in a competitive price tag and the Elantra would appear to have mass-transit appeal written all over it.