First Drive: With the 40 MPG 2011 Elantra, Hyundai is Making Unicorns
Un•i•corn | Noun | Definition: An elusive mythical beast. Mix equal parts extreme value, good looks, and great warranty. Add incredible fuel economy and a dash of luxury. Place in Alabama manufacturing facility to bake. Result: a vehicle that sends competitors running in search of their own elusive mythical beasts. (Serves 4 in relative comfort—5 in a pinch).
While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the next generation of hybrids and plug-in cars, the new 2011 Hyundai Elantra is a good reminder that the conventional combustion-engined car still has a lot of mileage left in it—especially when executed with such style, efficiency and value.
In the last couple of years, the market for cars the size of a Corolla or Civic has seen the number of quality competitors surge. A category once dominated by Toyota and Honda has been increasingly joined by the likes of the Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra and upcoming Ford Focus. In addition, smaller vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta are becoming so popular that they end up peeling sales away from their larger brethren. At this point there’s no denying that the small car market has become a cutthroat business.
So what’s a scrappy little Korean manufacturer to do in the face of such adversity? Up until now, Hyundai’s strategy has been to offer the best warranty in the industry combined with rock-bottom prices. Yet given the abundance of competition, that strategy alone eventually was bound to stop working.
Glimpsing this world of the future from afar, Hyundai sat their engineers and designers down and asked them to do one thing: create a small car that still offered the value and warranty customers had grown accustomed to, but provided much more content than any of their competitors could possibly provide. Instead of saying it couldn’t be done, those designers and engineers came back with the 2011 Hyundai Elantra—a strikingly good-looking vehicle that serves up 40 mpg on the highway and 29 in the city, starts at around $16,000, and for about $22,000, comes completely optioned out with a dizzying assortment of doodads, some of which are usually reserved for luxo-mobiles. What other vehicle in this segment, or a segment even close to it, offers heated rear leather seats?
Value and Options
Available in two models, the base Elantra GLS and the upgraded Elantra Limited, Hyundai chose to simplify the car buying experience by offering almost everything as standard or in the form of an add-on package—and the standard list of features that come on the Elantra is impressive. The GLS starts at $14,830, but that price won’t get you air conditioning. To get the air conditioning (and 16″ steel wheels) you’ll have to add the “popular equipment package” for about $1,200, bringing the price up to $16,080. Other upgrade packages fill out the top end of the GLS model and add items such as an upgraded sound system and nav.
The next step up, the Elantra Limited, adds in a standard six-speed automatic transmission, leather seats, cruise control, heated front and rear seats, and fog lights for $19,980. Even completely topped out, the Elantra Limited Premium can’t be had for more than about $22,000—which adds in a navigation system with a massive 7-inch LCD screen, back-up camera, 360-Watt audio system, and push button start with a proximity key transmitter.
When the entire package is added up, the 2011 Elantra Limited Premium is just about the best new car deal on the road today at $22,000.
How Does it Drive?
During approximately three hours of driving along the U.S.-Mexico border, I was able to test the Elantra Limited on a variety of terrain, from highway to stop and go to winding back country roads. At highway speeds, its brakes (disc in both the front and rear) were a bit grabby and the handling felt mushy when making lane changes, but those issues largely disappeared when traveling at lower speeds or taking it through twisties.
Elantra’s handling and acceleration felt a bit ho-hum, but then I have to remind myself that we’re talking about a $15-22K small car. In that light, and when compared to the competition, the 2011 Elantra scores very well, providing a ride that does not disappoint.
Aside from the great fuel economy and pricing, it is the Elantra’s exterior and interior styling that sets it apart. Following in the footsteps of the Hyundai Sonata’s “fluidic design,” the Elantra’s sheet metal is wrapped taut around underlying muscle. The exterior design cues continue to the interior where the components, even on the base $15,000 GLS, have the feel, fit and finish of a more expensive car. Even though the interior styling felt expensive, I was a bit put off by the adolescence of its design—it looked like a Transformer in the midst of a noisy, clanking transformation.
The 2011 Hyundai Elantra presents just about the best bang for your buck that you could imagine in an automobile. It has upscale features, incredible fuel economy, a great price, stunning looks, and a jaw-dropping warranty. Hyundai has made the automotive equivalent of a Unicorn.
Would I buy it myself? If I weren’t an early adopter in every sense of the word and I wasn’t in the market for an electric car, yes the Elantra would be a top choice on my list. I imagine a car like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra greatly appealing to commuters, deal-hunters, frugalists, and to parents looking for a first vehicle to buy their teenagers. In fact, the Elantra offers so much content for such a low price that it should be considered by consumers across the entire market regardless of what other vehicles are on their shopping list.