The 2011 Elantra was Hyundai’s major debut at last week’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The new Elantra is among the emerging class of small gas-powered cars that achieve better than 40 mpg on the highway. It achieves 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg highway with both the six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

More importantly, the Elantra provides mounting evidence about how the company will reach its lofty goal of achieving a fleet-wide average of 50 MPG by 2025—way ahead of government deadlines.

Putting Gas Engines on a Diet

The Elantra’s Nu engine, developed to replace the 2.0-liter Beta engine from the previous generation Elantra, is smaller and weighs 74 pounds less—helping to achieve an 18-percent improvement in highway fuel economy. The Elantra’s hybrid-like low emissions allow it to be certified as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle. “We’re trying to find solutions that are friendlier to the environment, but still give the kind of drive that customers expect,” said Mike O’Brien, Hyundai vice-president of production planning, in an interview with HybridCars.com. That’s a huge point for Hyundai as it pushes forward on its MPG goals—to provide fuel economy improvements with “typical” drive feel.

“We’re the first to the market with turbo gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine that replaces our V6 engine,” O’Brien said. “In fact, it gives better horsepower, better driving performance, and better fuel economy than all our V6 competitors.” The same foundation was applied to the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which employs better aerodynamics, lighter-weight batteries, and more horsepower at levels that beat the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Nissan Altima Hybrid.

Mike O’Brien, Hyundai vice-president of production planning, at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. He spoke about the strategy for the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and hinted at a future plug-in hybrid.