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Motoring: Elantra small but mighty

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Leisure | April 11th, 2011

Last week we looked at the Hyundai Sonata Turbo, a nice car that could have been even nicer. This week we are going to look at its smaller sibling, the new Elantra sedan.

Like the old Sonata, I was a huge fan of the last generation Elantra sedan. It was smooth and comfortable and offered great fuel economy. It even looked fairly good. In my mind, it was one of the best cars you could buy for under $20,000.

The new Elantra can also be had for under $20,000. But where the last model looked good, the new model is stunning.

There is not a single straight line on this car. It has more curves than Kim Kardashian, and when you park one next to the new Sonata, it puts its bigger brother to shame. The Elantra is a much nicer design from every angle, and the good news doesn't stop here.

Step inside and you'll be greeted by one of the nicest interiors in its class. All the major controls are well laid out in an easy, accessible section on the dashboard. The stereo was fine, and the fit and finish was better than I was expecting. Good so far, then.

Some of the complaints I had about the Sonata are also found here. It feels like this new Elantra is also not as quiet as the old model (cost-cutting in sound deadening perhaps), and while the seats seemed fine, they are not exactly the best in the business — they're not even the best in its class.

That said, there is plenty of room for front and rear seat passengers, and if you are picking someone up from the airport, you'll be happy to know that the trunk can swallow a whole lot of luggage. The trunk space can expand thanks to rear folding seats. I do wish, though, that Hyundai had not attached the trunk lid to old-fashioned C-hinges. They look cheap (because they are) and also intrude into luggage space.

Still, overall I'd say the car is doing fine.

What about the driving feel? Well it is good, if not spectacular. The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine is smooth and develops a reasonable 148-hp and 131 lb/ft of torque. That motor drives the front wheels and can be mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. My test car came with the automatic gearbox. This autobox is extremely smooth and its shift times are quick. So from a powertrain point of view, the new Elantra is good.

Fuel economy could have been better, though. I averaged 10.3- litres/100km during my week of city and highway driving. The figure is not bad, but cars like the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic can manage better numbers.

From a handling point of view, the Elantra is very impressive. You can chuck this car into corners and find it shows minimal body roll. It does understeer like all other frontwheel drive sedans, but it's better than some of its key rivals.

So how would I sum up the new Elantra? It is a very nice car for its segment and will certainly impress most of its buyers. I just think that Hyundai actually made the Elantra better than the Sonata by mistake, and that is good news for anyone considering buying a new Hyundai. Sure, the Elantra might not have the power or the powertrain options the Sonata provides, but for everyday running around, it is the better car.

Prices for the 2011 Elantra start at $15,849.
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