First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra hyundai first drives
2011 Hyundai Elantra. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Gerry Frechette

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2011 Hyundai Elantra

La Jolla, California – Every couple of months, it seems, a new small car is introduced in Canada that is simply a quantum leap over the previous generation model, and whose manufacturer sees it vaulting to the top of the compact car sales charts.

The latest all-new compact sedan to seek segment glory is the 2011 Hyundai Elantra. Sporting the “Fluidic Sculpture” design language with flowing lines that create the illusion of constant motion (as the company describes it), the new Elantra is like no other compact car, but it is very similar to its mid-sized big brother, the Sonata. It will certainly not be mistaken for any other compact on the road, and the styling gives the Elantra a degree of “presence” that a compact sedan isn’t expected to have. As an added bonus, the actual coefficient of drag turns out to be only .28, about as sleek as a sedan can be.

First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Elantra hyundai first drives
2011 Hyundai Elantra. Click image to enlarge

Under the Elantra’s rakish hood resides an all-new, all-aluminum 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, dubbed the “Nu” in Hyundai’s curious plan to name all its engines. Developing 148 horsepower and 131 lb.-ft. of torque, it is smaller in size, weighs 34 kilograms less than the last-generation 2.0-litre engine, and helps achieve a 16 per cent improvement in highway fuel economy, too. It has more horsepower per litre (82.2 to be exact), the best power-to-weight ratio, and lower fuel consumption than the standard engines in all its compact car rivals.

Indeed, with city/highway L/100 km consumption numbers of 6.9/4.9 for the automatic, and 6.8/4.9 for the manual, only the Chevrolet Cruze Eco manual (an optional, costlier package) betters the Elantra on the highway, and no other compact betters it in the city, according to figures provided by Hyundai.

Backing up the new engine are two equally new six-speeds, in manual and automatic versions. At the launch event, we drove only the automatic, and can report that it shifts quickly and smoothly, up or down, almost as well as the best dual-clutch units out there, and that one can operate it manually using the shifter in the manual shift gate. We did not try the manual transmission, standard on all models but the Limited, but those who did reported a more sporty driving experience, as one might expect. Hyundai expects the manual to be ordered in about 15 per cent of Elantras.

The rest of the running gear keeps up to the new drive-train. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard, unlike the rear drums found on most compacts except the Mazda3. Steering is via a new electric system. Front suspension is MacPherson strut, while out back is a torsion beam. Wheels and tires vary depending on model, with 15-, 16- and 17-inchers available.

Inside, the Elantra continues the exterior’s upscale styling, with the centre stack in particular looking like it would not be out of place in a larger luxury car. The interior is spacious, as is the trunk, with the actual volumes being among the leaders in the class. In addition, interior storage (console, glovebox, etc) is plentiful.

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