2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited. Click image to enlarge
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Hyundai Elantra

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2011 Hyundai Elantra

With the exception of a few retro vehicles such as the Mini and Beetle, it isn’t often that a car becomes a runaway hit right out of the box. That said, that was precisely the case with the Hyundai Elantra, which is completely redesigned for 2011. In January, its first full month of sales and before the company even started aggressively advertising it, it became the best-selling car in Canada, ahead of the triumvirate of Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 that usually jockeys for the top spot.

That’s quite an accomplishment for a model that always did its job in workmanlike fashion, but without much pizzazz. It’s all in the overhaul, which turns the styling from snoozy to sexy, outfits the Elantra with some unexpected features for the segment, and provides an overall driving experience that’s really quite good.

It doesn’t photograph quite as well as it looks in person. In the flesh, it’s mindful of the Sonata, which is actually presenting a bit of a quandary for Hyundai right now: those soaring Elantra numbers have been offset by a substantial bite into Sonata sales. I’m not surprised, since one of the first things I said when I drove the Elantra was, “Why would I move up to a Sonata?” And indeed, unless you need the room – the Sonata’s total cabin volume is larger by 232 litres, or 8.1 cubic feet – it’s not easy making a case for moving up, especially since the Elantra runs from $15,849 to $24,699, while the Sonata starts at $22,649.

2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited. Click image to enlarge

Built at Hyundai’s plant in Alabama, the Elantra comes only in sedan form; the Elantra Touring hatchback may share the name, but it’s an entirely different vehicle. For 2011, the Elantra swaps out last year’s 138-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder for a 1.8-litre with dual continuous variable valve timing, churning out 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque. Last year’s five-speed manual/four-speed automatic transmission options are gone. This time around, there’s a six-speed manual in the L, GL and GLS trim levels, and which can be bumped up to a six-speed autobox that was the sole choice in my tester, the Limited trim.

The $15,849 tag gets you the base L, which includes six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic stability control, power locks, heated mirrors, stereo with USB port and auxiliary input and power windows, although you have to move up to the next step, the GL, to get air conditioning. That GL model also adds such features as heated seats, keyless entry, Bluetooth and cruise control, while the GLS throws in a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sunroof, fog lights, XM satellite radio, and the only heated rear seats in the segment.

My Limited, at $22,699, included 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, leather seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and garage door opener. The final step up, for an additional $2,000, is the Limited with Navigation, which includes an electronic map, plus pushbutton start, stereo amplifier and rear-view camera. There is certainly no arguing about the number of features you get for the price.

I was going to Windsor, Ontario, almost five hours from my house. Hyundai originally planned to give me the Equus, its low-production, $70,000 flagship sedan, but the car had a part on backorder, and so I was given the Elantra instead. There were many apologies, but none were needed. Not only was the Elantra easier on my gasoline card, but it worked very well throughout the trip. The Equus’ seats would have been more luxurious, of course, but the Elantra’s chairs didn’t get hard until after about the fourth hour of driving, which was far better than I’d expect from any compact car.

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