Hyundai Elantra, 2011 review

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Why not get sub-compact car fuel economy with a slick compact auto that’s so roomy the EPA classifies it as a mid-size car and that even offers heated rear seats?

Why not, indeed? That’s the question Hyundai asked itself and came up with its new sleekly styled 2011 Elantra sedan, which does all that . . . and then some.

Hyundai is especially proud the EPA says all versions of the Elantra get an estimated 40 miles per gallon on the highway, with either a new six-speed manual gearbox or new six-speed automatic transmission. Estimated city economy for all versions is 29 mpg.

“We don’t charge extra for any Elantra version with a 40-mpg rating,” quipped a Hyundai executive at a media introduction of the car near San Diego, Calif. He was referring to the fact that some rivals with conventional engines only reach that figure with a special “economy” model.

2011 Hyundai Elantra
2011 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai has been around a long time here, but some Americans still think the South Korean outfit is a Japanese automaker. The 2011 front-wheel-drive Elantra was designed at the automaker’s North American Design Center in Irvine, Calif., and is built at Hyundai’s Alabama plant.

The nicely built Elantra’s low front end goes with its highly aerodynamic styling, but can be damaged if it hits rather high parking stops at, say, a 7-Eleven. It rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, or two inches longer than that of the previous Elantra, and overall length is up by about an inch to 178.3 inches. Width remains the same, but height is lowered by 1.8 inches to 56.5 inches, without affecting headroom.

The new Elantra has scads of interior room, although the center of the rear seat is too firm for anything but short trips. The relatively long wheelbase allows for compact car efficiency with mid-size car comfort.

Indeed, the EPA classifies the new new Elantra as a mid-size car, not a compact auto such as the rival Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

The Elantra starts at $14,830 for the base, price-leader GLS Standard model and ends with the $21,980 Premium version. Media at the preview got the $19,980 Limited model, which fits just below the Premium, to drive several hundred miles over a variety of roads.

The new Elantra is pretty well-equipped and even offers optional heated front and rear seats—a segment first. There are no stand-alone options, except for a mini-spare tire. One thus must turn to option packages for extras such as the heated seats, leather upholstery, power sunroof, proximity key with push-button engine start, navigation system, rearview camera, premium audio system and hands-free phone system with voice recognition.

The Elantra has a double-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. It  kicks out 148 horsepower at a lofty 6,500 rpm and is a light, smooth free-revving unit with nifty features such as dual continuously variable valve timing and a plastic two-stage Variable Intake System that allows switching between long and short intake manifolds—resulting in an across-the-board performance increase.

There’s also electronic throttle control for improved driveablity, response and fuel economy. A maintenance-free (always good news) silent timing chain system enhances durability and helps keep things quiet.

The engine works efficiently with the manual transmission or automatic, which has a manual-shift feature. Most Elantra buyers are expected to get the automatic.

The new Elantra is the first small car in Hyundai’s lineup to get the responsive six-speed automatic, which was in my test car. No manual-transmission-model was available for testing at the preview.

The Elantra is no fireball, but provides good merging into freeway traffic and decent 65-75 mph passing. It has world-class weight efficiency, at 2,661-2,820 pounds with the manual transmission and 2,701-2,877 pounds with the automatic.

There’s widespread use of high-strength steel, and standard safety items include electronic stability control, vehicle stability management with traction control and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution for surer panic stops.

The brake pedal initially felt a bit light, but I soon got used to using the pedal to make  smooth, short stops. Of course, the car is loaded with air bags and side curtains.

The electric power steering is quick and adjusts to changing driving conditions while improving fuel economy. It feels somewhat stiff, but allows a tight turning circle. Handling is sharp, with the car staying firmly planted while zipping through tight mountain curves. The ride is on the firm side, but isn’t uncomfortable.

My test car had wide 45-series tires on 17-inch wheels, which doubtlessly helped handling. Available are 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheels. The wider the wheels and tires, the better the handling.

The interior is attractive, although there’s a fair amount of hard plastic in the dashboard area. Backlit gauges don’t get washed out by bright sunlight, as they do on many cars, and controls are fairly easy to use. Front seats are supportive, and there are plenty of decent-sized cabin  storage areas. The rear fold-down center armrest, however, looks cheap and sits at an angle when flipped forward.

The roomy trunk has a low, wide opening, and split rear seatbacks with trunk releases for security’s sake fold flat to enlarge the cargo area.

The new Elantra seems certain to be another hit for Hyundai, which was one of few automakers to register higher sales in the dreadful vehicle sales market of 2009.

Dan Jedlicka is the former automotive writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. Visit his website:

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22 thoughts on “Hyundai Elantra, 2011 review”

  1. In sum: more style, room, and Fahrenvergnuegen for less gas and money. How much longer can Hyundai offer twice the car for half the price?

    The Impala and Malibu crowd will inevitably make preposterous claims about its "feel" or "touch" — things that can't be measured because they don't actually exist, except in their heads. The irony is that the longer they keep trying to lower its brand image, the longer Hyundai sells their superior products at a price far below their value.

    • Sam you hit the nail right on the hubcap. I always read reviews about Steering Feel ‘numbness’ and wonder if that term would be better reserved for how your butt feels in the new seat after a four-hour long haul? That is quantifiable in my world, but in the steering wheel, not so much.

      And does my hand recoil from the touch of a slick surface somewhere in the ca? No. But here’s my beef…a car review with not a single word posted on the mpg’s recorded during the time the Gear Head Du Jour was behind the wheel.

      I wonder why the editors put up with more ‘cut and paste’ from the company press releases taking up space in another car review? All that’s on the internet, or printed on those nice glossy give always at the dealership. Do they only pay for these reviews by the word and don’t care about the content?

      As for the design, “looking like this or looking like that”, let’s see how people vote with their wallets. I really don’t care about what a reviewer thinks about that, he’s not buying the car in question, I am.

  2. We test drove a 2011 Elantra yesterday. It was a Limited model. We own a 2011 Sonata so we had a good gauge to measure with. The new Elantra is anything but compact. It had plenty of interior room for two larger Americans. The car “felt” much more expensive than the sticker price. The exterior styling turns heads — it did ours! It’s like a little brother to the Sonata. Acceleration was just fine for our liking – it had a quiet and refined ride that surprised me. Overall, it seemed a great car to me — 40 mpg highway is a big wow. Considering price, all the room, mpg’s and driving fun, this car is a winner big time. We are placing our order — a Sonata and baby Sonata in the driveway will peek the neighbors curiosity — and make us a happy Hyundai family — all 100, 000 warranty miles.

    • I so agree with you! I just bought one (Hyundai Sonata) this last Saturday, and I have never been so crazy about a car before! I am so happy! Let’s just say great gas mileage, hot style, and unbelievable price!

  3. I have had the 2011 Elantra GLS for over 1200 miles now. I bought it as a commuter car because of its advertised 40 mpg. I have been keeping close track of the highway mileage, which I travel >90% highway and <10% city. My average mpg has been 33.4 over the 1200 miles traveled. I took it in to a Hyundai service center and they said I am getting what is expected. The Hyundai consumer affairs agrees that 33.4 mpg is okay and within their range. So, the moral of the story is buy another brand of vehicle that actually gets the advertised mpg.

    Disappointed and would not recommend

  4. I have had the 2011 Elantra GLS for over 1200 miles now. I bought it as a commuter car because of its advertised 40 mpg. I have been keeping close track of the highway mileage, which I travel greater than 90 percent highway and less than 10 percent city. My average mpg has been 33.4 over the 1,200 miles traveled. I took the Elantra into a Hyundai service center and they said I am getting what is expected. The Hyundai consumer affairs agrees 33.4 mpg is okay and within their range. So, the moral of the story is buy another brand of vehicle that actually gets the advertised mpg. I am disappointed and would not recommend it.

    • Just an FYI . . . Your car is still in a break-in period. The engine and transmission are still ‘tight’ and are not fully broken in yet. Give it until 5-6 thousands miles and you should easily see another 3-4 mpg increase — getting you right at the 40 mpg range. Keep track of your mileage and you’ll see the increases as the car gets through the break-in period. This is normal for all vehicles (motorcycles. too).

      • I purchased a 2007 Honda Civic as was initially terribly disappointed that it’s fuel economy performance wasn’t even close to the ratings. I did find — and this was news to me — that after a significant “break-in” period the performance did improve. It took something like one-to-two years (we drive only perhaps 7,500 miles per year). But now we are bettering the vehicle’s ratings. For example, during one stint last summer, we achieved 46 miles per U.S. gallon on the highway, as compared to the rating of 41.

    • We just purchased a new 2011 Elantra touring in February. On our first out-of-town trip, we got 41.7 mpg. We get between 23-29 mpg in town. Just wild about its looks, handling and mileage.

      • I brought my 2011 Elantra GLS in Austin, but my home town is in Dallas area. So, the first trip the car had was long distance. It didn’t kick into 40 mpg until one and a half to two hours of driving. I asked my man-friend and he said it’s because the car re-calculates every so often over a period of time (or something like that). What I would suggest is to take it out and drive it to a friend or family in another city. Once the car kicks into 40 mpg, it stays there if you drive it right.

  5. The car performs as it is stated on the Monroney sticker . . . 33-47 MPG Highway. It depends on the individual driver and how they drive. Obviously you must be pushing it on the highway, Hence the 33 MPG… Plus your car only has 1,200 miles. It takes at least until 5,000 miles before an engine reaches its maximum potential. Also, how are you measuring it? Hopefully not from the Trip Computer.

  6. I can’t believe my Elantra Limited did not come with a spare tire. Instead, it has a Tire Mobility Kit, which is only good for punctures and totally useless if it is damaged by hitting a pot hole. Which happened to me with only 650 miles on it. After hitting one on a Sunday the tire was flat by the time I got home (which luckily wasn’t too far). I had to have the car towed to the dealership to have it replaced, it was totally shot ($175.00 and $89,00 for an alignment. Thank God the alloy rim wasn’t damaged that would have cost $375.00). What B.S. So my advice to anyone considering a Limited model is to look into any other car that comes with a spare. It will save you a lot of time and money.

    • The Elantra 2011 GLS does not come with a spare tire. Hyundai’s roadside assistance will come out and change your tire, but if you don’t have a spare, what’s the point?

      • Ditto!!! What's the point??? Had I known the car did not come w/ a spare tire and it was an option, I would have definitely opted for one! I just bought my new Elantra 2 weeks ago, had a flat tire at 500 miles and called roadside assistance. The person who responded to the call couldn't help me because he didn't know what to do without a spare tire!!!
        Do all the new Hyundai(s) lack spares or just the Elantra?

  7. I bought a (Hyundai) Elantra GL a week ago, and I am very happy I chose it instead of a (Toyota) Corolla or (Ford) Focus. Fuel consumption is great and it’s loaded with options not available on other brands with the same price. Hyundai is an underdog no more.

  8. I have had my limited version for three month’s now and I love it. Comes with many standard features that would be options in other cars. My wife and I have taken long drives with it already and are quite impressed. I would gladly and have recommended this car to anyone.

  9. Drove midsize cars for a long time. Bought the limited. Wow, great car. Nice ride. A lot of room for a 6-foot-3 driver. Great style. You wont be disappointed. 42 mpg when I put Mobile One in. For $1,880 800 more get the limited/ Really makes the car nice.

  10. I read most of the ‘official gear head’ reviews for the 2011 Elantra and not one of the ‘experts’ mentioned the lack of a spare tire. As mentioned in other comments on this page, the cut and paste reviews focused on ‘feel’ and ‘grand prix’ performance short comings. What it seems to take to be an professional car reviewer is the ability to cut and paste manufacturers’ marketing tripe within an ‘independent review’ without considering how the typical car buyer would evaluate a car.

  11. Blog after blog contains caveats that the actual highway mileage is far below 40 mpg. However, one posting caught my eye: the blogger stated that he got this mileage with A/C off. I wonder whether the EPA testing was without A/C, since A/C is an option?

  12. Love the new design. Get several compliments weekly. Only issue is that there is no spare tire. The salesperson or dealership did not notify me before hand and I complained about it. They said there was a sealant. However, I heard that this actually ruins the tire. I thought it was illegal to sell a car without a spare tire. Especially these days. Elantra reports that they are in the process of making a model fir the spare tire. So if enough people call and express their feelings they may offer a free tire. Kind of like a recall. Hyundai really dropped the ball there.


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