2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring SE

The trouble with many compact cars is that they seem, well, compact.

The trouble with many compact cars is that they seem, well, compact. No, this is not a blinding flash of the obvious, nor an indication that I cannot walk and chew gum. Rather, it is to make the point that in a era where the number of full-size pickups and full-blown body-on-frame SUVs being sold may be diminishing, the number of them on the road seems to be little affected by Cash for Clunkers, gas prices or the Sierra Club. And if you are rolling along in a compact car, you may feel as though you may be squished like a bug. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen in any of the contemporary cars in this category (possible, yes; likely, no). But the issue is one of the way these cars handle. That is, they seem—in their steering, in particular—very light, and not in a good way. This overall lack of demi-gravitas is a reminder that while those pickups and utes are massive, you’re in something not so big.

All of that said, some of you may be familiar with the stretch of I-94 in the part of northwest Indiana known as “The Region.” For whatever reason, it seems as though there is an inordinate number of big rigs that are rolling along there. It is almost like driving through a wall of steel if you happen to be in a lane between the trucks. They make the aforementioned trucks and utes nearly trivial.

Which brings me to the Elantra Touring. While it is a compact—one with comparatively capacious interior volume, but a compact nonetheless—while driving both ways through The Region, I didn’t feel in the least bit as though I could readily become a smear on the pavement. It drives like a much bigger car, which I attribute to its steering and suspension. Don’t get me wrong. It is still highly maneuverable. It just doesn’t have that light feel that may turn many drivers of bigger cars off of smaller cars. As there will undoubtedly be a downsizing of the fleet going forward, this attribute of the Elantra Touring is a good one.

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(In case you’re wondering, it has power-assisted, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. And it has MacPherson struts in the front and multilink independent design in the back)

“Touring?” you might be wondering. Well, yes, that’s a term that is often used by European builders for what some of us know better as “station wagon.” It seems as though vehicle manufacturers want to shy away from the “S” word. But note that this is not a “crossover,” although that body style often seems to be a variant of a wagon, albeit in a somewhat juiced form. The Elantra Touring is your straight-up, five passenger compact wagon with five doors, the fifth, of course, being the hatch for access to the flat-floor storage. And there is good capacity back there, with 24.3-ft3 with the second-row of seats up and 65.3-ft3 if you’re traveling without occupants 3, 4 and 5.

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The car as Driven has a 2.0-liter, 138-hp four with continuously variable valve timing and a five-speed manual transmission. Let’s face it: You’re not going to win any drag races on your way to or from the grocery store or the soccer field in this car, but that’s not the point. The point, I suggest, is getting to the store or the game in comfort and economy, and the Elantra Touring fulfills that mission with aplomb. The interior of the vehicle—fit, finish, materials, and amenities—is a price class above what I’d expect (e.g., a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; heated front seats; sunroof; six-speaker audio system with iPod jack). And as for economy, the car has a remarkable MSRP of just $18,995. Add the carpeted floor mats (nice ones, with the car’s name stitched in) for $95, mudguards for $85, and handling at $720, and you come to a total of $19,895.

A hell of a deal for a heck of a car.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder with CVVT

Engine material: Cast-iron block, aluminum head

Horsepower: 138 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 136 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 176.2 in.

Width: 69.5 in.

Height: 59.8 in.

EPA city/highway: 23/31 mpg