2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited

The thing about the 2011 Hyundai Elantra: This changes everything.

The thing about the 2011 Hyundai Elantra: This changes everything.

OK. “Everything” is a big word. Admittedly. So maybe that’s an exaggeration. But a slight one. Because the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is good. Really good. And when you consider a car that has a base MSRP of $19,980 and then start checking the boxes for what that gets you—everything from leather seats to heated mirrors, pushbutton start to front fog lights—you begin to realize that what has been the case is no longer.

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Maybe this is getting a little existential in here, but the thing is that the 2011 Elantra is a new definition of what a “compact car” is. Or to put a finer point on it: A new definition of what an affordable compact car is. Let’s face it: There are compact out there or coming that start out with an affordable sticker on the window. And then when you start checking the boxes for even reasonable amenities—and I’m not even talking about the sunroof that the Elantra has, something more fundamental, like sun visors that have illuminated vanity mirrors and the ability to slide to provide extended coverage (you’d think that the nylon insert bearings cost a king’s ransom given that so many cars don’t offer this simple functionality)—you find yourself wondering why the air in the room has become so thin. And soon you’re gasping and your eyes are opened WIDE because what began as a comparatively diminutive number is now rather substantial.

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But with the Elantra, kicking in the additional $2,000 for a navigation system, rear view camera, premium audio with external amp, and automatic headlights is something that doesn’t seem quite as breathtaking as it otherwise might.

It is a hell of a deal.

The 2011 Elantra, designed at the company’s North American Design Center in California, deploys Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language that was first used on the current-generation Sonata. What this means is that there are a whole lot of things going on that probably make the people who have to stamp the panels as well as those who have to assemble the doors and quarter panels and such really earn their keep. The Fluidic Sculpture approach works exceedingly well on the Elantra as there is a dynamism and tension in the forms that make the car simultaneously aggro and aero, something that doesn’t work as well over a longer wheelbase.

One interesting thing about the design is that not only does it appear aerodynamic, but it provides a drag coefficient of 0.28, which Hyundai is keen to note bests the Chevrolet Volt, which has a drag coefficient of 0.29 (lower is better).

And this leads to the fuel economy story of the Elantra, which is stickered at 29 city, 40 highway. Yes, this is a fuel-sipping car, yet it has a newly developed 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque, so it is not like it is powered by something that makes you wonder whether the accelerator pedal is attached to anything. This engine features dual continuously variable valve timing (D-CVVT) on its camshafts, hydraulic engine mounts, a plastic two-stage variable intake system, and an offset crankshaft design to reduce friction between the piston and the cylinder wall. There is a six-speed automatic transmission. (And a six-speed manual for those so inclined.)

The 29/40 goes right across the entire lineup.

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Inside, the materials are seemingly a class or two up from what one would expect—even if one has high expectations, which are generally quickly quashed by compact offerings. And this is even the case with the vastly improved offerings on the market.

So let’s see: Style. Affordability. Amenities. Fuel efficiency. Quality execution.

The 2011 Elantra does change everything.

Selected Specs

Engine: 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, dual CVVT I4

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 148 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 131 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 106.3 in

Length: 178.3 in

Width: 69.9 in

Height: 56.5 in

EPA fuel economy: 29/40 mpg city/hwy