Hyundai no longer surprises us with its continued march up the mountain of improvement. The South Korean automaker has been so consistent over the past few years in raising the bar with each new vehicle that it's now expected. So the surprise would have been an all-new Elantra sedan not measurably better than the car it replaced.
We were not surprised again. The 2007 model is a giant step forward from the previous Elantra — just as we had expected.
We have no problem recommending the new Elantra over any number of its competitors. For the most part it has more standard equipment at a better price, a longer warranty and more standard safety features than the competition.
And quality has ceased to be an issue with Hyundai. Simply read some recent J.D. Power and Associates reports for verification. Or ask your neighbor who owns a late-model Hyundai.
Hyundai is now designing cars in America for Americans. This latest styling rendition came out of the company's southern California design studio, and it features contemporary uncluttered lines that are pleasing to the eye. Hyundai is not shy about borrowing the best from the competition, and in the case of the Elantra you can see a bit of Toyota Corolla in the face and the rear.
Like the exterior, the interior layout looks like something we've seen before. But that's not a bad thing because switchgear is attractive and intuitive. Round climate controls have a nice feel.
Some of the ugly things about economy cars of the past, including several Hyundai products, were interior shortcomings such as misaligned pieces, poor-quality material and bad-looking plastic. It's hard to look at those things every day and take pride in your car. Forget those days and those cheap South Korean products of the late '80s and early '90s. Living inside the 2007 Elantra is a pleasant experience. Materials are of high quality and alignment is close to perfect.
The new Elantra not only looks good, it feels good.
It offers the feeling of a more upscale mid-sized sedan with a quiet interior and ample space for four adults. In fact, interior accommodations are so generous that the compact Elantra falls into the mid-sized category in the government's rating system.
The Elantra's interior volume has grown to 112.1 cubic feet without increasing the exterior dimensions of the car. That's more than the all-new Nissan Sentra, which grew like a weed from the previous iteration. The Elantra now boosts class-leading front-seat legroom of 43.5 inches (the Civic has 42.2 inches) and a half-inch more legroom in the rear than the Honda at 35 inches. Finding foot room in the back is made even better because of generous space under the front seats.
Hyundai managed to create this passenger-friendly cabin without sacrificing trunk space. In fact, the new Elantra with 14.2 cubic feet has a cubic foot more space than the previous car, a foot more than the Sentra and two cubic feet more than the current Civic.
If there is weak spot in this well-thought-out sedan, it's with the powertrain, a carryover from the 2006 model. But even there we hesitate to call it a weak spot. It's just more average than the rest of the car. Carried over is a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder generating 138 horsepower and 136 foot-pounds of torque that can be equipped with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.
Low-end torque is the best feature of the engine. Response is good off the line, but tends to suffer at higher speeds. The engine runs smooth and quiet at low rpm, but becomes rather raucous above 4,000 rpm.
Performance and fuel economy are pretty much mid-pack at about 8.5 seconds from 0-to-60 and 83 miles per hour in the quarter mile, with an EPA rating of 28 mpg city and 36 highway with both the manual and automatic. The Corolla and the Civic boost better mileage, while the Volkswagen Rabbit and Mazda3 slightly less.
Even though we wouldn't classify the Elantra as sporting, it possesses a smooth and stable feel and can be entertaining on the back-road curves.
Hyundai excels in three areas with all its vehicles — standard safety, price and warranty. And those things put the new Elantra near the head of the class. It comes with: A five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty; Standard safety that includes front-side impact and side-curtain airbags, standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, and standard active head restraints; A starting price of $13,995 including destination charge.
In fairness the starting price is just that — a starting price. It won't be the final price in most sales because the base GLS trim level comes without air conditioner or an audio system.
The mid-level SE, such as our test car, is the smart vehicle of choice. For $17,380 most things people desire in a car are standard including the aforementioned safety features. Other standard amenities include automatic transmission, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows and side mirrors, remote keyless entry, an audio system with CD player, cruise control and tilt and telescoping steering wheel.
If you enjoy shifting for yourself, the SE can be purchased with manual transmission for $16,295.
Move to the top Limited trim level and leather seating, heated seats, sunroof and a 220-watt audio system are added. Bottom line of the limited is $18,295.
For those desiring the space and flexibility of a hatchback, Hyundai says it will introduce a hatchback model in the future.
The Elantra stands out as a credible compact sedan for those who wish to keep their automotive purchase under $20,000, but who want a well-made, stylish and fuel-efficient vehicle that just happens to have an incredibly long warranty.
Base price: $13,995; as driven, $17,385
Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 136 pound-feet @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Turning circle: 33.9 feet
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Length: 177.4 inches
Curb weight: 2,747 pounds
Luggage capacity: 14.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (87 octane)
EPA mileage: 36 highway, 28 city
0-60: 8.4 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, Honda Civic
Many safety features standard equipment
Low price and long warranty
Engine become noisy over 4,000 rpm
The compact segment is loaded with products as good as the Elantra