Hyundai Has Another Hit

2011 Hyundai Elantra.

Back in the 1970s, people were looking for value in their cars along with fuel economy. That’s when Honda introduced a very capable compact car called the Civic, which seemed right for the times. It was well built, not very expensive, and sipped precious gasoline at a very miserly rate.

Today, many car buyers are looking for value, fuel economy and capability. So Hyundai’s timing would seem to be pretty good as it introduces an all-new Elantra. No longer a laughing stock among car brands, Hyundai has made huge strides in producing very good cars. From the mainstream Sonata to upscale offerings like the Equus luxury sedan, the Korean-based company is really on a roll.

The first thing I noticed about the 2011 Elantra is how roomy it is inside. While it may be shopped by buyers as a compact car, the Environmental Protection Agency has officially classified the Elantra as a mid-size. Move the seat adjuster all the way back, and there’s ample room for even the tallest drivers.

My turn in the new Elantra was in a top-of-the-line Limited trim model, and this car wanted for nothing. While buyers of the original Honda Civic might have been lucky to get air conditioning and an FM radio, this new Hyundai can be equipped with almost every amenity drivers want today. Heated leather seats, satellite radio, navigation system with rear view camera and keyless entry are all standard or available on this car.

And with gas prices so high these days, more good news comes from under the hood. The 1.8 liter four cylinder engine is rated at 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway. That latter number is significant, as it means that the Elantra can now be included in the so-called “forty mile per gallon club.”

Some new cars are boasting 40 miles per gallon or more, but sometimes only with a manual transmission or as part of a special fuel-sipping sub-model. Hyundai says no asterisks are needed in the Elantra’s mileage figure, as any version of the car (manual or automatic transmission) is rated at the magic forty.

Obviously not many people are going to run out and buy a new car — even one that is estimated to have great mileage — just because gasoline is now well above four dollars per gallon. But if you’re shopping for a new car anyway, it would seem prudent to look for one that can go farther on each gallon of gas.

Sure, Hyundai’s luxury models like the Equus and Genesis are very nice cars, but you might be amazed at how well this $20,000 (-ish) Elantra rides and drives. It’s quiet, comfortable and has just enough power to make for a great everyday car. The warranty of 10 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain should seal the deal if you’re still of the mind that Hyundai makes junky cars.

I personally tooled around in a Limited trim model with the Navigation package, and for a bottom line price of $22,830, I was somewhat amazed at how competent this 4-door sedan is. I can’t think of anything it needs, really.

And beyond this new Elantra, it’s really a great time to be in the market for a small, fuel efficient car. New entries like the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus mean that efficiency is coming into vogue again. Smaller cars don’t have to be a hardship, as they’re actually easy to live with as they’re returning good mileage.

“Not so fast,” Honda may be saying right about now. They’re launching an all-new Civic, and the car that’s been synonymous with frugal motoring will have a few tricks up its own sleeve. I plan to drive one of those very soon, and will report on its updates right here.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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