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It's All Nu: The 2011 Hyundai Elantra

The 2011 Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra is new for 2011, and a big part of that newness is the new Nu engine. That’s right, the new Nu, a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower replaces the 2.0-liter Beta engine from the previous generation Elantra. If you’re keeping track, this newest (Nu-est?) Elantra represents generation five of the even more popular South Korean compact. Hyundai has been hot on the tails of perennial favorites, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, for the past few years now. A large part of its early growth spurt can be attributed to its generous 10-year/100,000 powertrain warranty which was introduced with the 2001 (third generation) model. But smart marketing backed up by feature-laden, reliable cars (which cost less than the competition) these days has the Elantra going nose-to-nose with the top sellers. The 2011 Elantra just may drive it to the top of the list.

And why shouldn’t it? Park the Elantra side-by-side with the Corolla and the Civic, and tell me which is more stylish. Toyota can go on about reliability (or can they?) and owner loyalty, but when they keep making boring-looking after boring-looking cars, trying I guess to not offend rather than to excite, it gets tiring. Sooner or later the country boy leaves home for the big city, sees what’s out there, and never goes home again. The Civic, on the other hand, although not as plain as the Corolla, certainly still looks bland next to the Elantra. And let’s face it, looks aren’t everything, but first impressions are. Cars don’t look reliable; that has to be earned. And that plateau is difficult to reach if buyers won’t give you a second look. You may not be alone if you thought the photo at the top of the page was a new Sonata, Hyundai’s very popular mid-size sedan. They both subscribe heavily to Hyundai’s new “Fluidic Sculpture” design philosophy, which “considers the interplay of wind with rigid surfaces to create the illusion of constant motion.” The words of a PR writer, for sure. But I’ll say it works pretty well here to describe the Elantra’s styling. It does kind of look like it’s moving even while it’s just sitting there.

So what’s under those new clothes? Well, the aforementioned Nu engine is big news. It’s smaller, lighter, more powerful, and gets better gas mileage than the previous powerplant. It doesn’t hurt that the new car has a six-speed transmission. Those 2010 models were EPA-rated at 25-26/34 miles per gallon city/highway (depending on transmission). The 2011 cars are rated 29/40 while Corollas are no better than 28/35, and Civic’s best is 25/36. That’s quite a difference, especially with four-dollar gas staring us in the face.

On the inside, it’s class-leading interior room is so spacious it’s rated by the government as a mid-size car while the Civic and Corolla interiors are still rated as compact. Two-tone treatments in gray or beige are standard while a monotone black is available on the Limited model. And, this is interesting (to my small mind, at least): The pillar between the front and rear doors is covered in a material made from fibrous tissue and volcanic rock! Standard is a 172-watt AM/FM/Satellite Radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six-speakers and iPod®/USB/auxiliary input jacks. A 360-watt system with external amplifier is optional. Safety features include electronic stability control, six airbags, and four-wheel disc brakes with an Anti-lock Breaking System.

Pricing for the 2011 Elantra starts at $14,830 for the base GLS, while the Limited starts at $19,980. All Hyundais still come with the 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Price, looks, warranty; It’s difficult to find a reason not to consider an Elantra if you’re looking for a new compact. I predict a new player atop the leader board this time next year.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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