1. All Elantra models come with a torquey 138hp (or 132hp) 2.0-liter four-cylinder that gets 25/33 mpg (city/highway).
2. Thanks to tighter steering, larger stabilizer bars (and stiffer springs on SE models), the ’09 Elantra begs to be driven hard.
3. Interior space is so abundant that the Elantra actually qualifies as a mid-size car, not a compact.
The Elantra was redesigned in 2007 and is a part of the new wave of vehicles from Hyundai. For 2009 the already impressive vehicle has received a few improvements to make it even more appealing to young and young-at-heart buyers with some iPod compatibility and a more dynamic drive.
The iPod connectivity is self-explanatory and the new iPod auxiliary input is a welcome addition, as is the USB port. The Elantra also features a redesigned optional audio system with a larger display screen – in part for showing iPod info so drivers need not take their eyes too far of the road.
MODIFIED SUSPENSION MAKES SE MODEL A JOY TO DRIVE
The added driving dynamics are somewhat more complicated and make the Elantra, especially the pricier SE model, a genuine joy to drive.
The Elantra already has a great base to work with, as it sports a fully-independent suspension. GLS models now have reduced body roll thanks to front and rear stabilizer bars that measure 23 and 17mm respectively. The SE model gets even larger 24 and 20mm stabilizers as well as its own shock settings and springs that are 24 percent stiffer. Both models get a more responsive steering setup and when combined with the 16-inch aluminum wheels and the wider 205/55/16 tires that come standard on the SE model, you have a package that is probably the closest in the handling department to the class-leading Honda Civic. Bravo Hyundai!
Also impressive is the fact that the Elantra comes standard with rear disk brakes. Despite the advantages of a rotor/caliper setup, the Cobalt, Corolla and Civic still come standard with a rear drum setup.
FULL ARRAY OF SAFETY FEATURES
And disk brakes aren’t just for performance minded individuals either; they are a safety feature – and safety is another area where the Elantra shines. Those disk brakes come equipped with ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) and Brake Assist. A Tire Pressure Monitoring System is standard, as are six airbags including front and side driver and passenger units, as well as side curtains for the front and rear. Stability Control is standard on upgraded SE models, however, it’s disappointing that the feature isn’t even an option on base models.
These safety systems help the Elantra to achieve a five-star frontal and four-star side crash rating from the NHTSA and a rating of “Good” from the IIHS in the frontal offset test.
FIRST-RATE INTERIOR MATERIALS AND DESIGN
The next highly impressive area of the Elantra is the interior. All models come standard with power locks, windows (with driver’s auto-down), heated outside mirrors and tilt steering. Telescopic steering is standard on SE models, as is cruise control, which is optional on GLS models.
GLS models come nicely appointed with an exceptional design and ergonomics and the SE models are surprisingly classy with AC, steering wheel mounted audio controls, leather on the steering wheel and shift knob and a 172-watt AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers. Add on the monotone black Premium Plus Leather Package, like on my tester, and you’ll think you’re in a sports sedan. This $1,950 option includes the power sunroof and heated front seats of the Premium Package ($1,150) and adds leather seats and leather door inserts.
The leather quality on the SE is higher than expected and the audio and climate controls are large white buttons that light up blue. Between the two sets of buttons sits a small digital display for the climate control system. It gives a nice impact to the interior and really drives home the fact that the car comes with climate control – base models do, however, come with a conventional HVAC system.
Another strength of the Elantra’s interior is its roominess. In fact, the EPA actually classifies the car as a mid-size vehicle and not a compact (like the Civic or Corolla) because of how much interior space there is.
Storage area is also great with 14.2 cu.-ft. of trunk space (more than Corolla or Civic) and 60/40 folding rear seats so you can slide larger objects into the back seat area.
TRIED AND TRUE HYUNDAI 2.0-LITER FOUR-CYLINDER
Power is sufficient thanks to Hyundai’s trusted 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers 138hp and 136 ft-lbs of torque for ULEV vehicles in most states, with a 132hp and 133 ft-lb PZEV version sold in California, Oregon and several Northeast states.
Unfortunately the engine has once again been paired up with Hyundai’s four-speed transmission (a five-speed manual is standard). The tranny actually doesn’t seem that bad in this model and while four-speeds are standard fare in this category, a five-speed would help make the engine more fuel efficient. Despite the impressive-sounding ULEV and PZEV ratings, the Elantra falls short of the Civic and Corolla with a 25/33 mpg city/highway rating.
The only other real gripe I have with the car is, sadly to say, a major one. Yup, it’s the Jellybean design. Sure it’s a huge step forward from past models and the Elantra no longer looks like just a pretender in the compact car category, but in this subjective area it may be a deal breaker for some – then again, poor design certainly hasn’t hurt Toyota’s success.
When it comes to price, the Elantra is certainly competitive with a base MSRP of $14,120 ($15,845 CDN) and top line models running $$17,020 ($23,795 CDN).
Overall, the small updates for 2009, combined with the already excellent Elantra package, make for a vehicle that should be at the top of anyone’s compact-car list. Considering the great interior, peppy engine and improved suspension and handling the fully-loaded SE model is a must-drive for anyone looking at a similarly-equipped Honda Civic.
In fact, the platform is good enough that we’d actually like to see what Hyundai could really do with the Elantra by building a high-performance version of it – much like the Civc Si or Sentra SE-R Spec V. They’d really have to do something about that cutesy design first though.
Fabulous handling Interior design and materials Roomy interior
4-Speed Transmission Jellybean design Fuel-mileage