NEWS

2011 Hyundai Elantra: Up Close

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As with its Sonata family sedan, Hyundai is betting that stylish design will help generate interest in its redesigned Elantra compact car. The new Elantra arrives at a time when automakers are redoubling their efforts in this segment, but the Elantra’s combination of looks and fuel efficiency — it’s rated at 40 mpg on the highway — has the makings of a sales hit. The just-announced starting price under $15,000 will only add to the allure for car shoppers.

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Even though it’s a sedan, the Elantra has the look of a coupe. The roofline slopes gracefully down to the trunklid, and the rising belt line makes a sharp upturn at the rear, giving the rear side windows a triangular shape. This diminishes backseat-passenger visibility, but it gives the car a distinctive, sporty shape.

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While the Sonata wears a striking chrome grille, Hyundai went with a more subtle approach on the 2011 Elantra, and it works well. There’s a thin upper grille, and below the front bumper is a larger opening that’s reminiscent of the smiley-face grilles on a number of Mazdas. Pronounced fender flares and dramatic sheet-metal creases along the sides of the car enhance its visual appeal. I’ve been a fan of the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus’ design, which uses some of those same styling techniques, but the new Elantra is poised to challenge it in the looks department.

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The emphasis on design continues in the cabin, which takes on a much different look. Sweeping dashboard lines and a center console that rises to meet the dash give the interior a modern appearance. There’s decent room in front for taller drivers, and the Elantra I sat in was equipped with a high-resolution touch-screen navigation system mounted high on the dash.

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The backseat is relatively comfortable, and there’s decent headroom despite the sloping roof. It feels about as large as the new Chevrolet Cruze’s backseat. Lifting the trunklid reveals a deep, large cargo area.

Hyundai quietly sells around 100,000 Elantras a year, but the current model doesn’t enter the conversation when discussing best-in-class compact sedans. The automaker has a chance to change that in a big way with the redesigned Elantra, much like it did with the Sonata.

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Mike Hanley has more than 20 years of experience reporting on the auto industry. His primary focus is new vehicles, and he's currently a Senior Road Test Editor overseeing expert car reviews and comparison tests. He previously managed Editorial content in the Cars.com Research section. Email Mike Hanley

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