Does a compact have to blow a person away?

It's nice when it happens, but these cars, which are quickly becoming America's new choice of transportation, need to wow people's wallets more than their neighbors. More importantly, they need to get the job done.

The 2010 Hyundai Elantra Blue caters to the eco-minded consumer -- and when I say eco, I mean the most important eco: economics. It's the newest member of the Elantra family -- a group of compacts that make up for low pizzazz scores with high mileage and solid performance.

Here's what Hyundai did to color its Elantra blue.

Basically, engineers acted like a doctor whose patient just returned from a year in the Amazon. They killed off the parasites that were attached to the host and sucking it dry. There are lots of little amoebas, ringworms and other mechanical critters that will drain a car's power for things other than propulsion. Belts, friction and abuse of power all take away from a vehicle's efficiency. Blue engineers tweaked the engine as much as possible, changed out the transmission gears, sat the car on little 15-inch wheels and even gave it a "smart" alternator to drain less juice from the engine.

It paid off -- the Elantra Blue hits 35 miles per gallon on the highway -- numbers some smaller subcompacts can't touch.

Blending with background

Other than the Blue badge on the car, there really isn't anything different from the regular Elantras. And none of the Elantras will turn many heads driving down the road.

The sweeping rooflines and smooth rounded-out body give the Elantra Blue a bubbly look -- as if it's a turtle wrapped in packaging material. The little wheels give it an awkward stance and tighten up the ride, but this car is more nondescript than offensive. It blends in with the background. Good luck finding yours in a parking lot.

Much like other 2010 Elantras, Hyundai has added a few more touches of chrome, including a new waterfall grille, additional jewelry in the cabin and a new black interior. All are moves in the right direction, but the Elantra isn't a vehicle that people put on their hot fashion list.

The Elantra Blue is more of a beginning for Hyundai than an end. It moves the progress needle just a smidgen for Hyundai's Blue program, which was created to offer higher mileage versions of its lineup. The idea is not original, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. began offering SFE and XFE pickups in 2008 and Chevrolet also has the XFE Cobalt, which beats the Elantra.

High mileage is obviously on everyone's mind.

Interior is easy to navigate

So is the Elantra Blue really special? Kind of.

One morning I went out to the little car and fired it up to help melt the ice on the windows while I took out the trash. When I stepped away from the vehicle, the ice glowed in this cool blue light. The interior lights were on because I had turned on the headlights. It gave it an interesting aura, and I started to understand this vehicle a little more. The heater blew out hot air very quickly to help melt the ice.

Sitting in the cloth seat, I looked over the interior. There were some of those additional shiny bits, silver plastic disguised as chrome. There was too much shiny plastic for my liking, but the interior was easy to navigate, everything worked and it felt well put together.

You're never going to have a Maserati interior on a car that starts at $14,120, but you should have one that feels like it won't fall apart after hitting a couple of Detroit-sized potholes. There's also a lot of space up front and more than enough room in the back to fit three people.

Better yet, there were some features, such as iPod connectivity (or an auxiliary jack for other music devices) that make it feel a touch above some of its competition. (Though soon all cars worth their weight in iron will have some sort of connectivity system.)

There are some nice standard safety features items that stand out such as the six air bags inside and electronic stability control. However, there are also some features that seem like they should be standard such as cruise control and air conditioning, which are part of the Elantra's comfort package. Manual adds performance

The car's performance is good. Smaller engines tend to respond better to a manual transmission because you can shift at higher revs. This lets you take full advantage of the 136 pound-feet of torque in the 2-liter four-cylinder engine.

It feels like there's some zip around town and the mere diminutive nature of a compact makes it easy to park in tight spaces. The steering is balanced and well-weighted, though there is a lot of body roll when you press this car through turns. My advice: Don't take turns really fast.

Overall, the car's performance is pretty good. It cruises at 80 mph pretty easily and its acceleration onto the highway was fine. Wind noise was at a minimum and the ride was pretty smooth -- even when hitting a couple of those Motor City potholes.

It's an ideal daily driver, a car that takes a beating and keeps on getting you to work on time.

And that's where compacts in general, and the Elantra Blue specifically succeed. They keep on ticking, day in and day out.

Perhaps Hyundai intended the Blue to carry some environmental message -- how its range of almost 600 miles will help the world and use less gasoline. But really, it's the hard-working 2-liter engine, the car's 2,700 pound body weight and its very affordable price that make this vehicle stand out.

The Blue on the Elantra should stand for the color of its collar. (313) 223-3217