2011 Hyundai Elantra, budget-friendly, with good looks and innovative features

2011 Hyundai Elantra 2011 Hyundai Elantra Photo Credit: TMS

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Hyundai is one of the biggest success stories in the automotive world recently, and it's been fun to watch the Korean automaker's evolution over the past eight years that I've been in this industry. People used to think of this brand as not only budget-friendly, but also -- dare I say -- cheap.

Today, Hyundai cars are still considered budget-friendly as well as safe, well-built, cutting-edge and packed full of useful features and technology; the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is no exception.

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    Jump into the redesigned 2011 Elantra and you might think you're in a midsize sedan. The fit and finish inside the car and its many features exceeded my expectations for a $20,830 car.

    The Elantra's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine has enough power for getting around town easily, but while driving it from Denver to Telluride, Colo., I noticed a lack of power. There was a slight lag in acceleration when I tried to punch it to pass a semitrailer holding up traffic over a mountain pass. I also noticed a bit of floatiness in the suspension at highway speed, allowing bumps in the road to reverberate through the cabin for a second rather than being dampened out instantaneously. The manual sport mode option was a fantastic feature on my mountain drive, allowing me to quickly and smoothly downshift to help mediate speeds while coming down steep passes.

    I averaged 42.6 mpg during my trip to Telluride and back again at high altitudes. Given the Elantra's incredible fuel economy, I'd happily make some small sacrifices to drive this affordable, stylish compact sedan.

    2011 Hyundai Elantra Photo Credit: TMS

    The 2011 Elantra has a starting MSRP of $14,945. My test car, an Elantra Limited, cost $20,830.

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    Exterior

    The Elantra is a sharp, edgy-looking compact sedan. It elevates itself far above the competition of boring -- yawn -- beige budget cars. From the side, a sexy line slinks from the Elantra's nose to the tail, flicking up and out at the end like a cat-eye.

    This grounded appearance also lends itself to a low-to-the-ground step-in height that is easy for kids to manage. For adults, just watch your head when getting in and definitely watch your baby's head when lifting her into her child-safety seat.

    The trunk had plenty of space for our two weekend bags and a huge shopping bag with room to spare. There was even enough leftover room that we could have stopped after all for the cool-looking welded iron flower that I saw, but my husband claimed "would never fit."

    The Elantra has a 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the base model. On the Limited trim, a six-speed automatic is standard. Both get an EPA-estimated 29/40 mpg city/highway and use regular gas.

    SENSE AND STYLE

    Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

    Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

    Interior

    The Elantra has almost everything I'd want in an interior and nothing I wouldn't. Some cars today are packed full of frivolous technological features in an attempt to make them worth their price tag. The Elantra, on the flip side, has just enough features and not too many.

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    The center stack's controls were easy to use, and their purplish-blue illumination at night was sleek, modern and soothing to the eye. Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming audio were quick and easy to pair with my smartphone, though trying to navigate through my iPod's playlists using the car's controls wasn't intuitive.

    The Elantra's fit and finish looks much more expensive than its $20k price tag. The Limited trim level's standard heated leather seats in both the front and rear rows were a surprise at this price point. Gone are the days of cheap plastic interiors. The Elantra has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and soft-touch surfaces including leather door-panel inserts.

    In terms of storage, the Elantra clearly isn't like a minivan with every nook and cranny designed to store all the stuff families tend to lug around. However, there were just enough storage spaces to keep the necessities well-organized and safely contained. Door pockets were large enough to stash my iPad and extra water bottles for our long seven-hour road trip. The center console had a small storage bin as well as an armrest that could slide forward and back.

    For my kids in the backseat, the center armrest folded down and had two more cupholders at just the right level for them to use while buckled into their booster seats.

    IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

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    Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

    Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample

    Safety

    The 2011 Elantra has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though this safety award only applies to Elantras built after March 2011. To earn Top Safety Pick status, a car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It also must have an electronic stability system, which the Elantra does.

    The Elantra also has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows.

    The safety feature that was missing was a backup camera, which is optional. While I love the cat-eye-looking sweep to the Elantra's rear, it does cut down on rear visibility.

    There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the Elantra's outboard rear seats. I found them difficult to use because they're recessed in the seat bight, where the back and bottom seat cushions meet. The floppy seat belt buckles also were challenging for my daughters to use.

    © 2011, Cars.com

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