The Hyundai Elantra is one of the new breed of compacts with features you could only get on luxury cars until recently. It's also a surprising value, as the top-of-the-line Limited model I tested proved.

Prices for the 2011 Hyundai Elantra start at $14,830 for a base model with a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission.

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The 1.8-liter features direct fuel-injection and variable valve timing. It's the only engine available in the Elantra. The least-expensive model with an automatic transmission goes for $17,080.

I tested a loaded Elantra Limited that stickered at $22,110. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Elantra's base price significantly undercuts other new compacts like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. The margin narrows when you add the automatic transmission -- as the vast majority of buyers almost certainly will. Option other compacts up to match the Elantra Limited I tested and watch their prices rise a couple of thousand dollars above the Hyundai.

The Elantra's EPA fuel economy rating of 40 miles per gallon becomes more impressive when you take a closer look at the competition. All Elantra models -- from the $14,830 manual-transmission base to the loaded Limited I drove -- have the same highway rating.

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The Chevy Cruze Eco model scored an eye-popping 42 mpg on the highway, but that's only when equipped with a manual transmission, low rolling-resistance tires, an electronic shutter to close the grille and reduce aerodynamic drag, and other features.

The Elantra's fuel economy easily tops all non-hybrid models of the Civic, Corolla and Sentra.

The engine generates acceptable power, but gets noisy when accelerating fast and at highway speeds. Wind and road noise are very noticeable at highway speeds. The doors sound light and tinny when you shut them.

The Elantra has a roomy and comfortable passenger compartment and trunk. The interior is trimmed with good quality materials in tasteful colors. The dashboard and arm rests are padded. The instruments are very clear and legible.

The touch-screen panel and controls in the center stack for audio, climate, etc., are considerably simpler than Ford's fussy MyFordTouch system. The voice-recognition system for hands-free phones is poor. Hyundai's management of CDs and iPods also needs work.

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The Elantra's suspension cushions bumpy roads well. The electric power steering is very well tuned, providing good feedback and assist.

The Elantra's styling is consistent with the appealing look of recent Hyundais like the Sonata midsize sedan and Tucson crossover SUV. The theme that works so well on those bigger vehicles struck me as bit overdone on the smaller Elantra, though. The 2011 Hyundai is long on value, comfort and features, however. It's the car other compacts should measure themselves against.


2011 Hyundai Elantra


Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive compact sedan

Base price: $19,980

As tested: $22,110

Safety equipment: Antilock brakes; brake assist; brake-force distribution; stability control; curtain air bags; front-seat side air bags; front seatbelt pretensioners; daytime running lights.

Engine: 1.8-liter direct-injection DOHC 16-valve variable-timing four-cylinder.

Power: 148 horsepower at 6,500 r.p.m.; 131 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

EPA fuel economy rating: 29 mpg city/40 highway/33 combined.

Where assembled: Montgomery, Ala.

Bottom line: Resets the bar for value in the cost-conscious compact segment.