The Hyundai Elantra was introduced to us in the early ’90s and wasn’t exactly what anyone claimed as a first choice for this compact class, but things have changed. Hyundai in general has improved, rated #1 in fuel efficiency and offering better reliability with a 10 year/100,000 warranty to boot. They also provide Hyundai Assurance (which allows you to return your vehicle and walk away from your loan or lease without having to worry about negative equity) and standard features that most consider options. Add an affordable price tag to the Elantra and suddenly it makes a brand new car an option for most who would typically settle for used with a starting MSRP of $14,145.

The 4th generation Elantra received an overall makeover with an exterior that is smooth in appearance and not at all ugly but still doesn’t really stand out. The rounded front and rear make the car tasteful without looking like a bubble. As most of the Hyundai models, it is similar with the front grill and headlights as the rest of the lineup. What personality it lacks on the exterior is made up with by an unexpected interior.

Hyundai Elantra offers a spacious interior and unobstructed view to the outside. With 112.1 cubic feet, it has the largest interior of any car in this class. There is seating for four adults comfortably with room for five if needed. An impressive amount of head room, front and rear leg room and comfortable seating took us by surprise. The above average trim did not appear cheap or haphazardly put together, and the dash and surround were clean and thought out even with the large amount of plastic covering the deep dashboard. The instrument cluster was easy to decipher and all controls were well within reach. Little things like placing the trunk release button in the driver side door exactly where your hand naturally wants to reach instead of up under the dash, a rear seat fold release in the trunk and plenty of storage compartments around the driver were nice added touches. The ridiculously inconspicuous trunk that extends with the 60/40 split rear seat were more than enough to carry home two Adirondack chairs along with a week’s worth of groceries. Standard dual front, dual front seat-mounted side airbags and dual side curtain and ABS are an added bonus to what we expect a new car should offer to keep us safe.

The Elantra-Blue as tested came equipped with the Comfort Package ($1700) that added a six-speaker audio system with the essential iPod and MP3 auxiliary jacks, XM radio, cruise and air conditioning. Carpet floor mats ($95), iPod cable ($35) and an easy to use Bluetooth hands-free phone system ($325) along with the freight and handling ($720) topped our total price as tested to $17,020. The base model Elantra unfortunately does not come equipped with air conditioning, which in these days one wouldn’t even consider an option. The price tag slowly creeps towards the $20,000 mark with the upgraded trim packages such as the GLS or SE that the air is standard on.

The manual transmission was confident enough to merge into rush hour traffic as it helped boost the 2.0 liter, 138 HP DOHV 4-cylinder up and down the road. The clutch was easy but the short throws of the shifter were clumsy and felt tightly placed together. With the average 35 highway mpg and combined average 29 mpg, you could easily get past the awkward set up with the fewer trips to the pump. As it was, it felt like it took forever to move the gas gauge off the full indicator and down below the halfway mark. I found the engine to be incredibly quiet even while accelerating and on the highway at higher speeds. There were a few times that if it had not been for the tachometer, I wouldn’t have even known it was running. The ride and handling of the car exceeded expectations by providing more then what I initially expected– but no rally races in its immediate future.

Overall, if you are in the market for a first car or second car to add to the family lineup, put the Hyundai Elantra on your short list. Hyundai offers a great value, long-term backed reliability and you can’t beat the great fuel economy. The car isn’t going to stop traffic with great looks or performance but it will allow you to arrive comfortably and with a realistic price. The Elantra just might be exactly what you are looking for.

Photos by Joanna Cifrian.

About The Author

Sarah Mullins is Blast's Automotive Editor

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