Hyundai Elantra

Review Notes: Hyundai Elantra
Personality Economy family sedan
Quirks Door locks
Clearly Superior In: Price, value
Needs Work In: Power, handling, gas mileage, buzziness

The Elantra is a competent, relatively inexpensive, no-frills family car. It fits four full size people, and can deal with five in a pinch. A wagon version is available, which has become unusual in the United States, especially at such a low price.

The 140 hp engine is par for the course, and is up to the challenge of the Dodge Stratus, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry's base engines. The automatic transmission helps the engine quite a bit by downshifting as needed.

Handling is good for a car of this type, though the tires can be upgraded for those who like spirited turns. The ride is not uncomfortable, but it is biased to better handling, making it fairly firm. It does not cushion shocks or broken pavement well. Engine vibration also intrudes into an otherwise competent ride.

The interior controls are good, except for the door locks, which follow the bonehead Korean model. On the other hand child seat tether strap anchors are built in and easy to reach.

The instrument panel has a nice light amber backlighting, which is pleasant at night and preserves night vision. The headlights go off when the engine is shut. Two lights indicate when the cruise control is on, and when a speed is set.

The stereo is easy to use, and uses knobs rather than buttons to give the driver fine and fast control. The optional CD player has very good sound. A "CD IN" light tells you when a CD is already loaded.

There were well-designed, sturdy-looking cupholders up front, map pockets, and convenient places to store sunglasses and other bits, but no coin holder or rear cupholder.

The doors and trunk all feel substantial, but the interior still feels a little cheap. Given the price and the generous warranty, feeling a little cheap is certainly justified.

On the whole, the Elantra is a very good deal for people who need a larger car. It has all the power and handling most people need, with room for the family. We'll take the Elantra over the Sentra and Altima, thank you.

On the other hand, the Dodge Neon combines a spacious interior with a smoother, quieter powertrain and more refinement - along with a comparable price. The Elantra certainly has a better warranty, but the Neon may be a better overall experience. Likewise, the PT Cruiser, which starts at about $16,000, is much nicer to drive than the Elantra, and has good room for four - but is afflicted with poor gas mileage.

If you're looking for a spacious car under $15,000, the Elantra is worth a visit.