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An undeniable bargain at first glance. If the Elantra turns out to be as reliable as Hyundai's warranty suggests, we see no reason to buy the Japanese competition.
Already a winner in our opinion, the amazingly competent Elantra got a complete overhaul last year, adding interior space and exterior size, along with a full load of standard equipment, without a substantial boost in the price. Stickering for less than $13,000 and sold in a single trim level with a handful of options, the refined Elantra competes head-to-head with the best in the compact sedan class, beating everyone on price if not overall quality.
Elantra's 140-horsepower 2.0-liter DOHC engine provides decent acceleration. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional and features fuzzy-logic software to optimize shifting and hold a gear on hills, but we'd go with the less expensive manual transmission to extract maximum acceleration and value.
A four-wheel independent suspension, multi-link with an antiroll bar at the rear, makes for smooth, stable handling, while the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering system communicates improved road feel to the driver. Four-wheel disc ABS is optional, as is traction control.
Inside the Elantra, consumers will find a roomy cabin with supportive, comfortable seats front and rear. Extensive use of sound-deadening materials helps quiet this formerly buzzy compact car. Equipment levels are impressive, with power windows, locks and mirrors; side airbags; air conditioning; a cassette player; and 15-inch wheels standard. Options, aside from the ABS and traction control previously mentioned, are limited to a power moonroof, CD player, cruise control and a smattering of port- and dealer-installed goodies.
Hyundai introduced the Elantra GT as a mid-year addition. Configured as a five-door hatchback, the GT is designed to appeal to those who might have purchased the discontinued station wagon model, as well as buyers who desire the utility of a hatchback configuration. The GT gets rear disc brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, alloy wheels and a host of other standard items such as leather seating, a CD player and fog lamps.
Elantra also comes with an outstanding warranty. Called the Hyundai Advantage, this buyer-assurance program is a great incentive to buy a Hyundai over one of the many other compact choices on the market. Consumers receive an awesome 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. If the car is sold within those first 10 years, the new owner will still be entitled to the balance of a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Also part of the program is 5-year/100,000-mile corrosion coverage and a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Additionally, the program offers free 24-hour roadside assistance for 5 years, which includes towing and lockout service.
Attractive, well-equipped and backed up by one of the most extensive warranties in America, Hyundai has a winner in the upgraded and redesigned Elantra. Though it likely won't match the refinement or attention to detail found in segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Ford Focus, the savings to be found up front will certainly sway buyers for whom every penny spent up front counts.
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