The solidity and driving dynamics make the Hyundai Elantra feel fully competitive with anything in its class.
The 1.8-liter engine makes 148 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 131 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. (That's for the regular ULEV, or Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. It's 145 hp at 6300 rpm in PZEV states).
Like most in this class, it has to be revved to get the most out of it, and it's fairly happy and unobtrusive doing so. Peak power is at 6500 rpm, though there seemed no point in going beyond 6300 to extract maximum performance. Like many Hyundai models, the gas pedal is calibrated for significant response, feeling like it initially gets a lot of power for just a little pedal, which then makes the second half of pedal travel not so exciting.
EPA fuel economy ratings on the Elantra are 28/38 mpg regardless of trim or transmission. Regular gasoline is recommended. During our test drive, the onboard computer showed a best of 40.3 mpg and a worst of 30.9 mpg in various traffic and terrain.
The 6-speed manual shifts effortlessly and allows maximum performance or most economical driving habits. The 6-speed automatic is just as good, holding gears as needed to maintain speed and eliminate a lot of gear changes trying to save fuel by uphsifting only to have to downshift two seconds later because speed fell off.
Electric-assist steering points the car where you want to go with minimal effort, reasonable feedback and U-turns in less than 35 feet. Brakes are all disc on all models and more than capable of slowing down anything the 1.8-liter engine gets going. Directional stability is good, with little of that vague on-center feeling that characterizes some electric-assist steering systems.
Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard across the board, and the steering assist is now part of the system: it adds assist when the steering wheel is turned in the correct direction, and lessens assist, requiring more driver effort, when the steering wheel is turned the wrong direction. It won't steer for you in case of a slide, only help you steer the correct direction.
The Elantra's structure is very stiff so the car feels solid, tight and squeak free. Suspension is tuned more for ride comfort than outright speed but the vault-like structure means it can do a commendable job on twisty roads and still glide down the highway. It does exhibit body lean in hard cornering but this is more than acceptable; it remains controlled and makes the driver aware it is working toward its limits.
It just pitter-patters across expansion joints, and it didn't make much difference if we were on the 16-inch steel wheels or lower-profile Limited tires and aluminum wheels. The latter have higher cornering limits, look better, won't be subject to rust long-term but aren't as forgiving on potholed infrastructure.
Hyundai claims a 500-mile range on the highway and we found nothing like wind noise, vibration or other fatigue-inducers that would make us stop for a break mid-way. Human endurance or hunger will more likely be the deciding factor.