- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The Hyundai Elantra is all grown up for 2001. Re-styled and refined, the 2001 Elantra is better suited than ever to go up against the likes of Mazda's Protege, Honda's Civic and Ford's Focus.

This is its third edition since the Elantra's introduction in 1992, and the improvements are many. Although the overall interior dimensions are little changed, a stretch of the tape indicates a 2.3-inch longer wheelbase. Likewise, the overall length is increased by a bit more than three inches. It is marginally taller as well.

Approaching the new Elantra on the street probably has the uninitiated arching their eyebrows while wondering just what it is. Hyundai has chosen to abandon the conservative styling approach found in many of Elantra's competitors for lines inspired by Generation X, which it targets. The front end is sort of the Volvo S60 meets the Jetsons. Its profile is fairly sleek, tapering off to a neatly designed rear end. The wheels have swelled from 14 to 15 inches. In short, it is a neat-looking package.

The Elantra model lineup has been streamlined to just one trim level. Gone are the base sedan and the station wagon. Left standing for 2001 is the well-equipped GLS. A rarity among vehicles in Elantra's segment, it lists as standard equipment dual front side-impact air bags. If available at all on Elantra's competitors, side-impact air bags are typically an extra-cost option. Other standard features include variable-assist power steering, air conditioning, and power door locks and windows. Only a few options such as a power sunroof, upgraded audio system with CD player and anti-lock brakes can be added.

Powering the Elantra is a two-liter, four-cylinder engine. Mustering 140 horsepower and 133 foot-pounds of peak torque, this four-banger does an adequate job of inducing forward motion. This isn't scalded-cat acceleration by any means, but its sub-10-second acceleration from stop to 60 mph isn't too far off the pace of most of its competitors. The Elantra I drove had the optional four-speed automatic transmission. Not only does this add about $800 to the sticker price, but it most certainly adds a second or two to the 0-60 time. The transmission shifted smoothly enough. My driving was in the hilly country of western Pennsylvania, and the automatic adapted well to the extra hardship of hill climbing. Opting for the four-speed automatic will also slightly affect fuel economy when driving in the city. The Environmental Protection Agency rates its miles per gallon as 24 in the city and 33 on the highway. It rates the five-speed at 25 in the city.

Front-seat passengers are greeted by plenty of head-, elbow and legroom. Rear-seat passengers don't have it quite as good, but only taller adults will be uncomfortable. Rear legroom does benefit a bit from the redesigned Elantra's extra length. The rear door openings are a tad stingy, but negotiable. Trunk space is sufficient for a couple of medium-size suitcases. The seat cushions are a tad larger. The uncluttered instrument panel is sensibly arranged. All of the gauges are clear and easy to read. There are no surprises in operating the audio or ventilation systems. While there is some engine and road noise, particularly at higher speeds, it is well within acceptable levels.

Hyundai has made some advances in Elantra's ride quality too. It tracks smoothly over most road surfaces. Cornering is fairly neutral, with body roll kept to a minimum. The ride is definitely firm, but not harsh. It is a rather pleasant driving experience, especially considering it's a compact.

Finally, there is that terrific Hyundai warranty the longest in its class. The powertrain is covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles, while the bumper-to-bumper coverage runs for five years or 60,000 miles. The free roadside assistance is good for five years with no regard to mileage. A competitive price and a tough-as-nails warranty in and of themselves make Elantra worth a look.

Base price of the Elantra GLS with automatic transmission is $13,299. Standard features not yet listed include dual front air bags, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers, AM-FM stereo cassette player, split-folding rear seat and six-way adjustable driver's seat. Adding the $435 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $13,734.

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