How about an almost-luxury car for under $20,000?
That pretty much sums up the redesigned 2007 Hyundai Elantra, whose top-of-the-line Limited model with all available options lists for $19,910, including $600 freight.
Included in that price are a leather interior, super 220-watt audio system, automatic transmission, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, power heated mirrors, air-conditioning, and both seat-mounted and side-curtain air bags.
A few of the Elantra's features are not even offered on some of its supposed direct competitors, which include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cobalt.
Hyundai continues to amaze the automotive world with the value it offers in its vehicles, most of which have more standard content and available options than their competitors for hundreds to thousands of dollars less.
The new Elantra is no exception.
The base GLS model, which begins at $13,995 (including freight) comes with lots of standard equipment, including the front seat-mounted side air bags and side-curtain air bags for both rows of seats, although air conditioning, a necessity here in Texas, is a $900 option.
Even a well-equipped GLS, including automatic transmission ($1,000) and a preferred-equipment package ($1,500) that adds the air conditioning, a 172-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with steering-wheel controls, cruise control, fog lights and dual illuminated visor mirrors, lists for just $16,495, including freight.
In between the base GLS and uplevel Limited is the SE model, which starts at $16,295 (with freight). It comes with the features of the preferred package, along with some other extras, including leather shift knob, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a trip computer.
The automatic transmission adds $1,000, and a premium package ($1,150) adds a power sunroof and heated seats.
With the automatic transmission and sunroof package, the SE lists for just $18,445. The biggest difference between the SE and the Limited at this price is that the SE has cloth rather than leather seats.
Even the Limited model can be had for well under $20,000 if you leave off the automatic transmission and the "sun and sound" package ($1,300), which brings the sunroof and 220-watt stereo.
Base price of the Limited is just $17,295, which includes the leather seats, door panel inserts and armrest, along with the front-seat heaters. This is a remarkable price for a car this well-equipped. Even with the automatic transmission, it's still just $18,295.
Styling of the new Elantra isn't a radical departure from the previous generation's, but it does offer some cues from the brand's flagship Azera sedan. Hyundai says the Elantra's new look also has some features in common with the 2007 Santa Fe.
Under the hood there is just one engine available -- a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 138 horsepower (except in California and a handful of Northeastern states, where it has lower emissions and a 132-horsepower rating).
Standard is a five-speed manual transmission, and the optional automatic is a four-speed with lockup torque converter.
Either transmission gives the new Elantra impressive EPA fuel-economy ratings of 28 miles per gallon city/36 highway.
Another great thing about the Elantra is that even though it's priced to compete in the compact sedan segment, its 112.1 cubic feet of interior space, including the 14.2 cubic-foot trunk, give the car an official EPA classification as a midsize sedan.
It has more interior space than the 2007 Civic (102.9 cubic feet), Sentra (110.8) and Corolla (103.8). In fact, it has more interior volume than even the midsize entry-luxury Acura TL sedan (110.4), which is built on the same chassis as the Honda Accord.
Hyundai says the redesigned Elantra is 2 inches wider and 2.2 inches taller than last year's model, allowing for the increased interior space. Front and rear shoulder room have been increased, and the rear bench seat is more comfortable for three people than it was last year.
The Elantra's trunk is 18 percent larger than the Civic's and 5 percent bigger than the Corolla's, Hyundai says.
With the 2007 Elantra, Hyundai now has introduced seven new or completely redesigned models in just two years. It's the last part of the company's so-called "24-7" program that promised seven new models in 24 months.
The others are the Tucson compact sport utility, introduced last year; the redesigned midsize Sonata, which arrived two years ago; the compact, entry-level Accent, whose sedan model showed up last year and whose hatchback version was added for 2007; the flagship premium Azera sedan, new last year; the redesigned midsize Santa Fe sport utility, whose second generation arrived this fall; and the Entourage, Hyundai's first minivan, which made its debut this year as a 2007 model.
All of these new models give Hyundai, the largest South Korean automaker, the "freshest lineup" in the industry, the company says.
The Elantra, which is a step above the compact Accent and intended for people who can afford to spend a bit more, has been one of Hyundai's top-selling models for years.
The new model, with its vast improvements, is expected to help build significantly on the Elantra's success.
"The all-new Elantra delivers a level of ride and handling refinement that's both agile and comfortable," said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America's vice president for product development.
"Add in great standard safety features like six air bags, antilock brakes and active front head restraints, and our assertive new design, and it's clear that Elantra offers unbeatable value."
The front-seat side air bags and the side-curtain are a surprising standard feature for this vehicle class, and offer occupants protection from side impacts as well as rollovers.
These types of air bags are believed to be capable of reducing fatalities by more than 45 percent overall, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Hyundai notes that the side-impact air bags are "expensive options on competitors such as Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, and are not available on the Chevrolet Cobalt. Side-curtain air protection is optional on Corolla and Cobalt and still not available on Focus."
The Elantra does not offer electronic stability control, however, which is an emerging technology that is quickly becoming standard on SUVs, and at least optional on many other vehicles.
Still, the Elantra's safety features are well above average for its class.
The car's "accident avoidance technologies" begin with the car's independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars and motor-driven rack-and-pinion power steering, Hyundai says.
In addition, standard on all three trim levels are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.
Antilock brakes -- or ABS -- help prevent accidents, while the air bags are intended to help protect the occupants should an accident occur.
The best protection against accidents is prevention, though, and beyond the ABS, the brake-force distribution system is designed to automatically adjust braking pressure to the front and rear axles based on the vehicle's load. That can help prevent an accident during a panic braking maneuver.
As for the four-wheel disc brakes, they are found only on uplevel versions of most of the Elantra's competitors if they are offered at all. Most cars in this class have front disc and rear drum brakes. Drum brakes, an old technology that is disappearing from the automotive scene, are more susceptible to failure than disc brakes, especially when they get wet.
The Elantra also comes with standard front-seat active head restraints, designed to help prevent whiplash injuries.
Hyundai also offers one of the best warranties in the industry -- five years/60,000 miles total coverage, and 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain.
San Antonio Express-News (TX)
SUNDAY DRIVE : More Hyundai value
G. Chambers Williams
Publication Date: December 17, 2006