Efficiency & Drivability

Automakers have been racing to produce small cars that get great gas mileage using conventional engines, and Hyundai has succeeded on that front with the 2011 Elantra, which is powered by a new 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder that gets an EPA-estimated 29/40 mpg city/highway with either the manual or automatic transmission. And Hyundai didn't sacrifice drivability to achieve those thrifty mileage figures.

There's no denying the Elantra is a modestly powered car, but so are most of its competitors, including the Civic, Cruze and Toyota Corolla. There are times when you need to use a heavy foot to pick up the pace Ч like when merging on the highway Ч but the Elantra gets around well at city speeds and on rural roads. Even when revved high, the engine sounds refined, with no buzzing from the engine bay.

As gas mileage promises to be a big selling point for the Elantra, I wanted to get a sense of its real-world efficiency. In one leg of driving that totaled slightly more than 100 miles, my driving partner and I averaged 38 mpg, according to the Elantra's trip computer. The route consisted of mostly traffic-free rural roads and urban freeways, with some city driving mixed in. The terrain was hilly, the air conditioning was running and neither of us altered our driving style to get better mileage. We were, in fact, hustling the car pretty aggressively.

Contributing to the Elantra's thrifty fuel use and good drivability is its optional six-speed automatic, which is a new Hyundai-developed transmission. The automatic's shifts are refined Ч even under hard acceleration Ч and quick. The transmission also doesn't race to get to its highest gear Ч a fuel-saving tactic some cars use Ч which improves responsiveness. The automatic listens attentively to your right foot; jab the gas pedal when cruising, and it readily kicks down a gear. The transmission's clutchless-manual mode is also quick to respond to driver-initiated gear changes, with none of the delay that plagues many of these systems and makes them unrewarding to use.

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