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Economical Elantra continues as Hyundai's best seller.

Hyundai's best-selling U.S. vehicle, its compact Elantra sedan, underwent a major redesign last year; and a few notable updates await in 2018. Elantra's first debuted back in 1990.

Four returning sedan trim levels (Eco, SE, Limited and Sport) are joined by two new 2018 trims: SEL and Value. A new machine gray exterior color joins the palate. Elantra offers three, four-cylinder engines and three unique transmissions for plenty of mix-and-match opportunities.

Each trim level comes complete with a growing list of standard equipment as one elevates up the trim ladder. Unchanged is Hyundai's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, one of the longest-duration warranties available, adding to the vehicle's value proposition.

Elantra's a fine, dependable commuter car and highway cruiser priced very competitively. Those seeking a high level of driving dynamics with sportier handling should steer toward higher-priced offerings.

All 2018 trims include the "new face of Hyundai," a common grille design along with a sleek, aggressive, yet eye-appealing exterior stance utilizing smooth curves rather than sharp edging. Drivers enjoy good visibility in multiple directions thanks to decent-sized side and rear windows.

During the 2017 redesign, wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) remained unchanged while overall length grew nearly an inch and width extended a full inch. Although marketed as a compact, Elantra's size skews toward the larger end of the spectrum.

A greater percentage of high-strength steel (53 percent versus 21 percent in the previous generation) helps keep overall weight in check. Generous interior volume (for its class) welcomes three adult riders during short jaunts. Rear seats fold down, gaining access to the trunk region if desired.

Our tester, an Eco trim, represents Elantra's MPG-champ; think of Eco in this case as tops in fuel economy, not a bottom-basement, stripped-down model. Standard in Eco trims: radar-based safety technology built into blind-spot detection with rear-traffic alert, automatic transmission, push-button start, dual temperature zones and heated front seats.

For those of the "connected generation," Eco delivers with a decent size, 7-inch touch screen, satellite radio, six-speaker audio system and Apple Car Play/Android Auto compatibility, allowing easy smartphone hookup and interaction within the high-resolution, in-dash monitor.

Eco boasts a 1.4-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine generating 128 horses. It may be the most impressive-to-drive of the Elantra's engine trio, thanks to generous fuel economy readouts and its highbrow transmission.

This 1.4-liter reaches the coveted 40 miles per gallon highway plateau without the extra weight of gas-hybrid technology. City travel hits an impressive 32 mpg. It's married to an advanced, fuel-friendly, seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

Dual clutch transmissions, developed and tested on the racing circuit, are edging their way into a greater number of mainstream vehicles. It provides the convenience of an automatic transmission (no clutch pedal needed) with the lighter weight of a manual (dual clutch transmissions do away with bulky torque converters found in conventional automatics). One of the twin gearboxes (or clutches), connects to even gears, the second to odd gears. An onboard computer interacts to predetermine optimal shifts within the engine.

Powering SE, SEL, Value and Limited trims is a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine generating 147 horsepower. SEL, Value and Limited connect with a standard six-speed automatic transmission generating 29 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. SE trims have a six-speed manual transmission standard with a six-speed automatic transmission optional.

For those prioritizing horsepower, the Sport trim's 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 201 horses with the choice of a six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

Regular, 87-octane fuel fills Elantra's 14-gallon tank.

Elantra continues leading the charge as Hyundai's top-selling U.S. vehicle with 198,201 units sold in the 2017 calendar year. Runner up and second-place finisher, the Sonata, checked in far behind at 131,803 units.

The Elantra Eco starts at $20,550. With no factory options, the bottom line added to $21,435 after factoring in an $885 factory-to-dealer transportation charge. The lowest-priced offering, an SE with six-speed manual, starts at $16,950. Add $1,000 for six-speed automatic.

The easily interpreted at-a-glance instrument panel mimics that of the recently tested Hyundai Accent subcompact, which received its own redesign in the 2018 model year. Two large, circular, analog gauges flank the center region, home to a multipanel digital information window commanded via a steering wheel button. On the right is the speedometer and, at left, tachometer. Each gauge's lower region includes a small secondary insert gauge (right side fuel, left side temperature).

Overall, Elantra's dashboard remains easily digestible at a glance. For convenience sake, trunk and fuel-release levers, now floor-bound left of the driver's seat, need relocation to the dashboard.

The Eco's 7-inch multifunction screen remains intuitive to operate and includes a bottom row of eight quick key push buttons. Also on hand: very welcome old-school dials monitoring volume and station selections.

The HVAC system below includes two dual zone temperature dials and two rows of push buttons in-between controlling fan speed, A/C, defrost and other choices.

Elantra may also be ordered with an impressive array of high-tech advances not long ago found only in luxury class vehicles (radar-enhanced cruise control, forward collision warning), but one must opt for the top-trim leather-seated Limited and its Ultimate option package. It's worth serious contemplation considering a filled-to-the-brim Elantra Limited checks in respectively in the $23,000 neighborhood.

Hyundai assembles Elantra and mid-size Sonata sedans at a 3.2-million-square-foot Montgomery, Alabama, facility, which opened in 2005. It's the South Korean automaker's sole U.S. automotive production campus.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Mar 2, 2018
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