'07 Elantra's new look is impressive

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Don't be surprised if you mistake the new-generation Hyundai Elantra sedan for a Toyota.

The 2007 Hyundai Elantra has a new design and interior features such as whiplash-reducing front-seat head restraints.  Hyundai
Hyundai
The 2007 Hyundai Elantra has a new design and interior features such as whiplash-reducing front-seat head restraints.

It's easy to do, now that the Elantra is restyled with an upscale look and a back end, in particular, that seems to have come from a Toyota designer, not a stylist for South Korea's Hyundai.

The new-for-2007 Elantra also has an expanded interior with blue illumination for gauges and controls, and there's a full complement of six standard air bags and whiplash-reducing, "active" front-seat head restraints.

Classified officially as a midsize sedan, the larger-than-ever, front-wheel drive Elantra has a more refined ride than its predecessors.

As with all Hyundais, the Elantra comes with an industry-leading, comprehensive warranty that includes limited powertrain coverage for 100,000 miles or 10 years, whichever comes first.

In contrast, traditional Elantra competitors such as the 2007 Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have warranties for just three years/36,000 miles.

The starting price, including destination charge, of $13,995 undercuts the starting prices of some major competitors. This price is for a base, 2007 Elantra GLS with five-speed manual transmission, four-cylinder engine and no air conditioning. Air is an extra $900 on the base GLS, and an Elantra GLS with four-speed automatic transmission starts at $14,995.

Honda's Civic, which is the best-selling small car in America, starts at $15,605 for a base DX sedan with manual transmission, four-cylinder engine and no air conditioning. Corolla starts at $14,825, but has air.

Sold in GLS, SE and Limited trims, the Elantra is taller, wider and lighter than its 2006 predecessor. The vehicle also is taller than the Civic and wider than the Corolla.

I appreciated the car's slightly taller height - the roofline stands at 4.86 feet. The higher roof and new interior mean seats are positioned higher so passengers don't drop down as much onto them during entry, and riders sit up a bit higher overall than in earlier models.

In essence, though Elantra drivers still can't see around minivans and pickups in front of them, there's no overt feeling of riding low to the pavement here.

Front bucket seats, covered in fabric in the test car, provided good support, and I found the storage spots, including a new, lidded one atop the dashboard, were handy.

The lack of air conditioning on the base Elantra notwithstanding, Hyundai officials deserve credit for including some standard features in all Elantras that sometimes are eliminated or optional in low-priced small cars.

These include a lighted glove box, two rear coat hanger hooks, tachometer, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and a two-level armrest between the front seats.

Overall, interior passenger space of 97.9 cubic feet inside the Elantra is more than the 90.9 cubic feet in the Civic sedan.

The sedan's trunk is 14.2 cubic feet, and the rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold down to accommodate longer items in the trunk.

The only engine is a 2-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder generating 138 horsepower with the help of continuously variable valve timing. Maximum torque is 136 foot-pounds at 4,600 rpm.

Installed in a car that weighs less than 2,900 pounds, the Elantra's powerplant conveyed a sprinting kind of performance in the test car with manual transmission. The car zipped ahead on highway entrance ramps, didn't dawdle in getting me up to speed as I merged in city traffic and had an eagerness that didn't feel raw and brutish.

The fuel economy ratings aren't as high as those for the Corolla and Civic. It's 28 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway for the test car.

The Elantra's engine can sound buzzy at upper highway speeds, and the suspension, even in the SE test model, felt as though it's tuned more for comfort than for stick-to-the-pavement, sporty handling.

It's a more refined ride than I expected, and it did a fine job of keeping harsh bumps away from me and passengers. There also wasn't a lot of road noise from the 16-inch tires.

Fit and finish inside and out of the Elantra tester were excellent, and even the plastic pieces inside the car had some soft-touch "give" to them that made them more pleasant to touch than hard plastic.

This new sedan earned a five-out-of-five-stars rating in federal government frontal crash testing and four out of five stars in side crash testing, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Hyundai used to sell the Elantra as a hatchback. Look for the return of a hatchback sometime in the future.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2007 Hyundai Elantra SE, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, midsize sedan

BASE PRICE: $13,395 for GLS with manual transmission; $14,395 for GLS automatic; $15,845 for SE manual

DESTINATION CHARGE: $600

PRICE AS TESTED: $16,530

ENGINE: 2-liter, double-overhead-cam four cylinder producing 138 horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual

EPA MILEAGE: 28 mpg city, 36 mpg highway

FUEL TANK: 14 gallons

LENGTH: 177.4 inches

WHEELBASE: 104.3 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,750 pounds

BUILT IN: South Korea


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