Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By Robert Farago

You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world– away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer– any vehicle that asks nothing whatsoever of its owner is guaranteed a place in the average American motorists' affections. If the automobile in question is cheap, reliable, comfortable and inoffensive, millions of people will buy it, love it and, eventually, buy another one. The new Hyundai Sonata is all that, and more. Not much more, but some…

Aesthetically, you've got to credit Hyundai for their tireless pursuit of total inoffensiveness. Rather than stick with any one of the company's four previous schnozzes, the Sonata's designers opted for yet another round of plastic surgery. This one's a winner; it's vaguely Japanese, completely unobjectionable and utterly forgettable. The Sonata's front end is proof positive that it's easier to copy a copy (i.e. the Honda Accord) than it is to knock-off an original. The same principle holds true for the rest of the Sonata's sheet metal; it's a riff on the Ford 500's riff on the Audi A6. For people who can't afford the real deal, or even recognize it when they see it, the Sonata is a perfectly judged pastiche.

The Sonata's interior wanders into the no-man's land between cheapskate and artistic minimalism. With its gray and beige color scheme, only the quality of the Sonata's cabin materials and sensible ergonomics prevent it from disappearing into a fug of rental car mediocrity. The Sonata's MP3-ready radio typifies the tension; the head unit is as dowdy as an Amish church, but you can't help but admire its honesty of form and simplicity of function. In short, the interior's too earnest for its own good.

The mood brightens the second you summon the Sonata's six-cylinder engine. The new 3.3-liter powerplant transforms the Sonata from a pace car for the Hubbard Glacier into a genuinely frisky four-door. In fact, there's enough oomph at full stomp to trigger a mild case of torque steer. More importantly for its target demographic– who probably think torque steer is something Texas cattlemen do after work– the engine's continuously variable valve timing assures smooth acceleration right up to redline. While only an Impala driver would mistake the Sonata LX for a high-performance sedan, even a 3-Series snob would appreciate the Korean's surfeit of seamless shove.

Seamless, yes; charismatic, no. Hyundai's relentless campaign to eliminate any reason not to buy the Sonata failed to encompass the powerplant's whiney tone and treble-intensive timbre. If the Koreans had strangled the mechanical din at birth, the Sonata would've been hailed as the ultimate bargain basement luxury car. Passengers sitting in its spacious back seats wearing noise cancellation headphones could still make that claim, but then they'd miss out on the Sonata's sonorous sound system. Pop in your favorite go-faster CD and you're loaded for bear.

No, really: the Sonata is a sharp-handling machine. Thanks to its accurate steering and thoroughly modern suspension– double wishbones up front, a multi-link at the back and coil springs over gas shocks all 'round– the four-door negotiates corners with admirable poise, reasonable tenacity and minimal body lean. Pump-up the volume and she'll stay as flat as yesterday's Diet Coke– until the inevitable understeer slide spoils your fun. You could switch off the handling Nanny and let loose the dogs of war, but then Koreans eat dogs and that's just too weird. Besides, anyone who wants to drift a Sonata shouldn't buy one in the first place.

The Sonata's harsh ride is the flip side of its commendable body control. [Note to Hyundai engineers: road feel isn't supposed to hurt.] I'm sure the Sonata's core clientele would've gladly sacrificed a bit of sporty spice for a better flavoring of crash suppression. That said, the Sonata's chassis feels incredibly solid– IS incredibly solid– until a series of bumps jars its occupants back to price-related reality. Taken as a whole, the sedan's dynamics conform to the theory that the economy car with the least objectionable road manners wins. Who can argue with that?

Nor can you argue with the Sonata's rise up the sales charts. If Hyundai tweaks the Sonata's suspension for comfort, adds another layer of sound-deadening (to cater to Americans' predilection for a "big car feel") and maintain its rep for reliability, the model will take a massive bite out of its deeply-entrenched Japanese competition. Even without these changes, the Sonata has everything it needs to be a total success amongst America's value-driven car buyers. The fact that car snobs wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole tells you everything you need to know about its prospects.


By C Douglas Weir

There are three basic markets for any car: price, value (price plus quality) and quality (price no object). Automobiles aimed at the top and bottom of the food chain are relatively easy to produce; price-oriented manufacturers can let things slide, quality-oriented carmakers can afford perfection. Value is a bitch. Automakers in this arena have got to do it all, do it right and do it at a price. One false step and competitors on either side of the financial divide reach down or reach up and snatch your bread and butter. In short, the new Hyundai Azera is something of a miracle: a car that hits the value bulls-eye with supernatural precision.

In these days of retro muscle cars and two-door coupes, pundits tend to forget that miraculous makeovers needn't be brash. That said, compared to Hyundai's previous flagship, the Commissar's XG350, the Azera is a supermodel. And compared to a supermodel, the Azera is a local newscaster: sexy in an entirely unthreatening sort of way. In truth, the Azera seems carefully designed to melt into the dull blur of oncoming traffic. The front end is fantastically inoffensive– and that's it. The back end's nicely-wrapped LED taillights and Bimmer-style butt make it a bit more distinctive, though equally, almost admirably, forgettable. From the side, the Azera's ten-spokes seem an inch too large, the rear wheels are set mysteriously far forward and the swooping bulge flowing up and over the wheels looks like a resting bunny rabbit. Of course, everybody likes bunnies…

Inside, the Azera Limited is the ultimate content queen. The $27,495 sedan has enough airbags to salvage a sunken ship, active head restraints, leather seating surfaces and "wood grain" trim, heated power memory seats, Lexian electroluminescent gauges, fully automatic dual-zone climate control (with particulate filter), electronic stability control, traction control, power rear window shade, power sunroof and a MP3-compatible megawatt music system. Ergonomically, the Azera's got it wired– but not digitized. No joysticks and digital screens here (there are some things money shouldn't buy); just sensible controls, well positioned vents and uncomplicated switchgear. In fact, the fully-loaded Azera Limited is an entirely convincing budget alternative to a "proper" (i.e. twice as costly) luxury car.

Well, almost. Despite the Azera's S-Class-plus sized interior, there's a palpable difference between the Korean import and the mighty German and Japanese luxobarges. The Azera's front dash fascia is hard plastic textured to look soft (whose half life probably rivals actinium's). The leather deployed throughout the cabin is industrial-strength hide; you'll need to place aromatic leather scraps under the front seats for that impress-your-friends Connelly hide effect. Despite the pseudo-luxe materials - or perhaps because of them - the Azera's interior is a curiously soulless place to spend your time. The cabin lacks… originality. Coherence. Character. Zen.

The Korean four-door is powered by a 3.8 liter all-aluminum V-6 with continuously variable valve timing. The 263-horse powerplant responds to the whip with gleeful enthusiasm, growling convincingly through dual exhausts, romping to sixty in just 6.8 seconds. The Azera's five-speed "Shiftronic" gearbox is a real peach, delivering smooth shifts in cruise mode, and brisk kickdowns and upshifts when asked. Unfortunately, after the first half-inch of throttle travel, the Azera's drivetrain tends to snap into frisky mode…….whether you want it to or not. Practice will probably tame the tendency, but watch for straight-armed, surprised drivers pulling away from stoplights in their new Azeras.

Once underway, the Azera's speed sensitive steering proves to be lighter than a perfectly baked croissant– which may be just as well. The Korean family car may have the power to keep up with the Maximas of the world, but when push comes to bend, the Azera is a bit of a wallower that's prone to nosedive under heavy braking. On the positive side, the Azera's front double wishbones and rear multilink suspension serve-up the kind of self-assured big car ride its non-sporting target market will adore. Provided they stay off the gas, the ultra-quiet cabin will reinforce the impression that they got the luxury car deal of the century.

Perhaps they have. Just think: you can buy the Azera Limited for under $30k, drive a reasonable distance in excellent comfort for three years, then hand if off to your chromosome split (maintaining original ownership). The Azera would remain under its bumper-to-bumper warranty for another two years. After that, your progeny could drive the sedan for another five years before the ten-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty expires. In case that all sounds a bit dull and worthy, well guess what? These are exactly the kind of calculations that made Toyota so successful, and GM so hard-pressed. First the Sonata, now the Azera. Look out Detroit. Watch your back Japan. Hyundai's value-packed vehicles are on a roll.


By Lesley Wimbush

Tuscany. The name evokes images of dining al-fresco in pastel stucco courtyards watching sleek 12-cylinder convertibles cruise by, their impossibly chic passengers hiding behind oversized shades. Tuscani. The name evokes an automotive product that wants to proclaim Italian flare but doesn’t have the necessary accent or copyright. To those who delight in unmasking fake Rolexes and other pretentious twaddle, the Tuscani is an instant classic: a car that pays homage to a Ferrari 456 GT made in South Korea.

Strange but true: the Tuscani is a top spec Hyundai Tiburon. Since gen one’s ‘96 debut, the Tiburon has metamorphosed from cheap and cheesy import with bloated body lines, whale-tail spoiler and older, Acura-like double headlights; to striking Italian supercar knock off. The Tuscani’s hood is convincingly long, the deck credibly short and the stance convincingly wide and aggressive. There’s even a perky chiseled rump bringing up the rear (literally). And for no extra money (or cred), the bodacious booty hides a hatch.

“Tiburon” is Spanish for "shark”– which accounts for the gill-like vents behind the Tuscani’s front fenders. Side cut line creases and a high beltline add edginess to the pastiche and slenderize the body. For those paying attention to such things, weedy dual chrome exhausts and a “racing-inspired” fuel door provide some clean air between Korea’s budget knock-off and Ferrari’s Our Lady of Unfathomable Depreciation. While the Hyundai’s split spoke five-spokes mock the Ferrari’s pentagrams, the dual piston performance calipers (front) peeking out fron the Tuscani's wheels are exactly the kind of homage we encourage.

Once inside, the center stack immediately identifies the Tuscani’s target market: boy racers. The gauges feature sporty red-on-black markings (it’s the only Hyundai I've ever driven without Mountain Dew colored backlighting). Drivers also "enjoy" a trio of analogue dials measuring torque (in Newton meters), voltage and real time fuel consumption. Humongous circular air vents crown these stylishly useless displays like misplaced periscopes. Faux titanium brightens up the dour interior while faux aluminum adds a faux racing touch to the pedals.

Recaro seats with tasty red stitching coddle G-force jockeys with plenty of bolstering. Even so, tall, long-legged drivers will find it nearly impossible to achieve a spinal friendly driving position; the Tuscani’s front headroom is almost as limited as rear legroom (but not quite). The upside: the rear seats fold down to create a voluminous cargo space and the hatch opens wide enough to stow most anything (bungee cords and red flag optional).

The gear shifter looks like nothing so much as a ribbed play toy from the naughty store. The gates are as nebulous as a Car and Driver editorial, bereft of that dead-certain snickery familiar to drivers of Japan’s– or Maranello’s– finest. Urban Tuscani drivers face this shortcoming on a regular basis, what with the six-speed gearbox clamoring for constant attention. The Tuscani provides a textbook example of how not to space your gears; first and second are gone in a blink, sixth is for fuel conservation only.

The base model Tiburon is motivated by a 2.0-liter four. The all options checked Tuscani is powered by Hyundai’s 2.7-liter, DOHC six-cylinder engine. Although peak power (172 horsepower) arrives at a lofty 6000rpm, the V6 is smooth, quiet and torquey. But not quick. The 2939 pound [no-rear-seats-to-speak-of] coupe journeys from rest to sixty-two miles per hour in a leisurely 7.8 seconds– not bad for a Dadmobile, but laughable for a wanna-be Ferraristi. The wait for forward momentum may be long, but the interval between braking and stopping isn’t. The Tuscani is blessed with some of the most powerful brakes I’ve ever tested on a road car. Period.

Unfortunately, the Tuscani is the machine that puts pay to the old axiom that a car is only as good as its brakes. The car's steering is too heavy, the torque steer too prominent and the “sports-tuned” suspension too unsportsmanlike to generate any fun worthy of serious stopping. There’s plenty of after-market support for better handling and a vast supply of body kits (from the sublime to surreal) to transform this pseduo-Euro coupe into a Fast & Furious rice rocket. But you can’t make a silk purse– or a baby Ferrari– out of a front wheel-drive sow’s ear.

Conversely, if the Tiburon/Tuscani was a real-wheel drive car, its enthusiast fan-base would explode. Speculation on a rear wheel-drive Tiberon on the message boards runs rampant, fueled by an acknowledgement of the possibility by Hyundai president Hyun Soon. When? Don’t make me say it. Anyway, a more powerful RWD Hyundai performance coupe would offer vehicles like the Mazda RX8 so real competition. A free-revving, right wheel-drive Tuscani would also deliver the kind of powerful performance and electric handling its exotic Euro-flavored looks deserve. Ish.


By admin

The Yugo and Excel are automotive nameplates synonymous with pistonhead schadenfreude. Yet both models sold well (at least initially). Their success proves two things: 1) you can flog just about anything if the price is low enough and 2) building a car for the lowest possible price does nothing to elevate the automotive arts. While the Yugo has gone to the place where forgettable cars are eventually forgotten (save by those who endured them), Hyundai’s successor to the Excel, the Accent, still strives for, um, sales. After twenty years of evolution, is the Accent still a contender for a Forbes’ best product?

There are few visual cues that the Accent is a cut-rate ride. Black plastic bulges fill the spot “reserved” for fog lights. Tiny wheels with plastic hubcaps “fill” the wheel wells. The Accent’s wide-eyed mug and rounded haunches border on cute: a reflection of the current “let’s mask cheap with charm” routine. Although it errs on the side of inoffensiveness, the Accent’s free from the more blatant automotive plagiarism afflicting its stable mates. Strangely, Hyundai decided to go its own way with the door count. Offering a two door hatch in a market lousy with five door models hinders the wee beastie from the get-go.

Sitting in the Accent’s interior is like being trapped inside a die-cast model. From the high effort HVAC switches to the spindly turn signal, the Accent’s switchgear feels like it was bulk ordered from Corgi’s Chinese suppliers. Unless Goth floats your boat, the all-black color scheme is claustrophobic– although you need sunglasses to dim the glare reflected off the low grade plastics. Still, the dash design is simple and attractive; a mixture of organic curves that leaves all the major controls within easy reach (How great is that?). And unlike many cars in this class, slamming the glove box doesn’t send shudders through the dash.

The base Accent comes complete with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo. Literally. You want air conditioning, remote entry, power locks and power windows, you’re gonna have to pay. The front seats are roomy enough, with plenty of travel fore and “watch out for your feet back there” aft. While the Accent isn’t lacking in headroom, a little more height would make entry in the rear quarters easier, especially as the doors are short on length.

Due to these shrunken portholes, rear seat passengers must Pilates their way in and out of the designated compartment. Once there, the accommodations are suitable for two adults. For passengers worried about wearing an SUV as a hat, the space between the Accent’s rear seats and the hatch is generous for the class.

The Accent’s 1.6-liter inline four boasts the highest output of its peers: 110hp @ 6000rpm. Unfortunately, the manual windows have more twist. The engine’s 106 ft.-lbs. of torque (@ 4500 rpm) are pitted against one of the highest curb weights in its class. With 2500 pounds to schlep, the Accent’s little engine that could has trouble carrying anything heavier than a Playstation to the good little girls and boys on the other side of the mountain.

The hatchback’s acceleration redefines the word; zero to 60 times extend somewhere deep into the double-digits. The Alzheimer automatic doesn’t help; the transmission gets confused when you floor the throttle, pauses for what seems like an eternity and then finally drops down a gear. When it eventually finds a lower cog, the engine groans like an arthritic octogenarian reaching for a quarter.

The Accent’s ride is best described as plush, or, more accurately, nauseating. Bumps are greeted (and greeted and greeted) by endless rebound. When I drove the Accent over train tracks, the car crashed and wallowed like my old man’s old Buick. As speeds increase, the Accent’s body roll becomes, um, “exaggerated.” Hustling this little car is about as exciting as racing turtles, and a lot less safe. Twenty years of evolution have failed to elevate handling to anything above the automotive equivalent of your appendix.

Obviously, the Hyundai Accent is a less punishing econobox than the old Excel. While the overall experience puts the “base” in “basic,” there’s no question that the Accent will get from A to B without threatening an extended diversion to repair shop C or, for that matter, racing rust to the warranty’s expiration. If you take into account inflation, the Accent’s $10k sticker makes a mockery of the 1986 Excel’s $5k entry price. Equally important, the Accent offers exponentially better passive safety: side airbags (both front and rear), seatbelt pretensioners, ABS and enough structural rigidity to earn a five-star frontal crash protection.

Unfortunately for Hyundai, the Fit, Yaris and Versa have arrived to do battle at the bottom of the barrel. Aside from the warranty and a grand or so, the Accent can’t compete with it foes’ style, performance, comfort and practicality.


By Justin Berkowitz

Back before gas prices scared SUV owners sensible, most CUV’s were “cute utes.” As the SUV exodus gathered pace, several abandoned truck makers figured SUV refugees were a bit half-assed not fully committed to downsizing. They built CUV’s that are only slightly smaller than their SUV’s, only without the towing capacity, off-road ability and, most importantly, extreme thirst. Never one to miss a trick, the transplants have been growing their CUV’s to nibble away at the same market. Case in point: the Hyundai Santa Fe.

The first generation Santa Fe did battle in the ultra competitive compact segment, squaring off against the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. The new, second gen Santa Fe is larger, more powerful and more expensive. The mondo-model’s sights are firmly set on the new Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. To see if the bigger, badder Santa Fe could has what it takes to take on the CUV superstars, I took one for a jaunt around the crossover’s spiritual homeland: the 'burbs.

In “The Planet of the Apes,” Charlton Heston asks a female ape if he can kiss her goodbye. "All right,” she concedes. “But you're so damned ugly." And there you have it. While the Santa Fe wants to help you escape the apes, it’s inescapably hideous. The headlights and grille are mounted too low, at the bottom of a sharply sloping bonnet. The profile is so derivative you could play spot the inference for hours. And the rear looks like an unholy union between a Subaru Forester and B9 Tribeca. In short, I wouldn't be surprised if the ghost of Salvador Dali designed the Santa Fe’s sheetmetal.

Take shelter from the horror (the horror) inside, and the spacious cabin reveals a multiple personality disorder. The detail man nailed all the cool bits: satin trim in all the right places, properly colored plastiwood, prudent placed buttonlogy and cool liquid crystal displays. And then the beancounters stepped in. The seat fabric is made out of polyester Halloween costumes. The switchgear offers all the tactile satisfaction of a single use camera. And the wheel-mounted buttons defy easy operation.

The Santa Fe’s got plenty of safety devices: anti lock brakes, traction and stability control; roof mounted side-curtain airbags, seatbelt pretensioners. The brand faithful elevated gadget count includes a not entirely execrable six-speaker boom box with MP3 compatibility. Surprisingly, electronic marriage protection (a.k.a. satellite navigation) is AWOL. Still, pony up a bit more green, and you can have a nice big sunroof, automatic climate control and a full compliment of Sharper Image-style toys.

In keeping with the new CUV XL paradigm, the Santa Fe’s third row seating is a flagrant violation of The Geneva Convention. Suitable for small children? Only if they're very very bad. (I've squirmed my way into the back of a Porsche 911 more easily– and it was more comfortable.) If you’re looking for a sprog carrier that isn’t a fuel-sucking SUV, GM’s badge-engineered XXL Lambda triplets or a big ass Honda Odyssey are a far better bet. Spec your Sante Fe for five, enjoy the humongous trunk and save $1300.

Prepare for a surprise: driving the Santa Fe doesn't suck. Crank over the DOHC V6 and it’s whisper quiet at idle (even more than a similarly equipped Sonata). Put the Santa Fe’s hammer down and smooth things happen. The [optional] 3.3-liter mill spools up with a pleasant sort of growl, and then pits all of its 242hp and 226 ft. lbs. of torque against the CUV’s 4000 lbs. Thanks to a superslick five-speed autobox, the resulting eight second-ish sprint to sixty is remarkable– although fairly slow in any absolute sense.

That said, if you’re in a hurry, hang onto that steering wheel. Unless you spring for the AWD model, slamming on the Santa Fe’s gas FedExes you a big old box of torque-steer. Driving at more sagacious speeds, the Santa Fe’s power-assisted rack and pinion tiller is like a draftsman’s pen: sharp and accurate. The brakes are also superb and the multi-link rear suspension keeps the beast tied down without degrading ride comfort. As a crossover for hauling Ikea boxes and tackling snowy driveways, not hooning with pistonhead bravado, the Santa Fe is an ideal device.

Captain Farago concluded that Hyundai's Sonata would succeed because it was so neutral, and he was right. The Santa Fe almost gets the same assessment, but for the genetically mutated styling. Still, the Santa Fe is cheap (my nicely equipped SE was only $26k), with a wikkid warranty. Ten years ago, those were the only reasons to buy a Hyundai. With the Sonata, they're an added bonus on top of an already good car. The Santa Fe’s appeal lies somewhere in between. In that sense, the new Santa Fe is a bit of a Korean line dancer: two steps forward, one step back.


By Justin Berkowitz

Look in Hyundai’s high school yearbook and you’ll see “most improved.” Almost every model the Korean automaker has sent stateside has been a quantum leap forward from its predecessor. The Elantra's roots stretch back to the Excel, which excelled at falling apart. The Elantra name survived; the model went from crap, to cheap, to "say that's not bad." Now we've got the fourth generation Elantra. Does the all-new iteration follow the Sonata and Santa Fe in Hyundai's relentless march from cars you buy because they're dirt cheap to cars you buy because why the Hell should I pay more?

The Elantra sits near the top of the economy car pack in terms of not looking too much like an economy car. Thanks to a dorky swage line that dips in the middle and a teardrop-shaped rear window, the Elantra looks like a Corolla with an untucked shirt. Fortunately, the Korean’s front is all business: crispy tailored creases surrounding the requisite Pokemon thousand yard stare headlights. The Elantra’s a color sensitive beastie; lighter shades tend to highlight some of the car’s more awkward proportions.

At 177 inches long, the new Elantra is significantly shorter than the outgoing model. To put that stat into its proper perspective, the Korean compact is now about the same length as the current Toyota Corolla and roughly 14 feet longer than a mechanical pencil– which is, let’s face it, more aesthetically exciting than either machine. Still, nobody buys an Hyundai or Toyota on looks alone. The bottom line: the Elantra's exterior is modern enough that it’ll still appear fresh when its owner’s five-year warranty expires.

Speaking of fresh, Hyundai’s nostril curling crayon/sulfur olfactory signature is gone. The Elantra’s interior now smells as anodyne as it looks. Yes, the cabin’s about as thrilling as alcohol-free vodka. But it's a remarkably large (more interior volume than the Civic and Corolla) and well-ordered space, swathed in a small selection of wildly inoffensive materials, available in a limited range of gray tones. Still, the Elantra’s fit and finish is beyond reproach– if only because occupants can’t stay awake long enough to kvetch.

The Elantra offers integrated XM radio as part of a cheap audio package. Alas, that’s it for toys. The model's Korean taskmasters have denied their baby any of the other high profit, hi-tech [optional] toys that make Nissan's Versa and Sentra so appealing (Bluetooth, keyless go, hard drive in the dashboard, satellite navigation, etc.). At least you won’t die of boredom. The Elantra’s standard safety features include Electronic Brake-force Distribution, six airbags (including side curtains), antilock brakes and active head restraints. The “rich man's” Elantra SE adds electronic stability and traction control.

The Elantra's dynamic demeanor can be summed up in a single word: easy. There's a theoretical manual transmission, but almost all cars come with a smooth 'n' slow four speed automatic. Pop the Elantra into drive and your brain automatically switches off. Although the seconds required for zero to 60 “sprints” cannot be counted on two hands, the Elantra’s whisper-quiet 2.0-liter, 138 horsepower engine delivers enough pep to merge into traffic and amble around town. Should you find a stick shift Elantra, you can shave two seconds from your dash (down to 8.3 seconds to be precise). But that’s like saying a dash of hot sauce can jazz-up a piece of meatloaf.

Sensibly enough, Hyundai’s chassis engineers completed ignored any notion of sportiness and focused on making the Elantra a pothole munching machine. In this they succeeded. The Elantra’s fully independent McPherson (front) and multilink (rear) suspension is more comfortable and compliant than your favorite slightly kinky sexual metaphor. It surmounts road imperfections with big car ease, with only a distant, rubbery judder to remind you that it’s a hard knock life.

There’s a downside to the Elantra’s mortuarial operating philosophy: its electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion power steering system. The helm is so overboosted that any connection between the steering wheel’s attitude and the rubber wheel’s direction is strictly intellectual. The car responds to the tiller both quickly and competently, but without one iota of dynamic feedback, it's best not to attempt anything resembling a driving maneuver. Just ease on down the line.

Don't get me wrong: piloting the Elantra is a disco-era joy. Kicking back and guiding the compact via a single finger hooked delicately around the rim of a plastic steering wheel is more old school than putting a pack of smokes under your shirt sleeve. Alternatively, you could say the Elantra’s the best entry-level model that Buick never made.

Priced to go, temperate in its thirst, the all-new Elantra is a guaranteed hit. People that love frugality almost as much as they hate driving per se should run right out and buy one. In fact, the (literally) mind-numbing sophistication of the new Elantra makes it clear that Hyundai is the new Toyota. How great is that?