By Veeno Dewan

The Hyundai Elantra became the best-selling car in Canada in January 2011 leaping ahead of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 that usually fight for the top slot. And why precisely did this happen?
Well one has to a look at this all –new Elantra to discover why. Not only does it look oh so sexy, it has a host of features and a big car feel that belies its price tag.

The stylist pushed the envelope to make the Elantra look like nothing else in its class. Notice the long, low profile: that rear window is so steep it makes this sedan more coupe- like than sedan.
Pronounced hood and door creases, swooping fender flares and elongated headlights and tail lights add a sense of drama to the design. Look carefully and one could swear there is a hint of the best of BMW, Infiniti and Acura going on. The car looks incredibly sophisticated and modern in contrasts to its rivals. You can see why people swoon for it.

The Elantra swaps has a 1.8-litre four cylinder with 10 extra horsepower at 148 horses and 131 lb-ft of torque. The previous five-speed manual/four-speed automatic transmission option is now replaced by a six-speed manual in the L, GL and GLS trim levels, or an optional six-speed autobox as on our tester. In terms of trim, the Elantra impresses the hell out of everyone in this segment with its standard spec. For a reasonable $18,549 starting price the base L model, has six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic stability control, power locks, heated mirrors, stereo with USB port and auxiliary input and power windows. The GL adds air conditioning, heated seats, keyless entry, Bluetooth and cruise control. Step up to the GLS and one gains a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sunroof, fog lights, XM satellite radio, and the surprise, surprise is the only car to offer heated rear seats in the compact segment.

The upmarket Limited model at $22,699, offers 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, leather seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and garage door opener. Navigation is a $2,000, option with pushbutton start, stereo amplifier and rear-view camera.

The Elantra does not disappoint on the inside either with its big car feel and nicely designed cabin. A curved dash arc down to waterfall type centre stack and console. The door trim line as in expensive sedans warps right in to the dash for a seamless look. The dials are clear well designed and the soft blue lighting is cool and easy on the eyes. Our limited edition with its heated seats was very plush. All the controls and dial are nicely executed with fiddly buttons at a minimum. Despite the deep cowl, the interior feels breezy and spacious — headroom up front is plentiful for 6-footers and the steering wheel is a bit smaller in diameter than usual, which enhances the sense of space up front.

Entry into the rear cabin is a tad hampered by the low sloping roofline and taller rear passengers need to be aware. Legroom is good however and two rear passengers will have room, while three will fit cosily. One high point is the generous trunk, but note the folding rear seats don’t fall quite flat.

On the road, the Elantra has a firm stable ride and be prepared for a little noise when you accelerate on the highway. However the four cylinder benefits for the extra horsepower and hums along just fine at cruising speeds. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and willingly downshifts. The engine does get noisy at high rpm, however.

Handling wise, the electric power steering offers a fairly neutral feel and is responsive enough to keep things interesting. The stiffer body structure and a well-calibrated makes this new Elantra fun to drive. The car feels stable and planted, with relatively little body roll through turns also impressive is the fuel economy which at 6.9 L/100 km in the city and 4.9 L/100 km on the highway is comparable to some hybrids. Downside is few, limited to the following observations: The engine does get a tad noisy at high rpm, the new electric power steering is quick and precise, but lacks the feel sporty drivers might hanker for. Small gripes really for what amounts to a good overall package.

During my week long test, the Elantra garnered many looks and enquires about its price. This is a hugely impressive vehicle to of knocked off the Japanese players of the sales charts. It looks like gorgeous, is fairly spacious, has a great equipment list and is well priced. Add that five year and 100,000 km comprehensive warranty and the new Elantra starts looking like a lot of sense.

2012 Hyundai Elantra priced from $22,699 -$24,294