Friday, October 14, 2016


There was a time — and not all that long ago, by the way — that if you were shopping in the bargain section of the automotive market you had to be prepared to do without many of the creature comforts, and in some instances even safety measures, found on more upscale cars.

Even if the those features were available in the price range of the model you were seeking, and they often weren’t, you had to pay extra.

“Oh,” the salesman would say. “You want a steering wheel? Well, that will cost you extra.”

But “trickle down” isn’t just some economic theory that politicians like to throw out every couple of years to gather a spare vote or two. It also applies to automotive vehicles as well. The niceties introduced on high five-figure or even six-figure vehicles have a tendency to eventually  work their way down the food chain. (Still waiting for that night vision camera from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to show up, however.)

The “trickling down” goes back to the introduction of such features as power steering, antilock brakes (ABS), and power windows all first shown on luxury makes to more recent advances like rearview cameras, blindspot warning and lane-keeping assist systems, Bluetooth communications, and technological advances like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Many of them are standard on upper trim levels and even available as options on base models of the economy makes.

The Hyundai Elantra I recently had for a week is one example. It’s a new model in the Elantra portfolio and the only thing extra in the total MSRP of $21,610 for this particular Elantra Eco were the $835 destination and delivery fee and $125 for the floor mats. (BTW, mats need to be included in the MSRP period, not serve as a bargaining chip! But that’s the topic for another day.)

The base MSRP of $20,650, which falls between the $17,150 for the SE trim and the  $22,350 for the top-of-the-line Limited, included as standard a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines (i.e., lines that follow input from the steering wheel to show you where you may be headed), cross-traffic detection, blind-spot detection, projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights, a 7-inch touchscreen for audio operation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connection, dual A/C, Bluetooth hands-free phone operation, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats that are height-adjustable for driver and passenger, keyless ignition with push-button start, and a tire monitoring system that not only alerts you to a low tire but also shows the pressure for each of the four wheels so you don’t have to go hunting to find out which one needs some inflation.

Oh. And it also has electronic stability and traction control and anti-lock brakes.

Two optional tech packages that include navigation and HID headlights and adaptive cruise control also are available for a couple of extra thousand dollars depending on which one you choose, but the point here is that you don’t have to go there and still get many features that once were offered only vehicles falling in the luxury class.

But what about performance?

The 2017 Elantra Eco is equipped with a new 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that is rated at a maximum 128 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that essentially works like an automatic. That results is fuel economy ratings of 32 miles-per-gallon city, 40 highway and 35 combined. (The SE and Limited models get a 2.0-liter 4-banger with peak horsepower and torque ratings of 147 hp and 132 lb.-ft. mated with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission and delivering fuel economy figures of 29/38/33.)

Don’t let those power numbers fool you. The Elantra Eco is no jack rabbit getting away from intersections, and it’s not the most-fun-to-drive in the segment. But it’s far from boring when set in “Sport” mode. That enlivens the performance over the other two settings, Eco and Normal, and doesn’t cost you that much in fuel mileage (though how much is hard to tell).

In addition to some nice touches and use of quality materials in the interior, not to mention more room for passengers because of the slightly extra overall length (179.9 inches to the 179.1 of the 2016 Elantra), Hyundai also has given the Elantra’s exterior a nice makeover. The front features the company’s new hexagonal grille flanked by catlike headlight components.

Overall, this doesn’t look like what you might associate the typical economy car as looking like. That’s true both inside and outside.

What I liked about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: The interior is nicely appointed and designed as well as roomy and quiet. Technological features are simple enough to operate. My test vehicle did not come with navigation, but nav systems in Hyundai’s other models have all been very easy to operate been for the non-technological inclined. At 14.5 cubic feet, the trunk is pretty good size for its class.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: Throttle response can be inconsistent. A couple of times the turbo seemed to lag and then kicked in with a lurch, which can be disconcerting in high traffic.

Would I buy the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: Yes, though I might take a look at the Limited as well. If you really would like the company’s Sonata sedan but it stretches your budget too much, the Elantra Eco is a very nice alternative.

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