2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

By Zach Bowman, DriverSide Contributing Editor  
DriverSide Overview 
While all eyes have been on tumbling Detroit as of late, Korean manufacturers have been gaining serious momentum. Kia has made it clear it has no intention of being stuck making throw-away commuters anymore by introducing both the Soul and the Forte. Likewise, Hyundai has broadened its horizons with the likes of the upscale Genesis and the potent Genesis Coupe. The good news from Korea isn’t just limited to new models, though. The 2009 Elantra SE is a smart buy that delivers a driving experience on par with the best Japan has to offer. The cabin is spacious, offering great visibility for the driver and plenty of legroom for both front and rear passengers. The fuel-thrifty 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is powerful enough to scoot along with traffic, and the four-speed automatic transmission is remarkably smooth shifting. Even better, with a price tag of $17,020 and one of the best warranties anywhere, the Elantra makes good sense for small families and commuters alike.

What's to Like 
The Elantra’s interior has an airy feel thanks to plenty of glass and great visibility. Quality materials and fit and finish work to prove a car can be inexpensive without feeling cheap. The seats are comfortable, and unique blue backlighting makes finding the HVAC and audio controls a cinch at night.
What's Not to Like 
Though the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine boasts a respectable 138 horsepower, it can feel underpowered while passing. The four-speed automatic transmission is incredibly quiet and smooth, though a fifth gear would allow the engine to breathe easier at interstate speeds and help return slightly better fuel economy. Outside, the Elantra leaves a little to be desired in the styling department, too.
The Drive:
DriverSide Driving Impressions  
The base Elantra starts at around $14,120, so we weren’t expecting much in the way of driving dynamics. After a few miles behind the wheel, it was clear we underestimated Hyundai’s small sedan. The steering is surprisingly precise and the suspension well-sorted. The car is confident and comfortable no matter what the road conditions under you and the cabin is good and quiet even at interstate speeds. Though you sit a little high in the driver’s seat, you’re rewarded with fantastic visibility from all angles. The brakes do a great job of bringing the car down from speed – almost to a fault. In stop and go traffic, the disc brakes on all four corners can be a little too grabby for our tastes.
Engine and Drivetrain 
The Elantra SE is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. The thrifty engine is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or a great four-speed automatic unit. Opting for the auto box will add $800 to your final bill.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options 
In SE trim, you’re afforded all kinds of great features. A six-speaker stereo handles XM, CDs, MP3 and has an AUX jack for all of your audio desires, and automatic windows, locks and keyless entry all come standard. Attractive 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lights nestled in the lower bumper round out the features outside. For an additional $1,150, you can opt for the premium package, including a sunroof and heated seats.
Key Technology Evaluation 
Unfortunately, the Elantra doesn’t have much to brag about in the tech department. Navigation isn’t an option, though you can opt for a Bluetooth hands-free calling system for an additional $325. At this price point, it’s hard to complain, though.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage  
What the Elantra lacks in tech it makes up in green cred. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine returns a grin-inducing 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway - pretty solid numbers for a sedan with this kind of space. Even better, you can get your Elantra with either a ULEV or PZEV emissions rating.
A Closer Look:  Vehicle Details
This sedan’s interior isn’t overly stylized, but there are attractive touches throughout. Brushed door handles, a comfortable steering wheel and the blue, glowing LCD screens for the radio and clock all do much to make the Elantra stand out from the economy crowd. Fit and quality of materials is far better than you’d expect out of a car in this price range.
The Elantra’s exterior probably isn’t going to be landing you any dates any time soon. Though the car has grown decidedly more attractive compared to previous generations, the tall sides give the Elantra a disproportionate look. 
Market Segment and Pricing 
Though the base Elantra starts at $14,120, the SE comes in at $17,020. That puts it head to head with the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt Sedan at $16,380, the 2009 Honda Civic sedan at $15,505, the 2009 Toyota Corolla at $15,350 and the 2009 Nissan Sentra at $15,350.
What We Think 
The 2009 Hyundai Elantra has what it takes compete with the hordes of small cars out there. It’s hard to argue against the car’s attributes – the efficient and low emission engine, smooth transmission and gobs of cabin space – especially in light of its low MSRP. Throw in Hyundai’s fantastic 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty and you’ve got one of the smartest buys around. 

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