Economy Plus: How to Travel — With Room and Class — On the Cheap
Traveling business or first class is like having a private cabana at a crowded YMCA swimming pool — it may be crammed and noisy around you yet nothing but space, comfort, and relaxation are filling your world. But c’mon, unless it’s on the company dime, sitting up front in the Airbus and eating with real silverware aren’t really worth the sky-high premiums. Of course, there’s always economy class, which pleases the pocket book but not much else — namely, the feet, knees, shoulders, elbows, well, you get the picture.
Then there’s economy plus — still easy on the wallet but actually roomy enough to prompt a smile after buckling up. In the field of compact hatchbacks, the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring, with its $18,495 base price and 125 cubic feet of interior volume, symbolizes the economy-plus ticket.
Our tester, which was equipped with a $1500 Premium Sport Package (sunroof, heated seats, 17-inch wheels with 215/45 Kumho Solus KH16 rubber), $95 floor mats, a $30 iPod cable, and $325 Bluetooth hands-free system, came in at $20,445, or around $1400 less than a comparably equipped Toyota Matrix S. Compared to the Hyundai, the Matrix offers less front and rear legroom, less rear headroom, and less cargo room whether the back seat is up or down. Granted, the Toyota delivers more oomph, thanks to a larger 2.4L 158-horsepower four-banger in light of the Elantra Touring’s 2.0L 138-horse engine. But the Hyundai’s fuel-economy advantage (23/31 mpg city/hwy versus 21/28 for the Matrix) arguably offsets the Toyota’s performance edge — 0-60 in 7.3 seconds compared to 8.1 for the Elantra.
Further, the Elantra, wearing the low-pro Kumhos, produced a curt 60-0 braking distance of 122 feet, eight feet shorter than that of the Matrix. Unfortunately, we were unable to conduct our usual battery of handling tests, but we’re confident the Hyundai would deliver numbers on par with the Toyota’s — lateral acceleration of 0.81 g and figure eight of 28.4 seconds at 0.58 g. Despite its rather humble powerplant, the 3000-pound Elantra is a lively, fun-to-drive hatch. Power is perfectly adequate. Handling dynamics are generally crisp. And the ride is comforting without being too stiff. The only nits to pick are very light, somewhat numb steering and a loosely gated gearshift.
As we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, the Elantra Touring comes standard with stability and traction control, six airbags, satellite radio, front-seat active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Moreover, the cabin is attractive, well laid out, and boasts high-quality materials.
Based on Hyundai’s European i30, the U.S.-badged Elantra Touring is a cavernous, competitively priced hatchback that not only undercuts the price tags on offerings from Mazda, Pontiac, and Toyota, but also delivers noticeably more interior space. Further, both its straight-line and handling numbers, not to mention its gas mileage, are solid. For around 20 large, a well-equipped Elantra Touring is an economy-plus ride that represents first-class travel.
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Base price $18,495
Price as tested $20,445
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
Engine 2.0L/138-hp/137-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed manual
Curb weight 3000 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Length x width x height 176.2 x 69.5 x 59.8 in
0-60 mph 8.1 sec
Quarter mile 16.3 sec @ 84.3 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 122 ft
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 23 / 31 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.75 lb/mile
By Ron Kiino