Surprise! The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited.
If you had asked me eleven days ago what car I'd want if I were driving 150 miles on mostly two-lane roads after a long day at work, I doubt I would have said "Give me a Hyundai Elantra".

That has now changed.

Here's the story:  The weekend before, circumstances caused me to have to head back to Folsom (and then on to the Western Automotive Journalists' Media Days in Monterey) from Easter weekend in Ukiah, leaving Navigator in her hometown all week to deal with a family emergency.  I'd then drive back to Ukiah (150 miles from my day job in Sacramento) to join her the following Friday after work.

Map of CA 128 from Winters to Rutherford
Winters, California to Rutherford, California via CA 128 (source: Google Earth).
I chose our favorite way to get there...which includes the stretch of road you see above, California State Route 128. If you broke the trip up into thirds, this would be the middle...just under 40 miles of a twisting, turning two-lane through beautiful mountains and canyons along the southern tip of Lake Berryessa, then into the heart of the Napa Valley.

The all-new Elantra had already impressed me as a very nice car, especially in top-of-the-line Limited trim. I wasn't expecting much more than a comfortable ride along this route.  What exactly possessed me to push the sport mode button as I entered the twisty stuff in the ridges west of Winters, I can't exactly say.  But I am so glad I did. The 2-liter 147-horsepower engine and the six-speed automatic transmission worked together to keep the engine revs in the sweet spot.  The car whipped through the curves with precision and enthusiasm, but no drama.  Having just come off three days in Monterey driving more than a dozen cars with genuine performance credentials (Jaguar XF-R, Cadillac ATS-V, Mercedes-Benz 450SL, Volkswagen Golf R, Infiniti Q50, Chevy SS) along both Highway 1 south of Carmel and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I can honestly say the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited wasn't a letdown.

Not that long ago, a car that handled a road like this as well as this would have had the BMW roundel on its hood...or at least the letters "GTI" on its tail.  And did I mention that in all that enthusiastic driving, I averaged 36 miles per gallon (in a car with an EPA estimated average of 28 city/37 highway)?

Rear 3/4 view of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited.
There's no question Hyundai has worked a lot of magic with the 2017 Elantra.  The styling is contemporary and aggressive.  And it's more than just looks. The drag coefficient is 0.27, which means it goes through the air with less resistance than most cars...which means more motion from less fuel. It just misses being one of the ten sleekest cars (ranked by drag coefficient) you can buy.

It's longer than the previous Elantra by 8/10ths of an inch, wider by a full inch, weighs less than the old one, and is made with 53 percent high strength steel, as opposed to 21 percent before.  The 29 percent improvement in torsional rigidity alone translates to a stiffer, more confidence-inspiring automobile with which to attack the twisty bits.

Interior view of 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited
2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited interior.
The place where you do said attacking has been given an equally thorough makeover.  The instrument panel is nicely designed, and beautifully laid out.  Everything is where you expect it to be and it falls right to hand.  The advanced ergonomic front seats are instantly comfortable and supportive and stay that way for the long haul.  And the cabin is spacious.  In the same way that big brother Sonata feels a class size larger than it's supposed to be, the 2017 Elantra has interior room specs that fall into the EPA's midsize classification, though the car itself is a compact.

In fact, those specs are pretty remarkable:  More passenger volume and cargo space than a Cadillac CTS, Audi A4 or Acura ILX...and total interior volume that beats those and the BMW 3-series.

At $22,350 the 2017 Elantra Limited comes very well equipped (exhaustive list of standard features here), but our tester came loaded with options, as well...the Tech Package (A six-inch color touchscreen, navigation, Apple Car Play, 8-speaker Infiniti premium audio system with subwoofer and Harman's ClariFi music restoration technology, a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster display, power sunroof, heated front and rear seats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass) for $2,500; the Ultimate Package (HID headlamps with dynamic bending light, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, smart cruise control, lane keep assist and integrated memory system for the seats and mirrors) for $1,900 plus carpeted floor mats for $125.

With $835 destination and handling, the bottom line was $27,710.  That sounds pricey, but pop a set of 17-inch alloy wheels (standard on the Elantra Limited) on a Honda Civic Touring and you're past $28,500.  This is the neighborhood in which capable, fully loaded compact sedans now live.

As I've said many times over the past six or seven years, other automakers, especially Toyota, Honda and Nissan, have been watching their rearview mirrors nervously as the small dot that was Hyundai keeps getting bigger and closer.  Now we know they can't shake 'em on a winding road.