Mountain Wheels: Reimagined Hyundai Elantra takes on big-car character |

Mountain Wheels: Reimagined Hyundai Elantra takes on big-car character

How does an American-made, potentially 40-MPG machine with the looks and features of a much larger and expensive car sound to you, with a starting price of just $17,150?

What's that — you still want to buy a domestic luxury SUV and have monthly payments larger than other people's mortgage bills? Hey, go for it. It's a free country. I too am sure gas will be cheap forever.

If frugality is the name of the game, and you'd like to situate yourself in a vehicle that's very much a long, long way from its less glorious beginnings — but is now an entirely decent and well-rounded offering, let me suggest the 2017 Hyundai Elantra.

As discussed last week, people either understand that Hyundai and Kia are now on par with Japanese imports, or they don't. Those who get it will find a small vehicle that looks like a much larger vehicle, one that drives with authoritative power and poise and is heaped with options that would be more common in a vehicle twice the Elantra's base price. Those who don't, likely think that Pontiac is still in business.

More interestingly, the base Elantra sports what is also — curiously — a very similarly-sized engine to that appearing in a $50K Infiniti Q50 that I recently drove, though in this less-expensive application, the resulting mileage can be pretty impressive.

Elantra's 2017 edition is entirely new and it's crafted with a massive restyling effort that's made it look like a shrunk-down Sonata. The only real clue you'll get to the Elantra's more austere scale is if you park it next to another subcompact; with 110 cubic feet of interior/passenger volume, the EPA actually classifies Elantra as a midsize, and its 179-inch-long total size is nearly an inch longer and a full inch wider than the previous model.

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The 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is Elantra's regular choice is of the slightly exotic Atkinson cycle variety, meaning a different compression cycle and added multiport injection. That amounts to 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque, with a listed highway rating of 37 MPG.

It does require some judiciousness during passing as a result, but regular cruising is composed, nearly sporty, and it will absolutely fly on the freeway with the right effort.

The light handling, responsive steering and braking are made all the more rewarding by mileage that always exceeded 40 MPG during my mix of travels and maxed out at 42.4 on one day.

Alternately, the Eco edition features a 1.4-liter GDI turbo four-cylinder that's heavier on the torque (156 lb.-ft.) and is fitted with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, meaning more responsiveness and a 35 MPG combined city/highway figure.

Looks are indeed one of the major value propositions here and you sure get the impression that this might be a $40,000 mid-sized sedan if you don't approach it with a tape measure in hand. An imposing grille with loads of chrome cross-hatching, big swoopy headlamps (which turn to match your steering) and major character lines that flow across the hood blend into a very contemporary style, overall.

The $23,185 Limited edition I drove came equipped with the seven-inch Display Audio navigation and entertainment system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto pre-loaded; an eight-inch screen is also available as a package coupled with an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system featuring the ClariFi system, which adds some substance and soul to your squeaky MP3 files.

I also got heated leather seats (the stuffing is now made out of an eco-friendly soy material), a mid-cluster video screen for the trip computer, blind spot and lane-departure warnings, an automatic two-zone ventilation system, plus a backup camera, sunroof, wheel-mounted controls and even a power-sliding driver's seat. Kick your foot under the trunk to open it hands-free, just like all those more expensive cars.

On the safety side of things, and as featured in the TV spots, Hyundai's BlueLink telematics and service interface allows you to monitor or even remotely start the car with your smartwatch — of course you have a smartwatch.

The Elantra is built in Montgomery, Alabama, and is really quite the compelling little car.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

MSRP: $23,185

Powertrain: 147-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; six-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 32 MPG combined (28 city, 37 highway)

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