The reasons for the growing popularity of compact sedans aren't just their affordability, fuel economy, and the fact they are small enough to be quite maneuverable and large enough to be reasonably roomy.
Increasingly, they are also offering style, comfort, and avant-garde safety electronics and connectivity. The sum of these ingredients is why my wife recently bought one.
A worthy example of how the compact sedan has evolved from its econocar ancestry is the redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra. This is a handsome car, inside and out, that rides quietly and comfortably, handles aptly and doesn't need a seat at Gasoholics Anonymous meetings.
The stylish design bears the imprimatur of crack car designer Peter Schreyer, who oversees the styling studios at Hyundai, Kia, and the company's new Genesis luxury line. Schreyer thinks that while the company's Kia brand should be sporty and attractive to a youthful buyer, Hyundais are aimed at a somewhat older clientele with a more minimalist turn of mind. As a result, the new Elantra is more restrained than its predecessor, evoking the design impulse at Audi, where Schreyer used to work.
The redesigned Elantra comes in several flavors ranging from the base SE model, which starts at $17,985 with a six-speed manual gearbox, to the top-of-the-range Limited ($22,350), which is only available with a revised, six-speed automatic. Both models employ a 2-liter, 147-horsepower engine.
In between those two are the the gas-sipping Eco ($21,485), and the performance-minded Sport ($21,650). The Eco employs a 1.4-liter, 128-horsepower turbo and a new, seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic to produce EPA mileage ratings of 32 city and 40 highway. The Sport utilizes a 1.6-liter turbo that develops 201 horsepower with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic.
The Sport improves handling as well as acceleration by employing a special, sporting undercarriage that substitutes an independent, multi-link rear suspension for the standard torsion beam.
The Limited model that I test drove afforded good gas mileage — 28 city and 37 highway — and adequate, if not exactly memorable, acceleration (zero to 60 takes over eight seconds.)
Handling was a plus. Like so many recently redesigned cars, the new Elantra uses more high-strength steel and industrial adhesives than the previous model. The resultant additional rigidity benefits handling as well as interior quietude. The car's body movements were well-chaperoned in the corners, and it felt quite stable. Good grip was afforded by the wide, low-profile all-season tires mounted on 17-inch alloy wheels.
The Elantra also furnished nice ride quality. The steering was responsive and the brakes had good feel and effectiveness.
Driving the Elantra proved rewarding on several other fronts. Visibility and instrument/control access were good, and the standard, heated, leather-trimmed, power driver's seat was comfortable and supportive. Standard electronic goodies ranged from a seven-inch touchscreen to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There's also some elbow room in this car. There's good leg, shoulder, and head room in the backseat, and the trunk, at 14.4 cubic feet, is almost as large as the league-leading Chevy Cruze.
The Elantra's interior design is as lovely as its exterior. My only complaint here is the paucity of soft-touch surfaces. Given the tester's finish price of nearly 28 large, hard plastic shouldn't cover every bit of the door panel except for a modest armrest.