CORONADO, Calif. -- On a run from Coronado at the beach near San Diego to reach twisty Otay Lakes Road in the Jamul Mountains, we play the numbers game with California freeways -- south on the 5, east on the 905, north on the 805 -- all the while checking off different kinds of numbers that register as our impressions while steering a new rendition of Elantra, a four-door and five-passenger front-wheel-drive sedan of compact size that's built by Hyundai, current red-hot car company out of South Korea.
Rank the 2011 Elantra as completely new in body style, cabin size, mechanical components and fuel economy scores -- it earns as much as 40 miles per gallon (mpg) for highway cruising.
New Elantra appears keen in shape with a sculptured body mounted on multi-spoke wheels and all kinds of hardware aboard to make us forget those well-worn adjectives of "compact" and "economy" as applied to a car.
Theme for Elantra's exterior design is a fluidity of lines drawn in rectangular format but with a radically raked windshield and an arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted to forge the profile of a swift and racy two-door coupe.
Hyundai labels the design language as "Fluidic Sculpture" inspired by nature to produce the illusion of motion from curvy shapes of rigid surfaces.
Still, you can't miss that brash face sporting narrow eye-slit headlamp clusters on front corners flanking a way-thin grille which stacks above a down-low air intake port scored by chrome fins.
Side panels are chiseled with ripples and bulges for the wheelwells plus a high-mount character line which rises toward the tail.
The blunted rump looks clean with twin-lamp taillight assemblies wrapping around corners and a body-colored bumper swooping low with the exhaust pipe tucked beneath.
Elantra in the 2011 fifth-generational treatment gets a unibody structure which is two inches longer than the 2007-2010 edition.
The wheelbase length -- measuring the distance between front and rear axles -- stretches to 106.3 inches long while the width of the body extends to 69.9 inches and the distance from the prow up front to the back bumper tallies to 178.3 inches -- almost 15 feet.
These spatial modifications serve to crimp front and rear overhangs of the body and push the wheels outward toward edges of the package, creating a long and broad and stable platform.
For suspension the sedan employs independent MacPherson struts up front with gas-charged hydraulic twin-tube shocks and stabilizer bar, and in the rear a torsion axle with coil springs and hydraulic monotube shock absorbers.
Hyundai packs the 2011 Elantra a long list of hardware for safety.
Each trim stocks passive safety systems like frontal air bags and seat-mounted side-impact air bags front and rear plus curtain-style air bags above outboard seats on two rows. And Hyundai adds an adjustable head restraint for each seat.
For active safety, every issue also has a disc brake at each wheel, with electronic linkage to a four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Every Elantra trim also carries a vehicle stability management (VSM) device to manage the electronic stability control (ESC) system and motor-driven electric power steering (MDPS) system.
Hyundai segments the 2011 Elantra line into two models -- Elantra GLS the price-leader issue and a luxurious Elantra Limited.
Both versions draw from one powertrain.
The dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) four-cylinder Gamma engine displaces 1.8 liters and has Hyundai's dual continuously variable valve timing (DCVVT) equipment to balance the power output with thrifty fuel economy.
The plant generates 148 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 131 lb-ft at 4250 rpm, with fuel consumption numbers extending to 29 mpg for in-town driving and 40 mpg on a highway.
Elantra GLS comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional electronic automatic rigged with Hyundai's Shiftronic mode for manual control of the gears.
Elantra Limited employs the six-speed Shiftronic automatic exclusively.
Elantra's five-seat passenger compartment seems generous in scale for a compact-class car with more than 95 cubic feet of space.
Headroom amounts to 40 inches up front and 37.1 inches in back, with front-seat legroom stretching to 43.6 inches and 33.1 inches in the rear.
Layout of the cabin shows a pair of bucket seats up front flanking a floor-mounted console containing a storage compartment plus armrest and a bench in back with two articulated seat positions but room for three.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 in sections and both sides fold forward to expand room in the trunk, which amounts to more than 14 cubic feet for cargo.
Elantra GLS M/T (manual transmission) carries lots of standard equipment -- power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a steering wheel that tilts, a remote keyless entry system, trip computer, seats covered in cloth upholstery, driver's seat with six-way adjustments including height, two-speed intermittent front wipers, ceiling-mounted map lights with sunglass holder, an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 plus XM satellite radio service and an auxiliary jack and USB interface, and 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers and 195/65R15 tires.
Elantra GLS A/T (automatic transmission) adds air conditioning, cruise control, a telescopic steering wheel, solar glass and windshield shade band, with 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers and 205/55R16 tires.
Elantra Limited A/T loads more gear aboard, like 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45R17 Continental tires, leather seating surfaces with leather wrapping the steering wheel and shift knob, heated front and rear seats, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, foglamps and side repeater mirrors.
Optional equipment packages apply more gear including a navigation system with seven-inch screen, rearview camera, automatic headlamps, proximity key entry device with electronic push-button starter, and a 360-watt premium audio system with external amplifier.
Hyundai's MSRP figures for the 2011 Elantra begin at $14,830 for GLS M/T and reach $19,980 for Limited A/T.