PAHRUMP, Nev. -- The highway out to Pahrump, a dead-eye straight strip of asphalt stretching from the gambling Mecca of Las Vegas to a tumbleweed community in the middle of nowhere, runs for miles and miles through the Nevada desert.
Lots of traffic, confined to a single lane in each direction, usually stacks up behind some sluggish truck or a rental car filled with Vegas tourists out to see the bleak desert landscape.
On one particular run down the Pahrump Highway, however, luck brings a reasonable gap in the on-coming traffic so we can stand on the accelerator and scoot around a slow-moving freighter.
Although the five-door hatchback wagon we're driving totes a modest four-cylinder engine, it does not impede our dash through the passing lane. In fact, this vehicle lurches around the truck and sends us quickly on our way to Pahrump.
At maximum legal speed on this road, our car seems to hunker against the blacktop. It feels rock-solid and substantial, smooth in suspension and surprisingly quiet.
From the vantage of the driver's seat, the cockpit feels downright spacious despite physical dimensions which sort the vehicle into the compact class.
Also, it carries preferred interior ingredients, from legible analog gauges in the instrument cluster to a pair of comfortable bolstered bucket seats in the front row, power controls for windows and door locks, a nice stereo sound system on the dash and stylish trimwork.
A badge in the hub of the leather-wrapped steering wheel reflects the skewed-H logo by Hyundai of South Korea, and the vehicle amounts to an enhanced 2010 edition of Elantra Touring, the five-door wagon variation off Hyundai's compact-class four-door Elantra sedan.
New model GLS whittles the low MSRP of Elantra Touring by more than $1,000 without cutting important safety equipment including a traction control system (TCS) and the electronic stability control (ESC) device.
The 2010 Elantra Touring GLS lists for $15,995 with a five-speed manual transmission aboard or $17,195 with the optional four-speed electronic automatic transaxle.
A sport-oriented Elantra Touring SE trim with a manual shifter by B & M Racing and 17-inch alloy wheels capped by 215/45R17 tires tallies to $18,995, or $19,795 with the electronic automatic transaxle.
Each Elantra Touring model looks downright handsome with a prominent face, flowing contours on the body and wheelwell flares which turn into sculpted shoulders.
In front, a broad grille dips low to separate two pronounced dual air intakes. Keen projection headlamps mount on the front corners and foglamps come with the SE issue as well as the optional Popular Equipment Package for GLS.
The wheelbase length for Elantra Touring stretches 106.3 inches long while the width of the body extends to 69.5 inches and the distance from the prow up front to the back bumper tallies to 176.2 inches -- more than 14 feet.
These spatial hard points translate to a passenger compartment of surprising scale -- 101.2 cubic feet of room for riders with headroom up to 40.0 inches, legroom to 43.5 inches up front and 36.4 inches in back, shoulder room to 55.4 inches and hip room of 55.9 inches.
Those riding up front do not feel so squeezed together in a modest compartment like you might in some compacts, due to a tall wrap of windows and larger seats.
Driver sits in a form-fitting bucket which adjusts to fit even a large frame, with seat height in tall stance to set up excellent visibility through the large windows. The controls -- handy in positions either left on the door, right on the console or ahead on the instrument panel -- set in logical positions and operate easily.
Surfaces for dash and door, clad in a soft-touch synthetic material, feel refined, even sophisticated, which is certainly unexpected in this conservative class.
Cargo capacity at the rear of the cabin is significant -- it measures to 24.3 cubic feet with rear seatbacks upright or 65.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded down.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for front seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for outboard seats on two rows.
Hyundai's new touring wagon contains an impressive list of mechanical components, and, as our drive to Pahrump quickly proves, the Elantra Touring seems to hold its own on the open road or a twisty mountain course.
The suspension design installs independent MacPherson struts in front with coil springs, gas shock absorbers and a 24-mm stabilizer bar. In back, there's an independent multi-link arrangement with gas shocks and a 21-mm stabilizer bar.
Steering is quick to respond, thanks to a rack and pinion system with MDPS (motor driven power steering) power added relative to engine speed. Less movement of the steering wheel is needed to turn.
Active safety systems on tap range from ABS (anti-lock brake system) with EBD (electronic brake force distribution) to the TCS and ESC systems.
The front-wheel-drive (FWD) powertrain for Elantra Touring consists of a thrifty four-cylinder engine linked to either the manual shifter or automatic transaxle.
An in-line four-cylinder Hyundai engine displaces 2.0 liters and has DOHC (dual overhead cams) with CVVT (continuously variable valve timing) for high-tech metering of the fuel burn.
The plant produces 138 hp at 6000 rpm plus 136 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm.
EPA fuel economy figures reach as high as 31 mpg for highway driving using the manual five-speed transmission, or 23 mpg for city driving.
Standard gear on Elantra Touring GLS begins with 15-inch steel wheels wrapped in 195/65R15 tires and extends to air conditioning, a tilting steering wheel, a tachometer and digital clock, power controls for windows and door locks, four-way adjustments for the driver's bucket, rear seatback split 60/40 and foldable, three 12-vlt power outlets, a remote keyless entry system with alarm and panic button, and a 172-watt Autonet AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio kit with USB input and six speakers.
The Popular Equipment Package for GLS adds a telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, eight-way movement for the driver's seat with lumbar support, sliding sunvisors and seatback pockets, a cooled glovebox, retractable cargo cover and the foglamps up front.