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We'll admit that we set our expectations fairly low for the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring. After spending time behind the wheel of the little blue wagon, we've concluded that, on most counts, it just meets our expectations. However, in a few places the Elantra Touring managed to exceed them.
In the cabin
The Hyundai Elantra Touring's cabin tech package is rather basic and doesn't offer much in the way of upgrades.
The standard six-speaker stereo features AM/FM radio and a single-slot CD player with MP3 playback capabilities. XM Radio is standard with three months of service included. In the center console, we find a standard 1/8-inch auxiliary input and USB port for portable storage devices.
MP3 folders are navigated by twisting a dial, and songs are selected by pressing the dial's center. We were able to quickly blast through files without being too distracted from the road, but we recommend you reserve any long searches for stoplights.
Audio quality is on par with what we'd expect from a sub-$20,000 vehicle. You won't be blown away by the quality of six paper-cone speakers, but you won't be overwhelmed by distortion and rattling door panels, either. Lacking a dedicated subwoofer, the bass has a tendency to muddy the midrange, but distortion can easily be dialed out with the three-band equalizer. Highs remain clean, thanks to discrete tweeters.
Optional equipment on our Vivid Blue Elantra Touring starts with a Bluetooth hands-free kit. As it was integrated into the ceiling console, we nearly missed the dealer-installed speakerphone. Pairing a phone was easy with voice commands, but the lack of integration means drivers will have to reach up to the ceiling to answer or end calls.
An optional 30-pin iPod dock cable plugs into both the auxiliary audio input and the USB port in the center console to give the driver full access to the iPod file system through the stock headunit. Instead of browsing folders with the control knob, you now browse the iTunes hierarchy of artists, genres, albums, etc. We'd like for this to be a standard option as well, but at $30 it's a steal.
On the road
Putting power to the front wheels is a 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine (138 horsepower, 136 pound-feet of torque). At idle and while cruising, the engine is quite quiet and smooth. Goosing the gas pedal causes the engine to emit the high-pitched buzz that is typical of engines of this size.
Acceleration isn't great, but the Elantra never really feels out of breath during passing maneuvers or while merging.
Driving with a green right foot will result in an EPA-estimated 23 city and 30 highway mpg, but the impatient driver will probably float somewhere around 20 mpg combined.
The archaic four-speed automatic transmission is most likely responsible for sucking both the fun and efficiency out of the Elantra Touring's driving experience. If you don't mind rowing your own gears, the five-speed manual transmission will save you $800 on the bottom line, be slightly more fuel-efficient (EPA est. 31 highway mpg), and most likely will be more responsive to pedal inputs to boot.
When the road gets twisty, the Elantra Touring doesn't break a sweat, as long as you keep within its rather small performance envelope. If you start getting ahead of the Elantra's handling ability, progressive and easily controlled understeer lets you know to slow it down. Keep pushing and the standard electronic stability control and traction control will slow it down for you.
The firmly damped suspension keeps the body relatively flat while cornering. The Elantra Touring makes no pretenses at being particularly sporty, but it does feel stable and predictable around a bend. The suspension also does a pretty good job of soaking up small bumps and low-speed road noise. Bigger bumps, such as potholes and uneven pavement, were transferred into the cabin, resulting in a bouncy ride over particularly rough roads.
Optioning your 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring is quite easy, because there are practically no options. Starting at $17,800, add $800 for the automatic transmission and $325 for Bluetooth hands-free. Go ahead and drop the $30 on the iPod connector and $95 for floor mats to reach our as-tested price of $19,745 (including a $695 destination charge).
Were it our dime, we'd skip the slushbox transmission, skip the hands-free calling, and buy a Garmin Nuvi with integrated Bluetooth, since there's no navigation option for the Elantra Touring. That would bring the sticker price down to just about $18,620.
Drivers looking for a slightly sportier demeanor should look to the Mazda Mazda3 5-door, which starts at about $19,900 including destination charge but is a ton more fun to drive.