I have been driving a 3-cylinder Pontiac Firefly for the past 3 years. No radio, dying muffler, and it has only slightly more power than a big push lawnmower. It is in this context that I tell you that I love my new 2001 Hyundai Elantra.
Naturally I think the Elantra is the best buy on the market right now, or I would have bought something else. I used the internet to research my auto buying options and the Elantra floated to the top as being best able to most economically solve the transportation problem and still provide more than adequate fun and safety. (eg. See www.crashtest.com for safety ratings and www.edmunds.com for a number of very favorable comparisons and reviews.) It is also looks the nicest of all the econo-compacts, like a baby Lincoln Town Car.
I test drove the Nissan Sentra and found it lacked the features (no tach in a standard?) and power of the Elantra. It cost a lot more too. I would have test driven a Ford Focus (which also doesn't have the Elantra's pep) if the car were not so unattractive. The only uglier car is the Toyota Echo. Both look like hamsters in heat. I am also a little leary of North American build quality.
It took my dealer (Guelph, Ontario) about three weeks to get an Elantra in my color of choice railed in from Vancouver. The saleswoman said she had never seen one with roll down windows before and was looking forward to it. Apparently my bare bones buggy (no air, no electric windows, 5 speed stick) is not very popular. I like the stick and clutch but I have already had a bumblebee breeze in and tie up in my hair and while driving it's hard to roll down the passenger window because the car is wider than I am used to and impossible to play with the back windows. In other words, I can sort of see why most folk spring for a couple extra grand to get air conditioning and electric windows in this car.
It comes with the only radio I have ever seen that I could not use without looking at the manual. I nearly crashed trying to find tunes (or even just static) driving home from the dealer. As it turns out it is very full featured. It can remember dozens of stations and has great reception and a very good sound.
I would have gone for ABS if it were available here in Canada. But it is not. So as it was I didn't go for any of the extras: no extended warranty (although you get 9 months to finally decide), no extra rust protection either. I always get the factory undercoating thrown in free when I buy a new car because the dealer costs for this are minimal. The price after taxes, delivery, inspection, more taxes, metallic paint, and more taxes and financing costs was just over 18,000 Canadian loonies. No discount was offered for cash so I took the zero percent financing.
I have only a few minor complaints after a week on the road. The lumbar adjusting knobs are hard to turn. The clutch is sensitive and takes a more careful touch than I am used to, perhaps because the engine is so quiet. Reverse can be a little tricky to stick sometimes.
I love the leg room. I am 6 ft. 4 in. tall and I still can't drive with the seat all the way back. Lots of head room too. I can lay rubber again though it's not the same with front wheel drive. I get almost exactly 30 mpg.
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