And the hits just keep coming.

Following up the critically acclaimed Genesis luxury sedan and Sonata midsize sedan, Hyundai Motor America recently launched the new-for-'11 Elantra — a tremendously satisfying re-interpretation of the standard U.S. compact car.

Like the Genesis and Sonata, expect the Elantra to push Hyundai farther up the consideration ladder of consumers and carve deeper into the share of traditional segment leaders Toyota and Honda. The Elantra might swipe some sales from the all-new Chevy Cruze and redesigned Ford Focus, too.

Inside and out, the Elantra imparts an upscale feel by using quality materials and contemporary, even flashy, styling.

For example, inside door panels feature cloth inserts to match the seats. The inserts nicely break up an area of a compact car door that typically receives a piece of hard unattractive plastic.

Not only do the inserts offer a degree of added comfort, they appear as if they will hide wear well, and their funky, wavy design is an excellent example of Hyundai's “fluidic design sculpture” mantra, where shapes and character lines convey a sense of constant motion.

Hyundai smartly sees their value, too, charging $550 for the inserts as part of a preferred package on most trim levels.

A cheap-looking headliner might be the interior's only misstep, but it gets pushed to the margins by items such as a sporty, leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustment, push-button start, ice-blue lighting on a pleasantly straight-forward instrument panel and climate-control center, and a 7-in. (17.8-cm) navigation touch screen that does double-duty as a rearview camera.

Our $22,000 Limited-trim tester also includes Bluetooth, iPod/USB connectivity, a pair of 12-volt plugs for up-front passengers, one-touch power windows and — in a segment first — heated seats for the rear passengers.

As further proof today's compact cars are not just for compact people, Hyundai adds extra-long seat rails up front so taller people can stretch their legs. The leather is soft against the supportive soy-foam seats and breathes well through a day of driving along the Mexican border.

Nooks and crannies can be found throughout the car, making it a quick favorite for multi-tasking journalists.

Dropping down to the volume GLS model at $18,480, we find many of the same features as standard equipment.

There's lots of room inside, too. Hyundai simply makes smart use of limited space, as the car is not substantially larger than its predecessor and the curb weight actually drops.

As much as we admire the interior of the new Elantra, the car's exterior design likely will be its biggest draw.

Hyundai's California stylists are not politely asking for a minute of your time to consider the Elantra. They are dragging you by the ear to its hexagonal grille, teardrop headlamp casings and sharply creased hood.

At the profile, big wheel arches transition into a pair of bold character lines near the rocker panel and beltline, and then sweep up and rearward to a set of highly styled tail lamps and a rear clip that rivals Kim Kardashian's curves.

Fluidic, indeed. And refreshing for sure, but Hyundai also takes a bit of a risk with this exterior in a segment not known for flash.

Under the hood, a naturally aspirated, 1.8L 4-cyl. engine mated to a 6-speed automatic must be pushed high into the rev-range for results, unlike the free-spooling turbo in its key rival, the Chevy Cruze.

But once in its sweet spot, the engine helps the car merge and pass well enough. We are particularly impressed, however, at its ability to gobble up long grades of highway and the civility it exhibits under hard acceleration.

The 1.8L “Nu” engine is new with the Elantra, losing 74 lbs. (32 kg) off its 2.0L “Beta” predecessor and delivering a highway fuel-economy improvement of 18%.

Hyundai engineers booked most of the gains by switching to an aluminum block from cast iron, expanding the range of the engine's variable-valve timing, ditching an outdated 4-speed transmission and ferreting out frictional losses.

The Environmental Protection Agency pegs the Elantra's highway number at 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km). We averaged about 37 mpg (6.4 L/100 km).

The Elantra also gets a new 6-speed automatic transmission built in-house. It's a full 11 lbs. (5 kg) lighter than its predecessor. It's a smooth-shifting gearbox and a big reason the little Nu engine behaves so well on the highway.

Hyundai's electric power-steering system underwhelms again in the Elantra. It's plenty quick but over-assisted, like the new Tuscon and Sonata, and needs a little more weight behind it for our taste.

Otherwise, the car feels solid on the road and cabin noise is acceptable. Not as quiet as the Cruze, in our estimations, but more agreeable than you'll find in Elantra's Asian counterparts.

Overall, the Hyundai Elantra keeps pace with rivals, offering lots of features at a competitive price point with the best standard fuel economy of the lot. Like we said, the hits keep coming.

PROS/CONS

+

  • 40 mpg for all models
  • Roomy, well-appointed interior
  • Excellent value

-

  • Polarizing design
  • Over-assisted steering
  • 4-cyl. lacks motivation

'11 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Vehicle type: front-engine, 5-passenger FWD sedan

Engine: 1.8L DOHC 4-cyl.

Power: 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 131 lb.-ft. (177 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 106.3 ins. (270 cm)

Overall length: 178.3 ins. (452.9 cm)

Overall height: 56.5 ins. (143.5 cm)

Curb weight: 2,877 lbs. (1,253 kg)

As tested: $22,110

Fuel economy: 29/40 mpg (8-6 L/100 km)

Competition: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus