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2017 Hyundai Elantra
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is one of the automaker's bright spots

Prices: $17,150-$22,350

The popular Hyundai Elantra sedan gets new engines and better handling, but some may dislike its new large grille and just-average highway performance.

The new front-wheel-drive Elantra sedan's predecessor had a more restrained front end, which  led some to mistake it for an expensive European sedan, especially when painted black.

Putting Hyundai's large grille on the new model takes away the car's sophisticated appearance, although it still looks rather sleek and more aggressive. In any case, Hyundai felt it was time for a change.

One problem with the styling, though, is the car's high beltline (the area where the side glass meets the body). It might make some shorter adults feel like they're sitting too low.

The standard engine on the base SE and higher-line Limited is a 2-liter four-cylinder with 147 horsepower. The 2,767-2,976-pound Elantra is a little lighter, but could use another 40 horsepower to improve its so-so highway performance.

The other new engine is an upcoming turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder  with 128 horsepower. It is in the new Eco (for "Economy) model and has more torque than the 2-liter engine: 156 pound feet of torque versus 132 pound/feet.

The new Elantra is no sports sedan, but a more rigid body structure, redesigned rear suspension geometry, front gas shock absorbers and front stabilizer bar keep the car flat while sweeping through curves and help it handle nimbly. Also helping keep things stable are electronic stability and traction controls. 

The ride is quieter and supple, and the motor-driven power steering is precise and adjusts to changing driving conditions for better feel. The brake pedal has a nice linear action.

Hyundai calls the 179.9-inch-long Elantra a compact car but its interior room causes the government to classify it as a mid-size auto. There's good room for tall occupants, both front and rear.

The new Elantra is just a bit longer and an inch wider. While the trunk is large, the split 60/40 split rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to increase cargo capacity.

The handsome interior has easily read gauges, which reside under a hooded binnacle, good-quality materials and premium technology features.

The interior design integrates premium soft-touch materials in key touch points. There are plenty of storage areas, including pockets in the wide-opening doors. Sun visor extensions are a thoughtful touch.

The logically placed dashboard controls are clearly marked. And there's an available 4.2-inch color TFT LCD instrument display for improved driver visibility and functionality. Even the front console cupholders are positioned to avoid spills.

My Elantra Limited test car's standard features included leather-covered heated front seats, with a much-needed power driver's seat for shorter motorists. It also had air conditioning with dual temperature control, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support for operation of commonly used smartphone functions. 

However, there was some highway tire noise despite additional use of soundproofing materials.

Option packages are rather pricey, but contain such items as a navigation system, power sunroof and even heated rear seats. 

I drove the new Elantra with the standard engine. It works with a six-speed manual transmission--unusual for a family car--or a responsive 6-speed automatic with a manual- shift feature. My test car had the automatic.

The upcoming Eco engine works with  an "Ecoshift" seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, which is projected to deliver a 35 miles per gallon combined rating.

The Elantra's estimated fuel economy with the regular engine and automatic is a combined 32 miles per gallon--or 28 city and 37 highway with the automatic transmission and 16- or 17-inch wheels. Figures with the manual transmission are 26 city and 36 highway.

A seven airbag system is standard, and there's a wide array of safety technologies. They  include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist system, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, swiveling HID headlights and a rearview camera.

The 2017 Elantra's new styling may draw more buyers, although it's doubtful that it will be mistaken for an expensive European sedan.