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by Tim Beissmann

With the Australian launch of the 2011 Hyundai Elantra coming up next week, it’s an interesting time to look at how the vehicle has been received overseas, where it has already been on sale for a number of months.

The people at Cars.com, a US-based automotive site, compared the all-new Hyundai Elantra with four of its key competitors: the Chevrolet Cruze, the new Ford Focus, the Honda Civic and the Kia Forte (Cerato in Australia).

The comparison was based on the ‘Under 20/Over 35’ concept: the cars had to cost less than $US20,000 ($18,850) and have fuel consumption better than 35mpg (6.7 litres/100km).

Although the specifications of each of the vehicles differ from the US to our market (the US-spec Civic is a different car to the one sold here), the comparison gives us a broad idea of how the competition will be placed.

The Ford Focus, which goes on sale in Australia in August, was ranked in last place. The reviewers called the new sedan “nimble” and liked the “handling composure and sharp steering”, but were not impressed by the tight interior, or the “pokey acceleration and poor transmission response” from the 2.0-litre petrol/six-speed auto combination.

The Kia Forte came fourth. It was praised for its inclusion of “small conveniences” in the cabin (overhead sunglasses holder, rear centre armrest with cupholders, etc.) as well as its rear-passenger head- and legroom. The Forte was criticised for its lack of “visual and dynamic excitement”, choppy ride and less refined drivetrain than its competitors.

The third-placed Civic rated well from the perspective of acceleration, ergonomics and controls, but lost points for poor ride quality, road noise and an overall feel of “cost-cutting”.

The Chevrolet Cruze (built in Australia and sold as the Holden Cruze) came second. It was deemed the benchmark for interior quality, quietness, drivetrain (1.4-litre turbo petrol/six-speed auto) and ride. Keeping it from first place was the below-par visibility, tight backseat and ‘confidence-killing’ acceleration.

Therefore, taking top spot was the newcomer from Hyundai. The reviewers said the Elantra’s cabin was a “huge leap forward”, while on the road it felt “responsive and gutsy” and could “hold its own on twisty roads”. The Elantra was far from perfect, however, with downsides including the swoopy design that cuts rear-passenger headroom, the rough engine sound under heavy acceleration and the sometimes “squirrelly” suspension on some surfaces.

CarAdvice will put the all-new Hyundai Elantra through its paces next week with a full road test and review. Be sure to stay tuned to find out how the Australian variant compares with the local competition.