I bought this car in April 2008, as my everyday car for school and life. I compared it to the 2008 Honda Civic LX that my cousin had as well as a 2008 Toyota Corolla S that another friend had and for the value and amenities offered on this car, it was excellent.
I remember Hyundai changing their whole line of cars in 2007 to rebuild their brand and reputation, so I knew I was diving into uncharted territory going with the Hyundai over the Honda and Toyota, but for 15K out the door (for the automatic) compared to around 18K for the Civic and around 17K for the Corolla during that time and what they had to offer, I could not resist the deal.
Another friend of mine went all in with the Elantra in 2007 as well, and he had done a lot of research and ended up purchasing a manual one before me, so after seeing him with his car for a year, that also lead to my reasoning that the car would be a good buy.
I finally ended up selling the car to another cousin a few weeks ago and upgraded to something else, but I still miss it, although it may just be fresh in my mind given that I'm still getting used to my new car.
The little things mattered to me with this car, such as having 4 wheel ABS compared to the 2 rear drum sets offered in the Honda and Toyota. Fog lights were nice to have since I had always wanted a car with fog lights. Having the overhead glasses compartment, top middle compartment, under radio compartment, 2 tier center compartment, and also the two storage spaces behind the front seats was also very nice.
The only thing about the car that I didn't like was that it looked a little boring, or "rental" car-ish, but I was able to fix that after I finally upgraded to the 2011-2012 Elantra 16" alloy rims, giving it the look that the SE had.
The interior is very roomy, with good visibility, and I'm a big 6'1' guy. The front seats were very comfortable, compared to when I sat in the Civic and Corolla which were tight for me. Headroom is very good, although I do wish the driver's side had the handle to hold onto which is nice when you want to switch it up driving long distances. My passengers never complained, since the shortest person usually sat behind my seat which I had to push all the way back, but it seemed like everyone was fine most of the time.
Another great feature that a lot of base model or step up from base model Japanese cars don't have is heated mirrors, which are very useful in the winter (even here in So Cal), and I took them for granted when I was looking for my new car, which I had to get a higher up model to get.
Whenever I drove a lot of freeway, I would end up getting around 31-34 MPG depending on how fast I would accelerate, how much force I applied when braking, and how fast I would be going on the freeway. Combined, especially in the later years, the worse I ever got was 27 MPG, but when I drove gently I would get around 28-29 MPG. In the early years I was running on the stock 15" steel wheels and afterwards I was running on the 16" alloys, so those might have affected the fuel economy a little bit.
I broke in the car very well when it was new, not pushing it during the recommended period, and had always changed oil myself with full synthetic 5W-20, usually Mobil 1, and in the end, I left the car off at 111K miles, with no issues whatsoever. I just performed the recommended maintenance at my favorite mechanic every time I hit the mileage listed in the Maintenance Book, and overall, the car had been very very reliable.
Surprisingly, the trunk is also very large, compared to the same Civic and Corolla as well. I had been able to help friends move with the car, filling everything to the brim.
My GLS model came with the auxiliary port, but I ended up using the MP3 CD a lot more due to consistency and quality issues. The 6 speaker system is phenomenal for a cheap car, better than the 2013 Accord LX's system that my family has. I'm no audiophile but I do enjoy my music and all the ranges my songs have to offer, and that is probably what I miss most from that system. Bass was deep and did not sound cheap, but vocals and everything were very clear as well! My friend put a sub-woofer in his, but honestly it was overkill since the stock system is already phenomenal. I have not been in another base model car that has an audio system that is as good as this one.
Also, the car is hard to steal (unless there's some kind of new tech that thieves have access to). My friend locked my keys in my trunk once and you cannot put the seats down from the inside of the car. AAA came, unlocked the car, but the standard immobilizer didn't allow us to start the car and the alarm kept going off, so the only way was to get the other spare key/remote I had (Hyundai only gives 2 keys).
Overall, the only con is the cheap plastic door panels, but I felt all other pieces in the car were pretty good quality.
Let's be perfectly clear. This is a commuter car. If that is what you're looking for, then this is the best value there is. My wife bought this car brand new before we met. Now she has a 20 mile commute and mine is 120 round trip, so the Elantra now carries me to work everyday. I plug away the miles, in traffic and at 80mph day after day. There was some sort of sensor problem a couple years back, but that was while it was still under warranty and hasn't repeated. I'm about to roll over 100,000 and it is running like new. I fully expect to get well over 200,000 out of this little beast.
Even though its small, i fit comfortable as a large man. I'm 6'5" and 240lbs. I spend 2.5 hours a day in this car and am plenty comfortable. It fits 4 normal sized adults comfortably.
On the professional level, I sell components and raw materials into the Asian auto markets. Hyundai is right up there with the Japanese auto makers in terms of quality control and engineering. It is built to last.
Still eating the miles like a champ. I'm still yet to turn a wrench on this car.
We've had this car since it was new and it now has 52k miles on it.
Despite what other reviewers have said, you won't find a car that has lower maintenance costs.
So far, the only things I've had to worry about, as per the owner's manual, were oil changes and an air filter.
Oh, and the battery went out after 4 years, which is better than your average stock battery, especially considering the Texas heat this year.
This car couldn't be cheaper to run, period.
The gas mileage is decent (35 mpg) and the power and handling are phenomenal for this class of car.
I've had this car since 2008, and have put it to the test. It has 112,000 miles on it, including a 6-day drive from the east coast to the west coast, back to Denver, and back to the west coast. Never driven a car that is this reliable. It's not fast, it's not flashy, but it goes and keeps going. It has literally never left me on the side of the road except once, for a punctured tire. Practical, perfect for a young person, perfect for a small family. It's likable, it has character, and it's surprisingly comfortable and sharp.