Commentary: A Drive For My Thoughts (Exactly)

What do you do when you have a lot on your mind?

My solution is to drive somewhere. That usually clears my head. Yet, it also yields new thoughts. Perhaps, new content. 

You can never shut off your mind sometimes. 

With a new contest underway, I needed something to free up the mind. Yes, a drive was involved. I got around to head along the Mississippi River to Winona. I always liked that drive with great vistas and curvy roads through the bluffs. 

For this drive, I needed to rent a car for a day. Just one day. After taking a turn on the Rental Car Roulette, a familiar vehicle departed with me from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport – the 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL, reigning North America Car of The Year. 

This particular compact sedan had just been reviewed on here. There was really no need to fully review it. I should point out that this SEL rental was different than the one that was in a few weeks prior since it had none of the upgrade packages on it. It was still a fun car to drive down to Winona, along US Highway 61, and onto some of my favorite roads in the bluffs southeast of the Twin Cities. 

What came out of this drive were a few thoughts about this work. 

First, my last few reviews were of compact sedans. All three – the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra – represent the resilience of this segment against the proliferation of the SUV and as several of their competitors have been eliminated from production over the past few years. 

People still buy sedans as a means of transportation, rather than a status symbol. That point is reflected on the quarterly sales figures, with all three of the vehicles enjoying unit increases from the same period a year ago. 

There were moments when I was tempted to try to make a comparison between these three compact sedans. I simply couldn’t. Mostly because there is now parity among vehicles in this class – each exhibiting positive qualities that balance each other out. 

Still, Toyota sold almost three times as many Corollas in the first quarter of 2021 than Hyundai sold Elantras in the same period, almost half over the Nissan Sentra. As much as there is balance, there is still a dominance by one vehicle over all competitors. 

Some might say that the Elantra should be selling as many units as the Corolla, because of the accolades Hyundai has received for it. That seems like sound logic, but that is not the reality of the marketplace. 

Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed my driving experiences in all three compact sedans. 

Which leads me to my other thought: My have compact sedans grown over these years!

It is true. A compact car, like a Corolla or a Sentra, was just inching around 170 inches long about two decades ago. They seem bigger these days. They also feel bigger. More importantly, they drive bigger. 

That is probably why this segment has been resilient to market forces. That is also why the compact sedan class remains relevant for several demographics. 

If someone is looking for their first new vehicle, a compact sedan makes sense. They certainly help in developing your driving skills, they do not require a lot of space to haul you and your backpack to work across town. Not to mention, their efficiency with real world fuel economy averages scaling well beyond 30 MPG. 

Have you sat in a compact sedan lately? The Hyundai Elantra has space for four people my size inside. Its trunk can swallow a week’s vacation. Hell, Boomer can enjoy the ride nicely in one. 

Let’s talk about drivability. Based on the Elantra, Corolla, and Sentra, what small SUV for under $25,000 can give you the ride, the quality, and the drivability of a similarly priced compact sedan? I’m sure there may be one or two small SUVs that could, but I’m truly doubting it. 

Lastly, I feel privileged to have experienced many of these vehicles over generations of the same model. This newest Elantra makes it four generations for this compact sedan. Each generation has been a stark improvement from the previous one. To see this progression continues to something to witness and experience. 

It would be difficult to give you a brief rundown of the progress of each multi-generation vehicle I experienced. There had a few that had gone backwards in terms of progress. In terms of design, engineering, technology, safety, and so forth, forward progress is always to way to go. That is what excites me the most when covering this industry. 

In the twenty years of working in digital media – the last ten exclusively in the automotive realm – to bear witness to progress is something worth celebrating. Whether it is good progress or bad, they still yield stories worth telling. 

Sometimes it takes the one thing you love to clear the air of the thoughts in your head. In my case, it is simply going for a drive. Even in a pandemic, driving continues to be a form of social distancing.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle used in this article was rented by Victory & Reseda

All photos by Randy Stern

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