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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - Active sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Styling inside and out, value, safety, performance, economy, base-model presentation, manual gearbox, big boot
Room for improvement
Rear headroom, overeager ESC, road noise, steering feel, low face-level air vents, ineffectual Bluetooth

11 Nov 2011

TAKE a long hard look at the latest Hyundai Elantra from Korea. Then check out the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Tiida, or Honda Civic sedans. Only one is fresh, exciting, dynamic and invigorating … and it’s not from Japan.

Designed in California, the fifth-generation Hyundai small car has already been a massive success worldwide, not least because of its bold styling. We wish Toyota, Nissan, and Honda would make their small sedans sassier and less stuffy…

Whether you actually rate the Elantra’s “fluidic sculpture” lines as just right or overwrought is irrelevant. At least Hyundai is trying harder than most, and that cheesy smile, confident Coke-bottle hip and pert posterior should win over more punters than not.

Hyundai claims some specific Australian tuning input has gone in making the MD model a lot less dreary to drive than the old HD.

All-new from the ground up, the MD ushered in Hyundai’s technically advanced 1.8-litre ‘Nu’ series four-cylinder petrol engine that produces somewhat more power (110kW versus 102kW) but less torque (178Nm versus 186Nm) compared to its old 2.0-litre predecessor.

It is a lusty, peaky little powerplant that demands to be caned to deliver a decent turn of speed, without sounding like it’s about to pop a valve.

Decent fuel consumption is also there for the taking, even when driven hard. An upshift light indicator is fitted to promote more economical driving and Hyundai says averaging 6.6L/100km is possible.

Not much happens at low revs, though, so a quick downshift and a ready right foot are vital for quick step-off acceleration.

Fortunately, the standard six-speed manual gearbox is one of the best to come out of Korea – short, fast and defined, yet light enough to make the constant changing of ratios not too much of a chore.

The electric power steering is responsive, but feels faker than an electioneering politician’s smile. Blame an odd weighting sensation combined with a complete lack of feel. The latest Ford Focus gives it a lesson on how electric steering should be done.

Nevertheless, even the skinny-tyred Active base model’s handling and roadholding qualities far eclipse some rivals. It has lots of grip and a flat, neutral attitude through faster turns, with surprisingly little body roll as it eventually succumbs to understeer.

Good one, Hyundai. Even a little bit of Australian steering and suspension tuning obviously goes a long way.

There are no qualms about the ride, either. Wearing 195/65 R15 rubber on steel wheels, the Active strikes a welcome balance between absorbency and control. While you can hear the suspension working beneath you at times, shocks and unwanted body movements are rarely transmitted through the cabin.

A word about the electronic stability control calibration, however. While it intervenes gradually, there’s quite a delay before power is restored to the front wheels, meaning the Elantra can be slow on the acceleration uptake – not a good idea when joining a slippery motorway on full throttle with the traction control light flashing as trucks bear down on you.

There is also droning road and tyre noise. Ford and Volkswagen have licked this in their latest offerings, but they both possess far more sophisticated independent multi-link rear suspensions than the cheaper Elantra’s basic torsion beam arrangement.

Hyundai has clearly worked hard to woo small car buyers with plenty attention to detail inside the cabin. Modern, snug and visually stimulating, initial impressions are extremely positive.

With its drawn-in waistline, the centre stack is a triumph in perceived quality, functionality and individuality, looking and feeling more upmarket, which is no bad thing.

Despite being a $20,590 vehicle, we could not really fault the overall layout, quality of plastic surfaces, choices of material and trim, or general fit and finish. It is neither cheap nor nasty.

Special mention goes to the crystal clear dials and a nice steering wheel that features sensible audio, Bluetooth and cruise control buttons, along with the many little storage options.

No complaints either about front seat comfort, the driving position, or the amount of space – though taller people might wish for a little more rearward adjustment.

Behind is a bountiful 420-litre boot (and a split/fold backrest for longer loads), even though a full-sized spare wheel lives there.

But the Elantra’s cabin suffers from its fair share of foibles.

More face-level ventilation is required because the centre stack outlets are positioned too low, so at least one knee will be kept cool, and the incessant buzzing and echoing of the Bluetooth hands-free system (dubbed “Beetooth” by one irate caller) drives you to distraction.

More importantly, rear vision is pretty poor because of the rising window line and high boot, so an investment in rear-parking sensors would be prudent.

The roofline slope is so acute that people over about 175cm tall will not be comfortable in the back seat and, if you’re on the larger side, getting in and out isn’t much fun, either.

For everybody else, the rear seats are sufficiently supportive and the backrest adequately raked for comfortable commuting duties.

As a car designed to ferry smaller families around, this Elantra is right on the money. Just bring a pair of earplugs when the bitumen becomes especially vociferous.

This car is all about a low price paired with a high level of standard specification. With five-star safety, five-year warranty, six airbags, Bluetooth, cruise control, air-conditioning, central locking and electric windows, Hyundai covers all the basics.

Sure, it has clearly been designed for American tastes, it is still far from being the sharpest, quietest or most powerful to drive, rear headroom is limited for adults, and big blind spots make reverse parking tricky.

But at least this latest, likeable Elantra provokes and stimulates.

Months after it was launched, we’re still debating the merits of its bolshie grin, massive tail-lights and daring dash. Sadly, the same cannot be said about most of its snoozy rivals.

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