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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - Active

Our Opinion

We like
Steering tune, rural road handling, strong performance, spacious cabin, big boot, long warranty, affordable pricing
Room for improvement
No AEB, firm ride, loud suspension, limited rear-seat headroom, dull dash, conservative design, dour rear cabin, disappointing economy

Hyundai logo14 Sep 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

FORGET Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. Did you know that, combined, the i30 and Elantra are kings of the small-car class in Australia?Now in its sixth generation, the conservatively styled AD-series sedan was only released in February this year, despite looking like every other four-door Hyundai of recent times, and is basically designed and engineered for America and South Korea. It’s slightly longer and wider, but the 2700mm wheelbase carries over, while the boot is actually a bit smaller than previously.

Australian-bound versions – currently down to just two variants in base Active manual guise from $21,490 (plus on-road costs) and better-equipped Elite auto for $5000 more – have received a number of chassis modifications to make them more suitable to our road conditions, with unique suspension and steering tuning. The body is now 30 per cent more torsionally rigid and has 25 per cent better bending strength, to help make it more dynamic and quieter.

Our test car is the $24,250 Active auto, with $495 optional metallic paint, bringing it a smidgen under $24K plus ORC.

Standard features include six airbags, a reversing camera, rear sensors, a hill-start function, auto headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, foglights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, cruise control, power windows, cloth trim, split/fold rear seats, manual air-conditioning, 16-inch alloys and a full-size spare wheel.

And, of course, Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited warranty, something that only the company’s in-house rival Kia betters (by two years) in the fiercely contested small-sedan class.

Interior

Speaking of class, the Elantra is striving to appear more elegant, after years of quite flamboyant ‘Fluid Sculpture’ design themes. But has Hyundai toned everything down too much? It is a struggle to find any visual excitement here.

On the other hand, this may be no bad thing, especially for folk jumping into an Active from an airport rental agency for the first time. There is nothing inside even vaguely intimidating or unfamiliar.

Majoring in functionality 101, the neat, inoffensive dash layout is defined by big simplicity – be it the ultra-concise dials (with a tiny but useful digital auxiliary speedo), outstandingly clear ventilation controls, massive air outlets, myriad storage choices, and a sufficiently supportive and sensibly located driver’s seat. Nobody is going to get confused about operating anything in this car.

Kudos for a very intuitive touchscreen multimedia system, crisp reversing camera, accessible USB/MP3/12V outlets at the base of the lower console area and exterior mirrors that jut out more than Russell Tovey’s ears.

But while everything is built to Hyundai’s usual high standard, the hardy plastics (including the steering wheel rim’s) are hardly inviting, the painted silver trim is just as unappealing, and there is no driver’s seat lumbar support nor front passenger height adjuster.

Out back, the Elantra is also a mixed bag, since there is sufficient leg and knee-room, on a quite comfortable bench with width to spare, but headroom is limited for taller folk due to the coupe-like rake of the roofline, there are no face-level rear air-vents, and the overall ambience is quite Bi-Lo. At least there are overhead grab handles and cupholders in the standard centre armrest, while the rear windows drop all the way down.

The seatbacks fold down as you might expect, though only via a pair of levers from within the boot (extending an already handily sized luggage compartment with a large aperture and a flat floor), while conversely there is no external latch release to lift the lid up in the first place. Annoying.

Engine and transmission

Eager and smooth, the Elantra’s fresh ‘Nu’ 112kW/192Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine (usurping the old 110kW/178Nm 1.8-litre unit) is one of the Active’s highlights, providing the sort of strong off-the-line acceleration that Australians seem to really be drawn to.

The six-speed torque-converter auto, while not exactly the slickest or most responsive on offer, is at least calibrated to be in the right ratio most of the time, helping to underline the Hyundai’s healthy performance.

The quite laborious Tiptronic-style manual mode won’t hold on to the lower gears, despite what the driver might want, while there is little point visiting the 7000rpm red line anyway because the car is punchy enough in the lower rev range.

Besides a fair amount of engine noise, another reason not to extend the engine is the negative effect it has on fuel consumption. Our Active returned figures that exceeded 9.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.

Yet it is understandable why the owners might want to give their Hyundai a bit of a hiding – the steering and suspension tune encourages enthusiastic and even hard driving.

Ride and handling

Anybody familiar with previous Elantras might recall that the steering felt overly light and completely unnatural. Any weighting that was added just made it feel weirdly heavy.

In contrast the Version Number Six feels far better tuned and coherent, with more linear responses, excellent controllability and none of the gooeyness, kickback, or rack rattle that infested earlier Hyundais. Perhaps a little more off-centre feedback and heft is all this electric power steering system needs.

Australian suspension testing centred around plenty of rural-road tuning, and here the Elantra’s dynamic character impresses most, backed up by a more suitable stability and traction control intervention process than the previous, overly zealous on/off set-up offered.

Additionally, the MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear imparts a sense of security and sure-footedness over bumpier surfaces at speed, further underlining the progress this generation Elantra has achieved. Keen drivers should have fun in this machine if they decide to push through the initial lightness and really get on it.

But, while the body feels taut, there is still a fair amount of noise and suspension thump coming through, as well as tyre drone from the noisy Hankook Ventus Prime2 205/55R16 rubber fitted to our car. Perhaps better quality tyres might help?Additionally, though ride absorption is commendable out in the country, on urban and city roads, the smaller-frequency compliance isn’t good enough, undermining comfort and refinement, with too much jitteriness.

We don’t want Hyundai’s Oz team to be discouraged, though, for the tuning has certainly helped turn the Elantra from a mushy mess to something quite agile. A work in progress then.

Safety and servicing

The AD Elantra achieves a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.

Hyundai’s new-car warranty is five years with unlimited kilometres. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and there is published-price scheduled servicing on the company’s website. The first three years/45,000km rate is set at $249 annually.

Verdict

The latest Elantra seems to be a small car in mid-transition, shedding the showy superficiality of the previous iteration for a more serious and sober approach, scoring strongly on performance, agility, practicality, functionality and aftersales.

However, the base Active does not quite achieve the refinement, efficiency, sophistication and safety specification to beat the best in class. And the goal posts are forever in flux as well.

But the Hyundai sedan will get there with a bit more fine tuning, auguring well for the next-gen i30 hatch that isn’t too far away. Together they ought to maintain the company’s grip on the small-car segment.

Rivals

Honda Civic Sedan VTi CVT from $22,390 plus on-road costs
From wallflower to the strong silent type, the big new Civic takes a giant leap in refinement, dynamics, cabin presentation, and interior space. But heavy-handed styling, no AEB under $35K, and auto-only spec disappoint.

Mazda3 Neo Sedan auto from $22,490 plus on-road costs
The Mazda3 has just been facelifted with standard AEB, improved handling and ride qualities, more sound deadening, and a slightly more appealing cabin to match the near-invisible visual makeover. No camera for Neo, but still hugely competitive.

Ford Focus Trend Sedan auto from $24,390 plus on-road costs
Ford’s no-base LZ Focus strategy means mid-range Trend is the cheapest, but offsets $2K premium with stirring 1.5-litre turbo oomph, great handling, a supple ride, reverse camera, sat-nav, and rear sensors. No AEB at this price point though.

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