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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - GL sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, interior presentation, front passenger comfort, versatility, packaging
Room for improvement
Lacklustre performance, poor rear accommodation, no rear storage

5 Jul 2001

THE trick with Hyundai's new generation Lantra (now known as Elantra) is to sweep aside the grandiose claims about it being a true mid-sizer - and a Holden Vectra beater at that - and consider the car on its merits.

To compare with the likes of Vectra is asking for trouble. Indeed, start looking at the specifications closely and it soon becomes clear that even the Holden Astra sedan looks a better bet against the 1.8-litre GL Elantra in such respects as performance, rear seat accommodation and luggage space.

Want the cold, hard facts? The 2.2-litre Vectra sedan has the upper hand in terms of cargo capacity (133 litres), rear legroom (14mm), shoulder room (30mm) and headroom (just 1mm, though more on that later).

Pitted against the 2.0-litre GLS Elantra, it is also well ahead in performance with an additional 18Nm of torque produced 500rpm earlier in the rev range.

The Astra sedan, meanwhile, can swallow an additional 93 litres in the boot over Elantra and could argue the toss with more rear headroom (16mm) and legroom (14mm) and production of an equivalent amount of all-important pulling power 900rpm earlier than the 1.8 Hyundai.

Despite all of that, what we have with the new Elantra is an affordable, practical and generously proportioned and equipped small sedan.

The Euro Holdens cannot get close on price and equipment, the GL Elantra sedan arriving off the boat from South Korea standard with air-conditioning, CD player, driver's airbag, power steering, electric front windows, electric heated mirrors, central locking, adjustable headrests and lap-sash seatbelts for all occupants, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, remote fuel filler and boot release, variable intermittent wipers, rear foglights and a 15-inch wheel/tyre combination.

The GLS grade adds alloy wheels on slightly lower profile tyres, front foglamps, remote locking, alarm, driver's seat height and lumbar adjustment, centre console armrest and CD storage box, power rear windows, rear heating ducts and an electric aerial.

Despite a driver's airbag now standard across the range, anti-lock brakes, a front passenger airbag and rear disc brakes remain optional on both GL and GLS sedans.

The exterior has lost its soap-form shape in favour of a larger (in all respects), sharper, sleeker appearance that gives the car a distinctly Continental flavour. In particular, the extra overall width, dual round headlight assemblies and wide, slatted engine-cooling duct on the front air-dam give it a strong, purposeful stance.

The cockpit beckons with improved support from the larger, firmer front pews, a more liberal application of soft plastics and vinyl, good quality fabric and an integrated dash design skewed toward the driver and proffering all controls within easy reach.

The stereo is a friendlier unit now mounted above the temperature controls that continue as rotary dials with the central fan downsized a la the Mazda 323 to assist with adjustment sight unseen.

Rear comfort and accommodation in the GL grade are less impressive with no front seatback pockets for storage, no cupholders, no centre armrest and not much room at all for adults in any direction.

This is where the family-friendly, mid-size argument really starts to disintegrate.

Foot space under the front seats helps somewhat but tall or large people will be less than impressed by the hard plastic attached to the front seatbacks (the kind that hurts knees and scratches easily, and which on our test car was loose-fitting) and the possibility of three squeezed in across the rear bench.

While the maximum rear headroom is good, the quest for seat space has also meant the rear headrests are positioned underneath the heavily sloping glass, a good distance from the roof trim. Stooping will be unavoidable for many.

The outboard seating positions are themselves quite large and comfortable while the centre-rear spot has a twin-buckle, three-point seatbelt that retracts up into the parcel shelf to create an unobscured opening when the 60/40 split-fold is employed. This is a clever feature and almost good enough for us to overlook the fact that most people will find this position lacking support, awkward and too narrow.

By its very nature the Elantra sedan offers less cargo space and versatility than the five-door hatch (where the seatbase also folds forward), but makes a pretty good fist of things with a good loading height, wide opening, fully lined boot and a full-size spare under the floor.

That said, the actual boot space is, at best, average, storage spots are left to the imagination and bootlid hinges necessitate bigger luggage items remaining clear of their path.

Both the GL and GLS Elantras are powered by a version of Hyundai's "Beta" twin cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder powerplant, the GL using a 1.8-litre engine developing 97kW at 6000rpm and 165Nm at 4500rpm and the GLS a 2.0-litre variant good for 104kW at 6000rpm and 182Nm at 4500rpm.

Performance is disappointing from the 1.8 tested here, which fights against its 1193kg kerb weight (now heavier as a result of the larger dimensions and body strengthening) and shows a distinct lack of purpose under 3250rpm.

Plenty of shifts are required from the improved but nonetheless notchy, long-throw and tall-geared five-speed manual to avoid dawdling around the suburbs or getting into trouble when overtaking on the open road.

Be prepared to stir the Elantra from its slumber and it will show more spirit as the needle winds toward redline, getting hoarse in the process but not nearly as coarse as we might have expected.

The balance struck between ride and handling is happily no longer biased on the side of ride with a firmer suspension set-up keeping a lid on excessive body movement during directional changes and bigger 15-inch wheels providing good grip, though a fair amount of noise on most surfaces.

An extra 60mm tacked onto the wheelbase and revised dampers have clearly improved the ride, which remains comfortable - except when faced with the B-road from hell - but now has good control at all times. It is quieter too.

The steering is devoid of feedback and has a tendency to kickback through bump-ridden corners. Of more concern, however, is that the brakes showed below average resistance to fade during a rigorous workout.

This is still no Vectra - no Astra for that matter - yet the South Korean car's comprehensive improvements, ultra-competitive pricing and excellent packaging in the small sedan segment will make it impossible for many to ignore.

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