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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - GLS 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Seating versatility, styling, interior presentation, value for money
Room for improvement
Average performance, dark interior, cargo limitations

19 Apr 2001

By TERRY MARTIN Jan 09, 2001 WHILE some people will lament the passing of the cute, practical and conspicuously cheap Lantra Sportswagon, everyone else will revel in the arrival of the bigger, smarter five-door Elantra hatch that has replaced it.

Not only does the hatch swallow more luggage than the outgoing wagon, it is more versatile, roomier in virtually all directions for front and rear passengers and brings a better interior presentation and more safety and convenience features - all the while maintaining an excellent sticker price on the window.

Two grades remain available, a base GL mated to the 1.8-litre version of Hyundai's "Beta" twin-cam four-cylinder powerplant and a higher-spec GLS with a 2.0-litre engine.

The GL grade has as all the standard features we have come to expect from the South Korean car-maker (and its Aussie importer) such as air-conditioning, CD player, central locking, driver's airbag, power steering, electric front windows, electric heated mirrors, tilt adjustable steering, rear foglamps and variable intermittent wipers.

There are also items we did not anticipate: an adjustable headrest and lap-sash seatbelt for the centre-rear seating position a 60/40 split-fold for both the rear seatback and seatbase, allowing for a long, flat floor space and a barrier between the cargo area and front seats rear disc brakes, deemed necessary with a weight increase over the wagon a 15-inch wheel and tyre combination intermittent rear windscreen wipers and the simple, much appreciated feature often omitted from modern hatches - a tailgate handle instead of an in-cabin lever.

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

The one disappointment with the list is that anti-lock brakes and a front passenger airbag are relegated to the options basket for both models.

Appearance was a strongpoint with the Sportswagon, its soft, rounded shape winning favour in the sales race over boxier, more practical designs from rivals such as Daewoo.

The hatch shares the sedan's convincing Europhilic front end that is altogether sharper-edged and stronger than the previous theme.

At the tail it has more liftback than hatch, with a long, sloping roofline that incorporates the rear window and contributes to a considerable amount of rear overhang.

The cargo space is voluminous enough for a stretched small hatch (this really is not a genuine mid-sizer as Hyundai would have you believe) but the design can make it difficult to fit in tall items such as a pushbike. At its lowest point it allows just 450mm in height from the cargo floor, though once the headlining is reached, objects 810mm tall can slot in.

Most other luggage is a snack to load, assisted by a lightweight tailgate that can lift to a comfortable height for average-sized adults and create a useful opening that is always at least 800mm wide. The main drawback is the big (180mm) lip to lift items over - no match for the flat wagon on that score.

The cargo hold itself is sufficient for its class, with a depth from rear bumper to the upright seatback of 960mm that quickly extends to 1590mm when the excellent split-fold (which requires headrest removal) is used.

The area is fully lined and room made for a full-size steel spare, although the child seat anchorage points are, like the wagon before it, fixed to the tail and will eat into the available space if employed. If the designers were able to integrate an inertia reel seatbelt into the rear seatback, would it be unreasonable to expect it to be strong enough to secure child restraints? Apparently so.

Speaking of whippersnappers, they will be the main beneficiaries of the improved interior dimensions, which unfortunately do not allow a good deal of comfort for adults across the rear bench seat.

The sloping roofline takes its toll again here, restricting headroom for taller adults, while legroom is below average and space under the front driver's seat for the twinklies equally poor.

We have only praise for the inclusion of the centre-rear three-point belt and three rear headrests, however that middle position doubles as an armrest in GLS spec as tested and can be a horrible place to sit for any length of time - even worse if a passenger either side is over the age of, say, 10.

Happily, comfort and convenience is in abundance up front.

The seats are miles ahead of the previous Lantra pews (firm, reasonably supportive and with height and lumbar adjustment for the driver), soft padding is found wherever the arm naturally falls and good quality (though overwhelmingly dark) fabric is used alongside soft plastics and vinyl.

Brittle plastic can be soon be found upon lengthier inspection, but the predominant feeling is one of quality and modernity and the dash presentation in particular is both attractive and functional.

Storage areas are in abundance in GLS trim. All Elantras get neat facilities like a moulded bottle holder in the front door pockets, a cavernous glovebox and little cubbies for both driver and front passenger's hair ties, loose change and the like.

Yet the GLS goes a considerable way further with an overhead sunglasses console, rear cupholders, two seatback pockets and the aforementioned centre console box which is big enough for CD storage.

On the performance front, the 2.0-litre Elantra is something of a disappointment. Where the 1.8 develops 97kW at 6000rpm and 165Nm at 4500rpm, the GLS is good for 104kW at 6000rpm and a much more satisfying 182Nm at 4500rpm.

Forget Hyundai's comparisons with the Holden Vectra - indeed it does have the same power output but there's the small matter of all-important torque, something the 2.2-litre Vectra, at 200Nm, produces plenty of, and 500rpm earlier.

Not unlike the 1.8, the 2.0-litre engine struggles a bit under the increased kerb weight and shows few fighting qualities under 3000rpm.

Geared tall and impeded by an improved but nonetheless notchy, long-throw five-speed manual transmission, the engine requires the driver to adopt a more proactive attitude than required by its predecessor, if he or she is to avoid mashing the right foot into the firewall or sitting behind trucks on the open road.

Yes, plenty of gearshifts are required, though once the needle starts winding its way up toward the 6250rpm rev limiter the engine shows lots of spirit. It gets noisy while doing so, but remains smooth throughout the process.

The balance between ride and handling is no longer biased on the side of ride, with a firmer suspension set-up restraining excessive bodyroll and the 15-inch wheels providing good grip and generating less noise than the rubber used on the 1.8.

An extra 60mm tacked onto the wheelbase of the former Sportswagon and revised dampers have clearly improved the ride, which generally remains comfortable and quiet but with good control at all times.

Like the sedan, the steering is devoid of feedback and has a tendency to kickback through bump-ridden corners.

The turning circle is slightly larger than the old Sportswagon, though at 10.1m poses few problems around suburban streets. Rearvision is an impediment, though - another consequence of the sloping roofline.

Elantra needed to impress with more than simply a rock-bottom price and loads of equipment. And with the five-door hatch, it has succeeded.

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