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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - Premium sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Exterior design, interior style, soft-stop brakes, steering wheel, ride quality, five-year warranty, full-size spare, parking sensors and camera
Room for improvement
Steering, overly soft rear suspension, audio controls, ventilation outlets too low

3 Aug 2012

AFTER years of somewhat bland styling that has quickly dated, the fifth-generation Hyundai Elantra – or Lantra as it was called back in the 1990s to pacify lawyers who seemed to think people might mistake it for a Lotus Elan – goes completely the other way and introduces a sleek and somewhat bold design approach, both inside and out.

But this does not so much indicate a maturing in Korean design as it does a more pragmatic and global approach to the business of producing cars because the new Elantra was, in fact, styled in California – where many of the world’s more eye-catching machines have been designed in recent years.

It is immediately eye-catching and attracted many favourable comments from friends and neighbours during two weeks behind the wheel (one week in the base Elite model as well as one in the range-topping Premium that is the subject of this test), so the Californians have clearly hit the mark for Hyundai, just as they have for the likes of BMW, Nissan and Toyota.

We will let you make up your own mind on the styling, but we regard it as one of the more convincing small-medium cars on the market and expect it will stay relatively fresh for the duration of the model-cycle – unlike the previous HD-series, which frankly looked as flat as its sales by the end of its run.

The new interior is similarly funky in design and makes a great first impression on the driver as well as passengers, but its functionality is a different story.

For a start, the heating and cooling vents are way too low in the centre console – where they are below the audio system, putting them lower than the centreline of the steering wheel – and also at the sides, so don’t expect too much in the way of instant cool-down when you climb in on a steamy day.

We also had plenty of trouble with the audio control set-up, which involves a central controller knob, four buttons around it and more higher up alongside the digital display screen.

Adjusting sound systems is something of a nightmare in many cars these days, so you tend not to change radio stations unless absolutely necessary, but the Elantra really troubled us. Being used to twirling a controller and then pushing it in for ‘enter’, as you would expect, we kept turning the system off because the real ‘enter’ function is actually one of the other buttons.

On the positive side, the sound system itself was crisp and clear, with no distortion, though the maximum volume level was not very high. Not that too many potential Elantra buyers would fit into the doof-doof category.

And the steering wheel was as functional as it was stylish, providing the required audio, phone, trip and cruise control functions you need, all of which fell easily to hand, without needing to glance at them after only minimal familiarity time.

Unfortunately, the steering experience itself was less pleasurable because the electric steering system, while being suitably light for parking and acceptable of moderate city speeds, turned heavy and – worse – dead at highway cruising speeds, making us thankful we had not planned a country drive.

This is a major problem for many car-makers switching to electric steering, where you often feel as if you are steering against the electric motor rather than with it as engineers try to replicate freeway-speed ‘weighting’, and car-makers at the cheaper end of the spectrum are understandably struggling with it a little more than others, at least for now.

Generally speaking, the chassis dynamics are hardly the step forward we expected given the big advance in styling and the fact it is a new platform that will underpin a number of models.

It certainly rides well, as it should given the overly soft suspension, especially in the rear, which will easily bottom-out when loaded. We hit the bump stops with three adult passengers in the back and only a modest amount of gear in the boot.

The comfy ride means a bit more body roll than desired and probably equates to compromised handling, but who really cares? Modern cars have such high grip levels they are hard to reach anyway, at least in the dry.

Hyundai’s new ‘Nu’ 1.8-litre engine proved to be acceptable, if not particularly powerful or smooth, and we averaged 8.0L/100km, which was much more than the official combined figure of 7.1L/100km but better than the urban figure of 9.4L/100km and a good result for a road test week.

The six-speed automatic transmission that is standard fare in the Premium model is excellent, working smoothly and intuitively to seamlessly select the right gear at just the right moment.

You cannot get Hyundai’s new six-speed manual gearbox in the Premium, only the base Active model, but it is a real revelation – certainly the best manual gearchange we have experienced for a long time. Many car-makers struggle with manual gearchanges these days so it was a great surprise to find such a good BMW-like system in a Korean car. Full marks, Hyundai.

The take-up is soft and progressive, the gears engage beautifully with a nice little snick and selecting reverse is quick, simple and intuitive thanks to an effective lift-up lock-out ring that is easily selected with a single finger or thumb.

Back to the Premium, the brake pedal feel was also excellent and provided a smooth, soft stop with no graunching from the four-wheel discs.

Performance is adequate rather than lively and, of course, the modern nannying electronics tend to blunt initial step-off so you can’t be too aggressive jumping into fast-moving traffic.

Apart from suffering the effects of the occasional bottoming-out, the rear-seat passengers had plenty of legroom, though the taller occupants were limited for headroom thanks to the lower roof height that comes with the sleek styling.

The seats have a split-fold function that provides useful extra – if not completely flat – boot space, but the release for the seats can only be accessed from the boot. The boot is large enough at 420 litres, but quite shallow.

Getting comfortable in the driver’s seat is no problem, thanks to supportive seats, height-adjustable belts, electric seat adjustment and a nice steering wheel that is adjustable for reach as well as height.

The Premium is certainly well-equipped with an auto mirror and dual-zone climate-control, and we especially appreciated the rear-view camera in addition to parking sensors as that swoopy styling does nothing for rearward vision.

Overall, then, the Elantra is big on style, good value for money, but lacking in some areas of dynamics and functionality.

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