Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - range
Dynamic improvements, genuinely fun to drive, NVH enhancement, cleaner cabin design, pricing and spec
Room for improvement
Blotchy paint job, drab cabin in Active spec, no AEB
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24 Feb 2016
SMALL sedans are not massive business in Australia, but in certain Asian markets and the United States, they make up some of the top-selling models.
The Hyundai Elantra is one of the car-maker's most popular offerings in its South Korean domestic market and in the ultra-competitive US where it is the company's best seller, with more than 240,000 sold in 2015 alone.
Hyundai says the Elantra appeals to people looking to downsize but who have no interest in an SUV, they are generally older and slightly skewed towards female buyers.
It remains to be seen whether the sixth-gen version will attract a younger buyer, but anyone willing to look past the cardigan-wearing image of the Elantra should be pleasantly surprised. In fact, 'surprising' was a word used quite a bit at the media launch in Tasmania this week.
The Elantra is all-new – even though the wheelbase and other measurements such as brakes are identical to the outgoing model – and it carries the Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language present on the Tucson, Sonata and Genesis.
It looks a bit mini-Genesis, particularly from the rear, with sleek tail-lights (LEDs on the Elite) and a built-in boot-lip, while the front end is smoother and more rounded than its premium stable-mate.
The bold lines of the previous Elantra are gone and while some buyers might miss that look, the new car is handsome, albeit slightly conservative.
Stepping in to the $26,490 plus on-roads Elite (the range-topper until the arrival of the spicy SR turbo variant later this year), Hyundai's cleaner, simpler design philosophy has improved the look and feel of the cabin.
Gone is the fussy centre stack in place of a dash layout that is similar to its larger Sonata sibling, and without being a revolutionary design, it is much more appealing than the old model.
Some elements in the cabin are a little too plasticky – the door inserts for example – but the overall quality, look and feel proves that Hyundai has yet again learned from its missteps, making big improvements with each new-generation model.
The Elite's two-tone beige and dark grey cabin looks classy and breaks up the other tones, and the perforated leather-appointed seats are top quality, although the top of the front headrests are angled a little too far towards the occupant's head and do not adjust back.
The difference in cabin look and feel between the Elite and the more basic Active ($21,490 for manual and $23,790 for the auto) is significant, but expected given the price difference. The Active does away with the lovely 'premium' steering wheel from the Elite in favour of a plastic version, hard plastics are more obvious and there is no two-tone interior trim – just lots of grim dark grey.
Thankfully the seats are just as supportive with cloth trim as they are the leather. There is loads of legroom in the front and the rear, and while there is ample headroom up front, taller folk will feel slightly cramped in the back thanks to the flowing Elantra roof-line.
Visibility is surprisingly good out the back, given the raked rear windscreen, and front.
We have praised other Hyundai models for the easy to use connectivity system, and the Elantra is no different. It features the brilliant Apple CarPlay as standard, with Android Auto coming later in the year.
In terms of value, the Elantra offers generous spec, but misses out on active safety gear such as lane departure warnings and the like that its larger siblings would offer. Also, autonomous emergency braking is nowhere to be seen, but Hyundai Australia is working on getting it here eventually.
Changes to the suspension set-up have meant the boot capacity has dropped by 27 litres to 458L, but there is still ample room for a decent amount of luggage and shopping, while the rear 60/40 split fold seats are operated via a lever in the boot, ensuring an almost flat cargo space when lowered.
One quality quibble we noticed was that the body paint had some orange peel in the finish. Given all but one paint option adds $495 to the price, it's not a good look.
Under the bonnet of both variants is the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 112kW/192Nm – a two and eight percent improvement respectively over the old model.
It's not a huge leap in terms of power and torque, and it was never going to feel brutally fast, but it has given the Elantra a bit of extra oomph in a straight line.
We recorded a fuel-consumption figure of 7.7 litres per 100km, a little more than the official 7.2L figure but given the enthusiastic driving, this is unsurprising.
The six-speed automatic transmission (there was no manual gearbox available to test at the launch) is a sweet unit, shifting up and down without fuss, despite the odd kickdown when driving down a hill.
Another unexpected surprise is how well the Elantra drives. There was nothing particularly wrong with the previous-generation model, but it was noisy when pushed, a bit unrefined and despite a local suspension tweak for a mid-life facelift in early 2014, still fell behind its rivals in terms of dynamics.
Hyundai's Australian chassis development team extensively tested the new model in all kinds of conditions to ensure the best possible suspension set-up, and it shows.
The new Elantra is quite the performer, tipping into corners nicely, and there were a lot of corners on our Tasmanian drive route.
At no point did the Elantra become unsettled when thrown around bends at speeds the previous model would have not coped with. There was no skipping – an area of attention by the chassis team – with the little sedan remaining surprisingly (there's that word again) flat through turns.
No notable body roll was detected, and the Elantra was compliant when pushed in a straight line.
The steering was nicely weighted – Hyundai has not included its Flex Steer adjustable steering system for the new model – and seriously sharp, not veering from the course at any stage.
The Australian chassis work has also dramatically improved noise, vibration and harshness levels, an issue with the old model, and while engine noise is apparent under hard acceleration, few people would complain about the general noise levels in the new Elantra's cabin.
In terms of overall dynamic performance and ability, the new model is light years ahead of its predecessor and places it right at the top of the small sedan pile in Australia. We cannot wait for the SR variant later this year that promises even better performance from its 150kW 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The Elantra may still have a bit of a conservative reputation, but the work Hyundai has done under the skin will hopefully encourage more people to look beyond the image and get behind the wheel, because the latest offering from the big Korean is a seriously impressive small car.
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