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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Exterior and interior design, cabin quietness, build quality, interior space, standard equipment, stability control availability, value for money, long warranty
Room for improvement
No performance increase, no side rub strips, lifeless over-assisted steering, noisy engine, uninspiring handling, no steering wheel reach adjustment in entry-level SX

Hyundai logo25 Aug 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY

ELANTRA may well be Hyundai’s top-selling nameplate globally, but more Australians have traditionally opted for the Korean maker’s value-packed Getz micro than its sharply-priced small car.

That’s unlikely to change, as young and old Aussies continue to be attracted to the dirt-cheap Getz price-point in vast numbers and Elantra continues to fight for recognition in an over-populated small-car category that’s diverse enough to contain everything from Kia’s Cerato, Nissan’s Tiida, Honda’s Civic, Mitsubishi’s Lancer and the Mazda3 to Ford’s Focus, Holden’s Astra and even the new Dodge Caliber.

A modest sales forecast of 750-800 Elantra sedan sales per month – a fraction of what Mazda and Toyota’s small sedan and hatch line-ups attract – is an admission Hyundai is fighting with one hand, at least until Elantra hatch, wagon and coupe-convertible derivatives begin to come on stream from mid-2007.

But just as Hyundai as a car-maker models itself on Toyota, it’s obvious the Korean’s newest small car is just as ambitiously targeted at Corolla. Yes, Elantra appears to have all the attributes to be a real threat to its market dominance, at least until a new Corolla arrives next year.

Of course, Elantra comes with a familiar $19,990 starting price, and it brings even more standard equipment than before. But no longer is that number likely to be the only contributor in the purchasing decision of potential customers.

First, there’s the Euro-look styling, which is worlds away from the previous Elantra and builds on the cohesive design themes introduced with Sonata last year and Accent and Santa Fe this year. From the assertive, characterful wrap-around headlights and steeply-raked front and rear screens to the tautly-shaped three-window side glass, which kicks up to form a teardrop at the high-decked rear, the new Elantra forms a distinctive figure on the road.

Uniquely non-derivative, it’s confident in its own right and doesn’t sacrifice form for function. The absence of side rub strips aside, details like pull-type door handles and good all-round vision make Elantra’s exterior design as practical as it is pleasing to the eye.

The functional-but-classy theme continues inside, where a well-sculpted dashboard houses a hooded instrument binnacle and flows into a elegant centre stack that’s also highly ergonomic. Base (SX) variants feature three large rubberised air-conditioning controls, which make way for a well-executed oval-shaped LCD screen for the standard climate-control on all other variants, surrounded by tactile push-button controls.

Alas, the SX curiously misses out on the steering wheel reach-adjustment of upstream variants, but in all cars the interior is clad in soft-touch materials that are presented with a highly consistent standard of fit and finish. Plenty of storage spaces abound, including four large door pockets, concealed dash compartments, an overhead sunglass holder and a split-level compartment below the standard (not optional, as one some small Euro rivals) centre armrest. Soft-damped grabrails, a bag hook, a 60/40-split folding rear seats and a 402-litre boot (bigger than Civic’s and Corolla’s) aid versatility still further.

Passenger space is generous, with plenty of rear-seat legroom in particular setting Elantra apart from many of its small rivals. Stretching room for four full-sized adults is also there, and the rear bench remains unimpeded by the centre hump that’s found in some competitors, though only upper-spec variants offers a (well-concealed) centre rear head restraint.

The leather trim in the (auto-only) flagship Elite S also appears tasteful and no longer looks like an after-thought, while a standard pump-action driver’s seat height adjuster (which lifts the seat from a height of 495 to 530mm), driver’s footrest and reasonably supportive front seats make Elantra’s cockpit a pleasant place to be.

The well conceived, more upmarket interior design is complimented by impressive noise suppression, creating a cabin that whisper-quiet at all speeds and on all manner of road surfaces. The upgraded suspension goes about its business particularly quietly and for the first time Elantra offers a distinct feeling of tautness.

Though the Australian press kit makes no mention of it, Hyundai Motor Corporation says the new model’s body is twice as stiff as its predecessor’s and, interestingly, more rigid than Corolla – which is now a five-year-old design.

On the road, the extra chassis rigidity and vastly larger tyre footprint is obvious. Good ride quality comes despite well-controlled road holding and reasonable grip levels – at least on the 16-inch alloy-shod upper-spec Elite variants that were solely available on the launch drive.

As mentioned, the revised front and more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension systems absorb all manner of road hazards effectively and without fuss, and the body feels taut and conveys relatively low levels of vibration and harshness. That said, the engine remains fairly loud, especially at revs – despite the fact it’s a quieter, cleaner-burning, more frugal and more flexible ("Series 3") version of the previous Elantra’s "Beta" 2.0-litre four, offering 105kW/186Nm.

Combined with the somewhat long-throw five-speed manual the Elantra provides reasonable acceleration but is far from being a performance leader in its class. The improved four-speed auto dulls performance further and yet there’s still a tendency toward torque-steer (when engine power and steering inputs work against each other on the front wheels, causing the steering wheel to "tug" under power) at low speeds.

Indeed, the biggest aspect that stops Elantra short of handling greatness is its overly-light steering system, which now features electric (rather than hydraulic) power assistance. Way too light at city speeds, it firms up enough to offer adequate response and feedback at back-road and highway speeds but, with a big 3.13 turns lock-to-lock, always lacks precision and requires constant turn-in to maintain a given cornering line.

Of course, small car buyers with a high priority on dynamics tend to be prepared to pay a little extra for likes of a Focus rather than an Elantra. But it’s a pity that just one (major) chassis system takes the gloss off what is otherwise a surprisingly well executed car.

Throw in the commendable availability of traction stability control - which is a $1790 option combined with front side and side curtain airbags on the base SX, a $990 option on SLX and standard equipment on Elite and Elite S – and Elantra makes real sense for small car buyers in the market for a safe, stylish and spacious sedan that’s packed with value.

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