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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling inside and out, value, safety, 1.8 manual, attractive base presentation
Room for improvement
Limited rear headroom, road noise intrusion, steering a tad too over-eager, low face-level air vents, 1.8L auto with a load might feel a little undernourished for some

29 Jun 2011

HYUNDAI has released a redesigned and re-engineered Elantra. If that sounds as interesting as ‘Samsung releases new line of microwave ovens’ or ‘Supermarket Home Brand sparks facial tissue tussle’ then we don’t blame you.

After a promising start in the 1990s as the Lantra, each subsequent Elantra from 2000 has, well, blown. Dull to look at, duller to drive and dreary to contemplate inside, it has been a fail. An ‘e’ might have been gained but the elan was certainly lost.

Now the Korean giant has ripped up the old template for the fifth-gen small car and come up with this – the MD Elantra. Penned in California and packaged for families across the world, it has even been (mildly) honed for Australian road and driving conditions. Hmm …

And you won’t need matchsticks to keep your eyelids open for this one, folks.

First impressions are like a glass of cold water thrown in your face: sudden, sharp … unexpectedly invigorating. Here is a three-box small car that really does look like a coupe without the need for silly hidden rear door handles or weird window lines.

Breathtakingly cab-forward in profile, a nicely proportioned wheels-at-each-corner stance and with a friendly face to boot, the MD has real road presence. We finally understand Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language and we like what we’re hearing. This will sell on looks alone, we predict. It may date quickly though.

Inside, the Elantra is just as bold, dominated by the dashboard centre console’s ‘Coke bottle hip’ design, quality materials and spectacularly clear instrumentation.

Loads of interior space – especially legroom front and rear, inviting front seats, an excellent driving position and stacks of storage areas also reveal the Hyundai’s cabin as utterly practical as well as appealingly ambient. A long and wide – though not especially deep, thanks to a full-sized spare lurking underneath – boot is another bonus.

It’s not all kim chi and muk, however why are there knee-level air vents instead of centralised face-level ones? We heard a few rattles in a couple of examples we tried those fat pillars front and back block vision out in some circumstances (thank goodness parking radar is standard) and rear headroom is limited by that coupe-like roof, which also seriously impedes entry/egress for taller folk out back.

If you lug more than one 175cm-plus passenger about then please try before you buy.

Happily, the news gets a whole lot better behind the wheel – particularly if you are familiar with the previous, flawed Elantra.

Now 200cc smaller than before, the four-pot petrol banger is an all-new ‘Nu’ 1.8-litre twin-cam number with marginally more power, a bit less torque – and a whole lot of sweet revvy goodness.

In base Active (six-speed) manual guise (on premium unleaded – 91 RON is usable), the drivetrain shines thanks to a (hooray at last in a Hyundai) short, lovely and light gearshift/clutch action, sufficient off-the-mark acceleration, and a zesty amount of performance as the revs build towards the 6500rpm mark. You do need to extend the engine to best experience the power on offer, but it sounds neither strained nor unnatural.

Better still, the engineers have clearly improved the way this car turns into corners compared to the old version, for the whole car now feels more together and controlled. Point and shoot steering, faithful and flat handling and plenty of grip characterise what must surely be the most dynamic Hyundai sedan of this size ever sold in Australia.

However, while a firm yet supple ride on the standard 15-inch rubber is another plus point, let’s not get too carried away.

The steering – light across the range and tight in a U-turn situation – does not offer enough feedback for the driver. And we reckon the tiller is a tad too sharp for the uninitiated, as a small amount of over-correction is necessary in sudden circumstances that might catch some folk out – such as when swerving to avoid something. That torque-vectoring electric power steering-enhanced stability and traction control tech will have its work cut-out in such as scenario.

Nevertheless, Hyundai, this is a big step in the right direction. But please dial back the response a little and crank up the steering weight and feel please.

Two-up in the more up-spec Elite and Premium 1.8 six-speed autos revealed a less appealing driving experience due to the impact of extra weight and torque-converter transmission.

On the smooth but hilly roads around Canberra’s Mount Stromblo Observatory the 1800cc unit had to work hard ultimately it does deliver adequate rather than fiery performance, aided by the ‘box’s slick gear changes.

Interestingly, the larger rubber (16s on the Elite and 17s on the Premium) exacerbated the slightly too-sharp turn-in situation (and appeared to introduce unwanted rack-rattle over rougher bumps), while the amount of road noise inside the cabin (especially in the rear) also seemed to increase exponentially. Some work needs to be done here because we were left wondering if the Elantra is even louder than the famously mouthy Mazda3.

Ultimately we walked away from the latest Elantra feeling warmer towards it than we had anticipated. It looks brilliant in the flesh, has an inviting (front seat) cabin ambience and offers excellent safety credentials. Furthermore, the base Active manual’s high level of standard spec and frisky driving experience seems to be the sweet spot, so you can throw great value for money in the equation as well.

Yes, more work needs to be done in order for the chassis to feel as planted and informative as some of the Hyundai’s more dynamic rivals (as well as the Holden Cruze 1.4 Turbo), the rear seat headroom situation might be a concern for some, and the cabin can get boomy, but the Elantra is finally shaping up as a model that we can probably recommend if you are in the market for a spacious sedan against the Cruze or Honda Civic.

From a near-bottom contender the Korean is now back in action. Not only are we eager to assess the new MD series on more familiar terrain, the notion of doing so is actually an exciting one – and that’s a first for the Elantra.

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