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Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Solid ride and handling, overall packaging, value for money on Active and Elite, sleek design
Room for improvement
Light steering could use a bit more feel, Premium variant does not feel premium, massive A-pillars, rear head room for taller passengers

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Hyundai logo18 Dec 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON

AUSTRALIANS are crazy for hatchbacks. In our market’s highest-selling new vehicle segment, the small sedans play second fiddle.

But a quick glance at the US market tells you the story is quite different.

Small sedans are big business Stateside, to the point where Honda doesn’t even offer a Civic hatch and the only Cruze Chevrolet sells has a boot.

The US market is also a big reason why the Elantra is Hyundai’s biggest seller globally. The Korean brand has just launched a hatchback variant, dubbed the Elantra GT (i30 in Australia), but it is unlikely to sell anywhere near the numbers of the sedan.

But the tide is turning in Australia, with three-box offerings within the Ford Focus and Mazda3 ranges becoming popular alternatives for growing families, small business operators and anyone that just wants extra space. The Elantra is no exception here.

Following the fifth-generation Elantra’s launch in mid-2011, Hyundai has given its booted baby an update, with minor styling flourishes and some mechanical tweaks under the skin.

The Elantra has always been a striking little car, with its purposeful stance and sleek lines making it easily one of the most visually appealing small cars on the market, and thankfully Hyundai hasn’t messed around with that.

New bumpers, redesigned headlights, new foglights and redesigned wheel covers are about all the little Elantra needs to keep it fresh.

Inside, Hyundai has addressed criticism it received in 2011 by shifting the location of the front air vents from almost knee-level height to further up the centre stack, improving the direction of air-flow to the face.

The dash and instrumentation is very ‘Hyundai’ in design, but the layout is clear, functional and even a little bit stylish. Leg- and headroom is more than adequate up front, although taller passengers could struggle in the rear thanks to the sloping roofline.

The only real issue in the cabin is with the massive A-pillars that blocked vision at the front.

Boot space is a decent 420 litres with the seats up, expanding to 485 with the rear seats folded, but it can’t match the capacity of the Holden Cruze (445 litres), Honda Civic (440) or the Nissan Pulsar sedan with a class-leading 510 litres. Although there is the ability to fold the rear seats down in the Elantra, whereas the Pulsar’s, bizarrely, cannot.

Standard gear in the base Active manual includes cruise control, touchscreen audio, rear parking sensors, six airbags, five-star safety rating, foglights and a cooled glovebox for $20,990 plus on-roads, while the auto lifts the price to $23,190.

So far the Elantra stacks up reasonably well against its small sedan rivals, but it is slightly pricier than the Holden Cruze Equipe ($19,490), Ford Focus Ambiente ($20,290), Honda Civic VTi ($19,490) and the Nissan Pulsar ST ($19,990).

The mid-spec Elite is auto only and adds a smart key, dual climate control, rain and light sensors, a reversing camera, premium steering wheel and electric folding mirrors for $26,790, which again is a touch dearer than equivalent Focus Trend ($24,590), Cruze CDX ($24,190) and Civic VTi-L ($25,490).

From there, the well-equipped Premium flagship makes a decent $3400 leap to $30,190 bringing it closer to the Pulsar Ti ($29,490) but just undercuts the Civic Sport ($30,290) and Focus Titanium ($32,990).

Giving the Active a further advantage is the fact that the cabin materials in the Premium variant just do not feel, well, premium. Sure, the seat trim and door panel materials are more high end and it features a more up-market steering wheel, but there is not enough differentiation between the entry-level and flagship and for a $9200 premium, we think the Premium should feel a bit more… premium.

The price increase across the range includes $400 for the Active and $1000 each for the Elite and Premium can be put down to new comfort and safety features (aforementioned styling updates, reversing camera on Elite and Premium) as well as the added work local Hyundai engineers have done to improve the ride and handling.

Testing was completed by Hyundai’s Product Planning and Engineering team on a number of surfaces in a variety of different tunes to determine the best possible tune for the Elantra.

The company’s ‘Flex Steer’ system is also now standard, giving drivers a choice between Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, depending on their preferences for steering feel.

Powering all Elantra variants is Hyundai’s 110kW/178Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched with either a six-speed manual (Active only) or six-speed automatic.

There is more than enough power on tap with this little engine and it handles the weight of the car well. The automatic transmission occasionally hangs on to fifth gear a little too long, but overall it is a solid unit.

Official fuel use sits at 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle for the manual and 7.1L/100km for the auto, comparing well to the 1.8-litre Cruze which consumes 7.0L/100km in manual guise and 7.4L/100km with an auto.

Dynamically, the fifth-gen Elantra has always been a solid performer, but the under-the-skin tweaking for this updated version seems to have paid off. Our drive route took us on unsealed roads and while the Elantra is no bush-basher, it soaked up corrugations and bumps of varying sizes without too much fuss.

Base Active variants drive on 15-inch steel wheels that, occasionally, skipped over rougher road surfaces at speed, but the 17-inch hoops on the top-spec Premium ensured it kept its composure a bit better.

Unfortunately, the larger wheels made for extra road noise in the cabin, making the Elantra a fairly loud place to be, particularly on coarser surfaces. This improved with the smaller wheels, giving us the feeling that perhaps the entry-level active or mid-spec Elite (16-inch alloy wheels) might be the picks of the range.

Cruising around town or coasting, the Elantra is a joy to drive and a lot quieter than on a freeway driving at speed. This is likely where it will do most of its work and makes for a comfortable ride.

Hyundai has upped the motor-driven power steering from 16-bit to a 32-bit computer processing for the Series II Elantra and while the steering offers some feedback, it is still relatively light. We are not sure whether that extra computer power has had much of an impact.

Hyundai has not bothered doing too much to the Elantra for this update and that’s probably because it didn’t require a great deal of improvement to begin with.

The handsome sedan has a lot going for it – good dynamics, comfortable ride, fuel efficiency and a little bit of sex appeal – and deserves to be on a few more buyers’ shopping lists.

The base Active is the clear stand-out for us, easily providing the best value for money in the line-up, closely followed by the mid-spec Elite. And while there is nothing particularly wrong with the Premium, for $30,190 you can find something that feels a bit more – you guessed it – premium.

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