Car reviews - Hyundai - Elantra - SR Turbo
Civilised feel, lovely steering, dynamic capability, ease-of-use, slick six-speed manual transmission
Room for improvement
Some cheapo interior trim, compromised rear space and access, space-saver spare tyre
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20 Dec 2016
Price and equipment
Topping the Elantra range at $28,990 plus on-road costs, the manual SR Turbo we drove commands a premium of $2500 over the auto-only Elite. Strapping a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to the SR ups the price to $31,290.
Perked-up small sedan rivals include the $26,990 Nissan Pulsar SSS, auto-only Honda Civic RS at $31,790 and the $29,990 Mazda3 SP25 GT.
Marking it out as a pseudo-performance model, the SR exclusively gains a subtle bodykit, blacked-out grille surround and a pair of purposefully chubby tailpipes. Inside is Sports-branded contrast-stitched leather upholstery and a nifty leather sports steering wheel with anodised red metal trim.
The SR also gets a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, its own instrument cluster design, 10-way electrical adjustment for the heated driver’s seat, automatic headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, bi-Xenon headlights, unique LED tail-lights, an electric sunroof, and keyless entry with alarm and push-button start.
Also standard is blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera.
The optional red leather interior treatment fitted to our test car is priced at a reasonable $295, and $495 worth of metallic grey paint was also specified. A set of Pirelli-wrapped 18-inch rims is a dealer-fit option to replace the attractive standard twin-spoke 17s with Hankook rubber on the car we drove.
In addition to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle-shifters, the automatic Elantra SR adds a three-way drive mode selector that alters throttle response gearshift speed and steering. The manual version we drove is set to the Sports steering mode and standard throttle sensitivity.
Six airbags are present and correct, although the Elantra lacks the driver’s knee airbag and autonomous emergency braking fitted to other recent Hyundai models.
The Elantra SR interior is mostly good news, especially with the plush red leather seats fitted to our test car that we enjoyed sinking into like a favourite armchair. However, the cheap, hard, scratchy plastics of the door caps and wobbly, flimsy feeling central armrest hatch let down what is otherwise a pleasant cabin.
With such a swoopy, coupe-like silhouette, the Elantra was never going to be a rear space champion. While there is ample legroom for tall people to sit in tandem, headroom in the back is severely compromised despite Hyundai’s best efforts to minimise intrusion from the sunroof mechanism. Up front, our only space-related gripe was that we constantly chafed our left knee on the dashboard.
The steeply angled rear door aperture also hinders loading infant seats and their precious cargo. Parents of children old enough for forward-facing seats would find getting them in and out of the Elantra easier.
Apart from those minor failings and an occasional glitch when using Apple CarPlay – and if you don’t have a compatible smartphone, you miss out on sat-nav – we found little to fault with the Elantra until we discovered a space-saver spare tyre beneath the boot floor. Blame the SR-exclusive space-robbing, but otherwise excellent, multi-link rear suspension setup for that.
Also robbing space are the goose-neck boot-lid hinges, and folding the split rear bench (using plastic pulls inside the boot) reveals a step where the seat-backs fail to sit flush with the boot floor. However, the 458-litre seats-up space is reasonable for the segment, being larger than the Mazda3 sedan but smaller than the generous Nissan Pulsar and unfeasibly capacious Honda Civic.
Better news comes from further forward, with heaps of (electrical) driver’s seat and (manual) steering column adjustment making it easy to find an excellent position behind the wheel.
Pretty much everything was easy and intuitive to use, too, from the clear instruments and simple trip computer to the dual-zone climate control and touch-screen multimedia system.
After the over-busy dashboards of its recent past, with the Elantra Hyundai has reduced button-count in a logical way, avoiding duplication of touch-screen functions but retaining real buttons and knobs where ease-of-use benefits.
Interior storage is decent as well, with a generous glovebox and four bottle-holstering door bins plus nicely sized cupholders.
Control weights and switchgear tactility even nudge premium territory, including the classy feel and satisfying action of the manual transmission’s leather-and-chrome gear lever.
The SR-specific steering wheel is good to grasp and helps the car feel expensive. Our straw poll of mostly positive onlookers confirmed our opinion that this dark grey Elantra SR with red leather interior looked expensive, too.
On the move, the Elantra’s slippery shape contributed to minimal wind noise and we never experienced excessive road noise, even on concrete motorways or coarse-chip country bitumen. The sports front seats are supportive and are well up to some enthusiastic back-road dashing, but the rear bench is a bit flat.
All in all, the Elantra SR interior is a good effort, especially for the price, and even more so if rear space is not your priority.
Engine and transmission
The Elantra SR uses a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine familiar from the Veloster SR, with tweaks to the turbo and its plumbing that yield no headline output changes from the donor car, maintaining 150kW of peak power at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque between 1500 and 4500rpm.
It’s a fair whack more potent than the standard Elantra, and with just 1385kg plus passengers and luggage to haul along, the engine provides peppy, if not breathtaking performance. The turbo changes appear to have introduced a bit of lag we did not notice in the Veloster coupe or Tucson SUV but once on song, this is a responsive and flexible little unit.
As with those cars, there is no evocative engine note to be enjoyed and the mill starts to sound boomy and strained from around 5000rpm upwards. At other times it is smooth and mostly refined.
In any case, with the torque sweet spot available from 1500rpm, there is little need to extend it unless having a bash at some fun roads. Round town and on the motorway it is happy to trundle around quietly at low revs.
This helps efficiency, with official combined-cycle economy rated at 6.1 litres per 100km for the manual, and 5.8L/100km for the auto. With a lot of motorway work we got an astonishing 5.4L/100km, but more often saw low sevens in largely suburban and country driving.
While the majority of buyers will opt for the seven-speed dual-clutch auto, we enjoyed the slick six-speed manual. The clutch was initially a bit abrupt but we soon got used to that and got on with savouring the positive, satisfying throw and smooth action of the lever.
Some have criticised the manual’s ratio spacing but we never experienced a problem. It was a pleasant way to engage further with an already engaging little car.
Ride and handling
Hyundai engineers in Australia tried an almost endless combination of dampers, springs and sway bar configurations before arriving at the setup used on the showroom Elantra SR Turbo, which also has a slightly wider rear track courtesy of a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension system that is not fitted to regular Elantras.
It all works brilliantly. The SR is almost as compliant over bumps as regular Elantras, despite handling-biased measures including slightly stiffer front springs and a 1mm thicker front anti-roll bar. It also provides an impressively settled ride and an obedient, competent, unruffled nature when the car is thrown at bends, even on poor or inconsistent surfaces.
Hyundai also fitted a quicker steering rack for a sharper, more agile feel, but maintained the same 10.6-metre turning circle. The front brakes have also been uprated to 305mm rotors (25mm lager in diameter and 2mm thicker). They provide plenty of stopping power and a great pedal feel.
The Hankook tyres hold on well, with the engine outputs not really high enough to provide any torque steer dramas. However we did detect an odd ‘nibbling’ sensation from the front wheels when powering through quick curves. We didn’t get to sample their wet-road abilities.
Steering weight is spot on and there is plenty of feel to provide driver engagement and confidence once you get past the hint of off-centre viscosity.
The Mazda3 and Ford Focus are sharper on initial turn-in but the Elantra has their fluidity, and that of the VW Golf’s, well within its sights.
We just knew instinctively what the car was going to do without having to ‘learn’ it. Few modern cars provide an instant natural connection like that, let alone at this price. It’s an absolute revelation from a South Korean car and encourages the keen driver to push harder. Up to a point.
If anything, the Elantra SR’s front end tends to get a bit ragged when the driver is really going for it, whereas the rear always feels so planted and not all that adjustable. It’s a disconnect that made us wonder about how it would go with the bigger Pirelli-shod wheels.
But apart from the occasionally off-putting front-end, the Elantra SR feels utterly competent and resolved.
Even more impressive was this car’s nonchalance to poor road surfaces, which tends to be a trait of cars that have gone through some sort of Australian development regime. For example, potholes and speed bumps are soaked up with an ease that make the dynamic abilities all the more pleasantly surprising.
The Elantra SR even borders on over-competence at legal speeds in the way German cars often do. It feels entirely natural to drive quickly while being comfortable and impressively usable for day-to-day duties.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Elantra a maximum five-star rating with a score of 35.01 out of a maximum 37 points with features including six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain), anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are standard.
Servicing intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, with the first 1500km check-up free. At the time of writing, Hyundai’s lifetime capped-price servicing program quoted $259 for each of the first three pit stops, followed by $299, $399 and $435 for the following three.
Hyundai provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Save for a few minor niggles, the Hyundai Elantra SR is a bit of a Goldilocks car. Great ride/handling balance, enough oomph, plenty of equipment, a decent interior and subtle but purposeful looks. Oh, and it’s well-priced, too.
What won us over was the slick ease of use. It makes any type of driving a pleasure rather than a chore. We never thought twice about grabbing the keys for short local errands and knew it would be a relaxing partner for long motorway journeys.
If you are not going to carry infants or tall passengers in the back, the Elantra SR should be high on your sporty small sedan shopping shortlist.
Mazda3 SP25 GT 2.5i sedan ($29,990 plus on-road costs)Big naturally aspirated engine is responsive and recent tweaks maintain the 3’s reputation a sportscar of the segment. Quality interior let down by NVH issues.
Honda Civic RS sedan ($31,790 plus on-road costs)Purposeful styling is not misplaced with Honda’s surprise package of pleasure and practicality. A CVT is not the enthusiast’s choice of transmission, and there is no manual option.
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