Car reviews - Hyundai - Lantra - 5-dr wagon
Styling, space, practicality, affordability, responsive handling
Room for improvement
Some auto gearbox durability questions, awful manual gearchange
18 Jun 2003
HYUNDAI's Lantra was launched in July, 1991, and represents a number of firsts for the South Korean industrial giant.
The Lantra was Hyundai's first serious contender in the world's largest car segment, the Corolla class.
It was the first Hyundai, and indeed South Korean car, to compete on engineering and design merit rather than bargain-basement pricing.
The Lantra showcased Hyundai's first in-house production car engine design, the four-cylinder Beta series. Hyundai had finally launched a car that was not re-hashed Mitsubishi cast-off technology built poorly to a low price.
Another first for Lantra is the Sportswagon, Hyundai's first station wagon.
Launched in early 1996 and based on the curvy second-generation Lantra sedan, the Lantra Sportswagon, like the similar-sized Subaru Impreza, falls somewhere between a station wagon and a five-door hatchback.
The Sportswagon comes in three models - the base SE with power steering and roof racks, the mid-range GL with anti-lock brakes and the top of the line GLS, which adds central locking, power mirrors and electric windows.
Air-conditioning became standard across the range in April, 1997, a good move considering the glassy load-lugger can get very hot inside.
Although Sportswagon's rounded and cheeky styling appeals to hatch buyers, its one-box shape and reasonably vertical rear window offer a practical, useable load area as well as a modicum of style not normally associated with the genre.
The bulbous back means luggage space rivals the medium-sized Holden Vectra or Ford Mondeo station wagons.
The load area is flat and, cleverly, the rear suspension does not steal too much room. Hyundai claims a highly-competitive 1785 litres of cargo space is available with the 60/40 split rear seat folded flat.
Hyundai scores points for providing cargo hooks, then loses them for not installing rear interior lighting.
Thanks to standard roof rails, an additional 80kg of luggage space is available. It also adds to the Sportswagon's good looks.
The wagon's higher roof compared to the sedan increases head, knee and legroom.
The Sportswagon's interior is identical to that of the Lantra sedan with its curvy dashboard featuring big, legible instrumentation.
The ergonomic design of the one-piece dash reduces the potential for squeaks and rattles to develop. Only cheap, plasticky materials spoil an otherwise well-executed interior.
The wagon's mechanical specifications mirror the sedan. Hyundai's 94kW, 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine is the only one available and is coupled to a rather clunky and sticky five-speed manual gearbox, or the optional four-speed automatic transmission.
The manual gearbox is singularly the least pleasant aspect of driving the Lantra. The juddery clutch on some examples driven detracts from the manual Lantra's driver enjoyment.
Otherwise, the Sportswagon has a well controlled, comfortable ride and predictable, responsive handling.
Road noise can get obtrusive on coarse surfaces with the boxy rear end producing a drum-like resonance.
From early 1999 the Lantra Series II arrived, sporting a new nose treatment, improved specification, the availability of a 101kW 2.0-litre engine and the dropping of the Sportswagon name. It was replaced by the almost all-new XD model from late 2000.
The J2 is fairly reliable save for problems associated with the four-speed auto's durability.
When assessing one, check that the proper coolant is necessary otherwise corrosion in the alloy block or a blown head gasket may occur and the camshaft belts need changing at the right service intervals.
Being a front-wheel drive car, abused Lantras are likely to display worn CV joints. A thorough mechanical check-up will reveal such problems in a car as simple as a Lantra.
Practical, good looking and dynamically quite sound, the Lantra Sportswagon is more desirable than the usual price-driven Hyundais of its time.
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