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New models - Hyundai - LaVita - GLS people-mover

First Oz drive: Hyundai's Euro-hatched LaVita

Compact but tall: Hyundai's new Elantra LaVita is flexible and fun.

Hyundai's model rush continues with a mini people-mover it prefers to call a Euro-hatch

Hyundai logo5 Oct 2001

HYUNDAI has thrown a curve ball into the burgeoning mini people-mover segment by releasing its Elantra-based LaVita, the ninth car in the Korean company's rapidly expanding model line-up, at a price that undercuts all of its established rivals.

Priced at $22,990 driveaway - which Hyundai says is worth an extra $1600 to $2300, depending on your location - the Pininfarina-styled five-door, five-seater LaVita will target affordable people-movers like the Kia Carens 1.8 ($24,990), Daewoo Tacuma 2.2 ($24,990), Renault Scenic Expression 1.6 ($25,878) and Mazda's top selling Premacy 1.8 ($27,690).

Hyundai says LaVita, by virtue of its price, will also draw sales from potential buyers of small cars like Laser, Corolla, 323, Pulsar, Lancer and Astra, but that Hyundai's smallest vehicle won't compete with Holden's much larger seven-seater Zafira 2.2 at $31,990.

Like the Astra-based Zafira, 323-based Premacy and Megane-based Scenic, LaVita shares its basic platform and drivetrain with a car sibling, in this case the Elantra.Yet, at just 4025mm in length LaVita is the shortest in class by some 146mm, as well as being substantially shorter than the Elantra's little brother, the Accent entry-level car.

LaVita's 90kW/161Nm DOHC 1.8-litre four-cylinder, lifted directly from Elantra, also delivers superior performance compared with the similar engine found in Kia's Carens and Renault's base 1.6-litre Scenic.

LaVita, which is Italian for "life", was styled by famed Italian design house Pininfarina, with input from Hyndai's Frankfurt Design Studio. With a short bonnet, high profile and minimal overhangs, it follows the familiar short-but-tall design concept pioneered by Scenic but adds novel touches like the dropped side windowline and kinked front wheelarch.

LaVita also brings with it a flexible and efficiently packaged interior, combining a number of its own innovations with others seen previously. Like an Echo-style hooded instrument binnacle in the centre of the dash, the Civic-like dash-mounted gear selection and aircraft-style folding trays for rear-seat passengers - complete with gas struts - already seen in the Hyundai Trajet people-mover.

There are also five cupholders, map lights, a roof console and rear seating that splits 60/40 and tumble-folds forward to reveal a flat floor.

In fact, according to Hyundai, LaVita is so ground breaking that the Korean car maker has foregone traditional naming conventions like wagon, mini-MPV and city-car in favour of calling LaVita a Euro-hatch.

Despite forecasting slow growth in the segment, Hyundai Automotive Distributors Australia expects to sell around 150 LaVitas a month, which would see the Hyundai outperform all but Tarago and Carnival within both the small and large people-mover ranks.

Only one version of LaVita - a GLS model - will be available, although options include metallic paint ($165), Mica paint ($198) and an Enhanced Safety Pack (which includes, ABS, a passenger airbag and electronic brake force distribution, at $2190). An optional four-speed automatic transmission brings the LaVita's price to $24,980 driveaway.

LaVita offers plenty of standard equipment, including air-conditioning, remote central locking, alarm, immobiliser, power windows with driver-only auto-down, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, power door mirrors, six-speaker CD/tuner, auto headlights-off, roof rails, tacho, two 12-volt power outlets, rear wiper, driver's seat cushion tilt, height and lumbar adjustment, road speed-linked intermittent wipers and interior trim from the higher-level GLS-spec Elantra.

On the safety front, LaVita comes standard with a "soft-deploy" driver's airbag, pretensioners and load-limiters for the front seatbelts, adjustable front seatbelt mounts, five adjustable head restraints, rear fog light and anti-submarining front seats. Only four lap-sash seatbelt are fitted, however.

PRICING:
Hyundai Elantra LaVita $22,990 driveaway
Hyundai Elantra LaVita auto $24,980 driveaway

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

First thing you notice inside LaVita is the familiar upright seating position common to the new generation of tallboy-style city cars.

Like Scenic, LaVita requires one's right ankle to be bent rather unnaturally to reach the accelerator pedal, but otherwise offers a more car-like driving position with a more upright steering wheel.

Interior presentation is modern and Euro-ish, dominated by the centre-mounted instrument console. There's also good vision forward and back, which is a boon for city driving.

Beyond that, LaVita delivers a very Elantra-like driving experience, which is no bad thing. There's adequate torque to propel LaVita's 1248kg mass with relatively ease, the willing 1.8-litre four-cylinder aided by well spaced gear ratios - both in five-speed manual and adaptive four-speed automatic transmission form. In both cases the gearshift is located conveniently on the dash like Honda's Civic.

The newest Hyundai's ride remains harsh on course-chip bitumen but, apart from a fair degree of engine coarseness at high revs, noise suppression within the cabin is very good.

There's a refreshing level of tautness to LaVita's chassis and though the level of bodyroll remains acceptable when pushed ambitiously into turns (there's less bodyroll than with, say, the Scenic) the Hyundai doesn't quite match the grip and handling ability of Premacy.

But, despite Hyundai's desire to attract new clientele to the brand for reasons other than price - and LaVita offers plenty of them - the smallest Hyundai's trumpcard in this segment remains its price.

At $1000 less than its least expensive rival, LaVita represents a well equipped, well executed and sensible choice within the growing list of clever urban transport alternatives.

GoAuto can help you buy a new LaVita

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