Elegant Elantra has real refinement

By Denis Droppa Time of article published Nov 17, 2011

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While most people appreciate the charm of an Alfa Romeo or Citroën, it’s usually cars such as Corollas or Elantras they buy when it comes to spending their own money.

So it’s not for us to criticise the relative lack of “character” cars in the C-segment, because the market has spoken. Practical sedans with good safety, family-lugging space, fuel-sipping economy and a generous list of gadgets is what buyers in this league are after, and what cars such as the abovementioned Toyota and Hyundai deliver.

The new-generation Hyundai Elantra has quietly become larger and safer and more sophisticated and, though it doesn’t quite rival an Alfa for charm, it does have a swoopy new design that’s quite stylish for a sedan. It’s inherited the “fluidic sculpture” styling language of the larger Sonata which has received so much praise for its design.

This beautified body wraps a car that has grown in both wheelbase and overall length to become one of the largest and most spacious C-segment sedans available today. Cabin space has been enlarged by 18 litres, making for a roomy passenger compartment that ensures four adults can sit without their style being cramped. The boot’s large too, although the full-sized spare in our test car didn’t fit properly under a carpet which was clearly designed for a space-saver.

Power outputs, fuel-efficiency, comfort and safety features of the fifth-generation Elantra have also all been upgraded.

The previous Elantra was sold here in 1.6-litre and two-litre guises, with the newcomer now offering 1.6 and 1.8 derivatives. The Elantra 1.8 GLS on test here has a new-generation engine with dual continuously variable valve timing delivering outputs of 110kW and 178Nm - slightly more power but slightly less torque than the old two-litre but with much better fuel economy, according to its makers. Our test car achieved an 8.2 litres per 100km average.

Hyundai has resisted the growing trend towards turbo technology, especially amongst European carmakers, leaving the Elantra’s normally-aspirated 1800cc engine offering good solid commuting pace and easy cruisability without any fireworks.

Except for a clutch that takes rather high and takes some getting used to, there’s nothing that intrudes on your happy-driving reverie. While failing to generate much excitement or driver appeal, this car underlines how once-humble Hyundai has come of age in terms of refinement and polish. It ticks along with the serenity of an expensive Swiss watch.

The 1.8 GLS is available in manual and auto six-speed transmissions and the manual version we tested is a smooth-shifting pleasure.

The steering’s light and lifeless in that time-honoured Korean car tradition, but very few Elantra customers are likely to demand meaty steering and racetrack handling.

What they want is safe and neutral roadholding with a comfy ride and this the Elantra delivers, calmly wafting along with its suspension isolating its occupants from road imperfections.

Behind the wheel, the ergonomics are user-friendly with clearly marked controls. I particularly like the audio system’s large power/volume switch, which is easy to find when you need to quickly switch off some dreadful Enrique Iglesias song that starts playing on the radio.

The steering adjusts for both reach and height, ensuring a happy driving position for drivers of all sizes. It’s a car that doesn’t jar or annoy in any way (except a minor one - you can’t choose to direct air to both your face and windscreen at the same time).

The price is right too, and the R214 900 Elantra 1.8 GLS sells for substantially less than similarly-specced cars from the Corolla and Jetta stables - which, I think, is the key reason why it made the 2012 SA Car of the Year list of finalists. Standard spec represents very good value and the comfort items include dual-zone automatic aircon, an audio system with USB/MP3 connections, trip computer, rear parking sensor, rain sensing wipers, and all the other button-operated regulars.

Driver, passenger side and curtain airbags provide the safety along with ABS brakes, and the car comes with one of the best backup plans in the market, namely a five-year or 150 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan.

VERDICT

Elantra’s 1.8 GLS delivers bread-and-butter family commuting in a very polished manner, at an appealing price, and not without an element of style. - Star Motoring

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