Hyundai Elantra Review

hyundai elantra review

Look in Hyundai’s high school yearbook and you’ll see “most improved.” Almost every model the Korean automaker has sent stateside has been a quantum leap forward from its predecessor. The Elantra's roots stretch back to the Excel, which excelled at falling apart. The Elantra name survived; the model went from crap, to cheap, to "say that's not bad." Now we've got the fourth generation Elantra. Does the all-new iteration follow the Sonata and Santa Fe in Hyundai's relentless march from cars you buy because they're dirt cheap to cars you buy because why the Hell should I pay more?

The Elantra sits near the top of the economy car pack in terms of not looking too much like an economy car. Thanks to a dorky swage line that dips in the middle and a teardrop-shaped rear window, the Elantra looks like a Corolla with an untucked shirt. Fortunately, the Korean’s front is all business: crispy tailored creases surrounding the requisite Pokemon thousand yard stare headlights. The Elantra’s a color sensitive beastie; lighter shades tend to highlight some of the car’s more awkward proportions.

At 177 inches long, the new Elantra is significantly shorter than the outgoing model. To put that stat into its proper perspective, the Korean compact is now about the same length as the current Toyota Corolla and roughly 14 feet longer than a mechanical pencil– which is, let’s face it, more aesthetically exciting than either machine. Still, nobody buys an Hyundai or Toyota on looks alone. The bottom line: the Elantra's exterior is modern enough that it’ll still appear fresh when its owner’s five-year warranty expires.

Speaking of fresh, Hyundai’s nostril curling crayon/sulfur olfactory signature is gone. The Elantra’s interior now smells as anodyne as it looks. Yes, the cabin’s about as thrilling as alcohol-free vodka. But it's a remarkably large (more interior volume than the Civic and Corolla) and well-ordered space, swathed in a small selection of wildly inoffensive materials, available in a limited range of gray tones. Still, the Elantra’s fit and finish is beyond reproach– if only because occupants can’t stay awake long enough to kvetch.

The Elantra offers integrated XM radio as part of a cheap audio package. Alas, that’s it for toys. The model's Korean taskmasters have denied their baby any of the other high profit, hi-tech [optional] toys that make Nissan's Versa and Sentra so appealing (Bluetooth, keyless go, hard drive in the dashboard, satellite navigation, etc.). At least you won’t die of boredom. The Elantra’s standard safety features include Electronic Brake-force Distribution, six airbags (including side curtains), antilock brakes and active head restraints. The “rich man's” Elantra SE adds electronic stability and traction control.

The Elantra's dynamic demeanor can be summed up in a single word: easy. There's a theoretical manual transmission, but almost all cars come with a smooth 'n' slow four speed automatic. Pop the Elantra into drive and your brain automatically switches off. Although the seconds required for zero to 60 “sprints” cannot be counted on two hands, the Elantra’s whisper-quiet 2.0-liter, 138 horsepower engine delivers enough pep to merge into traffic and amble around town. Should you find a stick shift Elantra, you can shave two seconds from your dash (down to 8.3 seconds to be precise). But that’s like saying a dash of hot sauce can jazz-up a piece of meatloaf.

Sensibly enough, Hyundai’s chassis engineers completed ignored any notion of sportiness and focused on making the Elantra a pothole munching machine. In this they succeeded. The Elantra’s fully independent McPherson (front) and multilink (rear) suspension is more comfortable and compliant than your favorite slightly kinky sexual metaphor. It surmounts road imperfections with big car ease, with only a distant, rubbery judder to remind you that it’s a hard knock life.

There’s a downside to the Elantra’s mortuarial operating philosophy: its electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion power steering system. The helm is so overboosted that any connection between the steering wheel’s attitude and the rubber wheel’s direction is strictly intellectual. The car responds to the tiller both quickly and competently, but without one iota of dynamic feedback, it's best not to attempt anything resembling a driving maneuver. Just ease on down the line.

Don't get me wrong: piloting the Elantra is a disco-era joy. Kicking back and guiding the compact via a single finger hooked delicately around the rim of a plastic steering wheel is more old school than putting a pack of smokes under your shirt sleeve. Alternatively, you could say the Elantra’s the best entry-level model that Buick never made.

Priced to go, temperate in its thirst, the all-new Elantra is a guaranteed hit. People that love frugality almost as much as they hate driving per se should run right out and buy one. In fact, the (literally) mind-numbing sophistication of the new Elantra makes it clear that Hyundai is the new Toyota. How great is that?

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  • Jasonkumar Jasonkumar on May 21, 2009

    HYUNDAI ELANTRA...IS A HORRIBLE CAR. I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THIS PIECE OF JUNK TO ANYONE. I HAD ONE AND HAPPILY GOT RID IT OF IT IN ONE YEAR. THE CAR USES AN UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNT OF GAS FOR ITS SIZE. WE BOUGHT A SMALL SIZED CAR HOPING TO KEEP OUR GAS BILLS LOW BUT THIS CAR USED ( I EXAGERRATE NOT) A 1/4 TANK IN 10 MILES. PLEASE DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE AS I DID. I AM ONLY WRITING THIS TO WARN PPL.

  • Angelblue Angelblue on Jun 20, 2009

    I bought a 2009 Elantra and love it. I previously drove a Mercedes. The high performance engine was slurping up my cash. Now, my Elantra has the leather interior, skylight, etc. I love the way it drives. It gets me where I want to go at practically no cost. Also, other people with whom I associate have driven Elantras in the past - the milage did not seem to be a factor in the automobile's performance. For example, I know someone driving a 2005 Elantra with 98,000 miles, and the car is still dependable. I love it.

  • Art Vandelay Still looks better than modern Hyundai/KIA products
  • Dukeisduke The F&I office on steroids.
  • DenverMike Yeah there’s temporarily gains, but automakers will continue to seek additional revenue streams as the auto industry will be in decline from now on, with new players taking an increasingly piece of the pie, plus weak EV profits. Prices are considered stupid, even by the rich that easily find better ways to dump cash, even on $200K Batmobile replicas. There’s never been so many (Hot) alternatives to “new” vehicles and all the BS/greed that goes along with them, including, yes better than new!Did I mention the auto aftermarket has been growing exponentially?
  • JMII I guess at one point OnStar had value but given that everyone has a smart phone these days I can't think of anything it does that I would pay for. The car has a OLM and reading the manual gives me all the other maintenance information I need. I unplugged the unit in my C7 just so the blue and red lights would disappear from my rear view mirror... I found them very distracting. Since my C7 was used I never signed up nor paid for anything, I have no idea what the data they are collecting on me but driving to and from work plus the occasionally track day doesn't seem like a gold mine.
  • Daniel J When this came out I was really interested in it but there were only 2 on the lot in a 250 mile range. The closest one was not the trim I was looking for. The other issue was that the the only colors that were on the lots were black and silver.It really seemed to me that Kia really wasn't interested in selling this.
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