Hyundai began distancing itself from a budget brand reputation years ago with fresh product that began to turn heads. It’s offerings kept getting better, and now the Korean carmaker has broken into a full sprint as it continues to buffer an already strong range with good quality, no nonsense vehicles. The latest addition to this expanding stable is the all-new 2011 Elantra small sedan that enters the fray as the fifth generation of the nameplate. Compact sedans are rarely known for being exciting machines but the new Elantra’s slick bodywork immediately separates itself from more conservative competition. Does it have the brawn and the brains to back up the sexy sheetmetal? Car and SUV spent a week with the new Elantra to find out.
For most potential buyers it’s the Elantra’s shape that will pierce their interest despite the lack of any sharp edges. It’s an elegantly worked collaboration of creases and coupe-inspired curves. Hyundai’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ design language is in full force with the Elantra and gives it a strong family resemblance with its larger i45 sibling. Details like a broad lower air dam, pumped-out wheel arches and ascending shoulder line make the Elantra look wide and low. Clever joining of the wheel guards to the bumpers add to the slippery appeal and uniquely shaped lights draw the eye. Our tested entry-level Elantra A6 missed out on the chrome trim and 17-inch alloys of the Elite models but looked very smart with colour-coded door handles and 5-spoke 16-inch alloys as standard. It’s clear that Hyundai have made styling a top priority and the Elantra aesthetic is about as modern and dynamic as you’ll find in the compact sedan market.
In the cabin, the fluidic design flows on with a well-rounded dashboard and raised centre control stack. There’s a definite cockpit feel with the driver nicely cosseted, but not at the cost of fairly generous interior space. The Elantra’s switchgear has a unique appearance but the ergonomics are very good with the climate controls a particular highlight. The instrumentation is more conventional, it’s large, well illuminated and there’s a small display screen for trip and vehicle info. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is another feature, it has a contemporary 4-spoke design and houses audio, cruise and phone controls.
Interior build quality is impressive, the majority of plastics are of the soft high-grade variety and while there are cheaper harder plastics used, nothing really feels ‘base-model’ in the Elantra. There are thoughtful cubbies and small storage areas throughout including a purpose built area for iPods and also a centre bin/armrest. The cloth-trimmed seats on our tested model were comfortable but could have offered more side bolstering. The driver’s chair was also height adjustable making it easy to get comfortable in the low-slung sedan.
There isn’t a mass of space in the back pew, but its comfortable for two, while a third occupant will have to use the thin and hard centre seat. Those over 6-foot may find their headroom compromised by the coupe-like roofline but there’s good legroom for slouching down. Boot capacity is rated at 485-litres, which is a handy 40-litres more than the Holden Cruze. There’s a cargo net for keeping the groceries in order and a wide opening for added convenience.
In terms of standard specification Hyundai has become known for offering a little bit more for the money and this remains true for the Elantra. The entry-spec model receives a six-speaker stereo with iPod input, air-conditioning, cruise control, security alarm, trip computer, rear centre armrest, power windows all around, keyless entry and the all-important Bluetooth functionality.
So the new Elantra has the looks and the tricks to impress but does it have the powerplant to match? The single engine option is a 1.8-litre petrol unit and while it isn’t a powerhouse, it’s high-tech and economical. The aluminum 4-cylinder motor uses variable valve timing and multi-point fuel injection to produce 110kW of power and 178Nm of max torque. The engine is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission that helps the Elantra achieve a fuel economy figure of 7.1l/100km combined. That’s an impressive result for Hyundai and is made possible by smart engineering like an offset crankshaft, a lightweight transmission and an electronic throttle body.
The result of the Elantra’s focus on fuel efficiency is evident on-road where the small sedan is only modestly powered. The 0-100kph sprint takes just over 10 seconds so it’s not a high performance machine. That said, power is delivered in a smooth, linear fashion without any buzz or clatter. It has strong pull through the mid-range and is nicely settled at the open road speed limit. There’s also enough torque for relaxed work through the suburbs. The six-speed auto box keeps itself busy extracting all available power but shifts smoothly and chops down gears intuitively. There’s a manual shift mode through the gearshift, which works without delay. Overall it’s a modern and smooth powertrain that gives the Elantra a relaxed nature similar to that of a larger sedan.
Dynamically, there is plenty to like about the Elantra. It’s well prepared for NZ’s twisted roads with loads of grip through the front driving wheels. It keeps reassuringly flat mid-corner and exhibits high handling limits before breaking into predictable under-steer. It also feels nicely agile and with a kerb weight of just 1,220kg it’s understandable why. While the engine isn’t overtly powerful the Elantra’s handling ability means it can be hustled along quickly when desired.
The flip side of the Elantra’s competent driving dynamics comes with a ride that is quite firm. While this won’t be an issue on the majority of road surfaces, broken or coarse roads may send some shudders through the cabin. The power-assisted steering is very light, which is nice around town but can be a notch vague on the open road. Refinement is a strength of the Elantra and the cabin is generally a tranquil place to be. The only audible invasion comes from tyre roar when travelling over coarse surfaces.
Safety credentials are all up-to-date with a vehicle stability management system, electronic stability program, front seatbelt pretensioners and a six-airbag package. The Elantra body is also fitted with high tensile steels to increase body strength in safety critical areas.
What’s the verdict on the new Elantra? It’s a well-executed all rounder that will prove a strong competitor in the compact sedan market. Design is certainly a strength of the new model but the powertrain is also a huge leap forward for the badge with its refined nature and impressive economy. It’s a capable handler, even though most owners won’t need it to be, and there’s a high equipment level even on the base model. Hyundai continues to impress and the Elantra doesn’t just look cool, it also has thoughtful harmonization of its key elements. That’s what makes it a smart option in the segment and also helps further the appeal of small sedans in general.
What we like:
- Excellent fuel economy
- Exterior styling is most dynamic in the segment
- Very composed handling
- Nicely appointed interior
What we don’t like:
- Would benefit from 10kW more power
- Rear seat headroom is restricted
- Steering can feel vague
Who will buy this car: May prove popular in the fleet market but also has appeal for retired couples and possibly even young families.
Cool Factor: Medium, small sedans aren’t known for having mad street cred, but in Elite trim with the 17-inch alloys it would illicit some admiring looks.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo