The Hyundai Elantra is handsome, comfortable, versatile, and fun to drive, comparable to competitors costing thousands more. With the 2005 addition of a five-door hatchback at the base trim level, Elantra now comes in twelve different permutations of body style, trim level, transmission, and emissions rating.
The Elantra is one of the quickest cars in its class. It handles as well as many of its competitors and has a sporty feel. Elantra comes with a newly engineered 2.0-liter engine with variable-valve timing and is a leader in fuel economy. Elantra is rated 27/34 mpg City/Highway by the EPA when equipped with the manual transmission.
The four-door sedan is popular, while the five-door hatchback merges the practical advantages of a wagon with the sleek look of a sedan. Each body style is available in GLS and GT trim.
The Elantra's interior is nicely finished and more comfortable than many subcompacts, including the big name brands. Standard equipment surpasses that offered on cars costing thousands more, and includes side airbags, designed to provide torso protection in a side impact.
Hyundai's warranty is one of the best available. The basic warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles for the original owner, with free roadside assistance throughout. The engine and transmission are warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and Hyundai protects Elantra from rust-through for five years or 100,000 miles.
Hyundai Elantra is offered in two body styles: four-door sedan, and five-door hatchback. Each comes in two trim levels, base-level GLS and sporty GT. All Elantra models share the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. An automatic transmission is optional ($800).
Safety features are anything but economy grade; two frontal airbags and front seat-mounted side-impact airbags come standard. Three-point seat belts are used for all five seating positions.
The GLS sedan ($13,299) comes well equipped with air conditioning, stereo cassette radio, power windows, mirrors and locks, center console with armrest, and keyless remote entry with alarm. The GLS five-door hatchback ($13,599) comes with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension and four-wheel disc brakes (to replace the disc/drum combination on the GLS sedan). A rear-window wiper-washer comes standard on hatchback models. Cruise control is optional ($195) on GLS models. Other GT features are available for the GLS in packages. For example, Group 4 ($1,140) adds ABS and traction control, cruise control, and an electronically tuned stereo/CD upgrade.
The GT ($14,849) is available in four-door and five-door body styles (same price). The GT adds leather seating, a leather-wrapped gearshift and steering wheel, a trip computer that projects range, cruise control, instrument lights that glow purple, front fog lamps, and alloy wheels with Michelin tires. The GT comes with a 200-watt Kenwood CD/MP3 player with six speakers and a removable faceplate, and remote control. Options for the GT models include the sunroof ($750) and sunroof plus ABS/traction control ($1,345).
Port-installed accessories include woodgrain trim ($225), mud guards ($60), a cargo net ($40) and a cargo tray for the hatchback ($70). The GLS four-door can be fitted with a rear spoiler ($395) and carpeted floor mats ($75), which come standard with the GT.
Hyundai Elantra features smooth and unembellished styling with aerodynamics that help boost fuel economy and reduce wind noise. Recent styling revisions refined its looks.
From the front doors forward the sedan and hatchback are identical, featuring prominent twin trapezoid headlamps angled back in a black background. The headlamps were designed to cast a broad pattern of light, and they're complemented by a revised V-shaped grille with thick, horizontal bars. The grille is integrated with the bumper cover and does not lift with the hood. The front bumper has wider slats to improve airflow to the engine bay, and the foglamps are fitted more precisely.
Hyundai says it added the sedan in response to customer requests, but we prefer the more daring styling and increased carrying capacity of the hatchback. With its big hatch opening and split folding rear seat, the five-door is remarkably versatile for a car its size.
The five-door hatchback is distinct from the sedan starting at the rear-door B-pillar and moving rearward. The hatchback boasts a more expansive glass area, and its roof trails back into the rear hatch, fastback style, rather than dropping suddenly toward the trunk. The hatch ends with a small, body-colored spoiler lip above the taillights. The only unfortunate aspect of the rear styling is in the taillights, broken abruptly by the edges of the hatch lid, the lights look as if they've got duct tape over the middle. On the functional side, the taillights on all Elantras are sized for visibility, and the opening for the key is on the right (curb) side of the lid.
The Elantra stretches 102.7 inches in wheelbase, providing good leg room inside in both the front and back seats of both body styles. Headroom is also good both front and rear. Just as significantly, the engine is mounted with hydraulic attachments in a new front subframe, greatly reducing the amount of drivetrain vibration that reaches the cabin.
Often, inexpensive cars try to make up for their economy ambience with strange or garish interior design. In contrast, the Hyundai Elantra interior is subdued, clean and efficient. Our test car was finished in dark gray and basic black, and we found it quite appealing. There's very little hard plastic in the Elantra, and the soft stuff has a richer feel than we've been conditioned to expect in cars of this ilk. Even the center armrest is padded and covered with cloth or leather; most cars in this class have a hard plastic center armrest.
The front seats are terrific, offering precise adjustments. They are large and neither too soft nor too hard, providing adequate support without inflicting pain. The driver's seat adjusts for height both front and rear and both front seats have adjustable lumbar support. The front shoulder belts are height adjustable, a feature shorter people will appreciate.
The rear seats in the Elantra sedans are roomier and more comfortable than those in the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Ford Focus sedans. Hyundai provides a combination lap/shoulder belt in the center position, whereas the class standard remains a lap belt only. With less than five feet of rear hip room, outboard rear passengers will be happier if the center spot is empty, but that's true in all compacts.
The gauge binnacle and control panel sweep in front of the driver and down toward the center console. The speedometer and tach have separate faces. The purplish backlighting in the GT makes them quite legible at night or in full mid-afternoon sunshine, but they're a bit further apart than we'd like.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning are adjusted with rotary controls, which are easier to use than the sliding type. The dials are set below the stereo, which is good because the stereo tends to be accessed more often. The dash vents feature separate controls.
Switches for the headlights, wipers, and cruise control are mounted on stalks, within easy reach. Remote releases for the trunk/hatch and fuel-door are standard. The window, side mirror and central locking controls are located in the driver's door panel. The hazard-light switch is located square in the center of dash, where it's easy to find. The overhead floodlamp is just above the windshield to the center of the car, providing good light distribution. A second power point is provided below the lighter. And a small, slide-out felt-lined storage bin is located below the driver's side vent.
The only gripe involves the stereo. The slick Kenwood system in our test car sounded fine, but the buttons on the faceplate are tiny. Moreover, we found the flashing, multi-color graphics annoying when driving at night.
We think the five-door hatchback is the most desirable body style. With the rear seat in place, the hatchback provides 26.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, more than double the space in the sedan's trunk (12.9 cubic feet). Fold the seat down, and the five-door offers a class-topping 37 cubic feet of stowage. It's remarkable what you can squeeze into the Elantra hatchback's cargo bay. We fit a dozen 10-foot pieces of wood molding and a couple of two-by-fours entirely inside the car, with the hatch closed. Then we did it again with plywood sheets cut to 40x70 inches, including the remnants. With the hatch tied partway open, the possibilities include full sheets of plywood or a 27-inch TV in its carton. That's impossible in a sedan. The security system allows the trunk or hatch to be unlocked with the key without disarming the alarm.
The Hyundai Elantra is among the quickest cars in its class. Elantra boasts 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. That's more than enough power to hustle through traffic, pass with confidence or zip through mountain passes. With the manual transmission, the Elantra accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in the mid 8-second range, which is quick for the class and more than adequate for most traffic conditions. This engine meets the government's ultra-low emissions (ULEV) standards.
Elantra's continuously variable valve timing allows more complete combustion of nitrous oxide in the exhaust. Models sold in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine are tuned to meet super ultra-low emissions (SULEV) standards; the SULEV engine produces slightly less power: 132 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque.
Either way, you need to rev the engine to wring the most power from it, making a manual transmission the best choice for the Elantra. There just isn't gobs of power at lower engine speeds. Most of the acceleration-producing power is at higher revs, coming in around 4400 rpm and carrying through to the 6400-rpm redline. That means you'll need to work the transmission, shifting to get the most from the power plant. Enthusiast drivers enjoy that. But if you're used to an engine with more low-end torque, and you don't let the Elantra wind out, you might wonder where the goods are. And when you find them, you might be disconcerted by the ruckus of a hard-working four-cylinder howling near 6000 rpm. These power characteristics are better suited to a manual transmission than an automatic. Also, the Elantra drivetrain isn't as smooth as that of some of the other cars in this class.
Nor is it a leader in fuel economy. Elantra nets an EPA-estimated 27/34 mpg City/Highway with the five-speed manual, 24/32 mpg with the automatic. Its relatively heavy weight means other cars in the class deliver better fuel economy.
In addition to its acceleration performance, Elantra makes up for these deficiencies with its balance of ride and handling. Indeed, the Elantra GT offers levels of handling associated with a good European sedan, with speed-sensitive power steering and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension. The steering requires only a light touch during parking maneuvers or in tight quarters, yet it firms up at travel speeds and gives the driver a good idea of how well the front tires are gripping. The rear suspension keeps the tires firmly on the pavement, even on bumpy roads, to keep the rear of the car from bouncing around. This all adds up to maneuverability in traffic, secure, reasonably precise handling on curving two-lane highways and a ride that is neither floppy nor buckboard stiff. Only on freeways with a rapid succession of excessively uneven expansion joints does the Elantra tend to get bouncy. The weakest link in the handling package on the GT is its hard, wear-resistant all-season tires. A set of speed-rated performance tires would further improve handling though at the expense of faster tire wear.
The Elantra hatchback does not suffer from the flexing and rattling that is the bane of some five-doors. It's decently screwed together and satisfactorily solid.
Four-wheel disc brakes, vented in front do a great job of slowing Elantra GT and GLS five-door models. Indeed, they can stop more quickly than the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, according to published reports. We recommend the available anti-lock brakes, which come bundled with traction control. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation, while traction control enhances stability when accelerating.
The Hyundai Elantra is more enjoyable to drive than many of the name-brand cars in its class and there's little about it that feels cheap. In the workaday grind the Elantra is better than acceptable. It's good, and it can run with comparably equipped competitors in nearly every respect except the size of the monthly payments. There, it comes out ahead. Hyundai has made big gains in reliability and build quality, and any concerns in that regard are eased by a comprehensive warranty and roadside assistance plan. Elantra is the bargain of the class.
New Car Test Drive correspondent J.P. Vettraino is based in the Detroit area.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Hyundai Elantra GLS sedan ($13,299); GLS hatchback ($13,599); GT sedan ($14,849); GT hatchback ($14,849)|
|138-hp 2.0-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4|
|5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|dual frontal airbags and side-impact airbags; three-point harnesses at all seating positions; rear child-seat anchors and safety locks|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|antilock brakes (ABS); traction control|
|5 years/60,000 miles with roadside assistance|
|Ulsan, South Korea|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback ($14,849)|
|air conditioning; leather seating surfaces; leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-shift knob; power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry; cruise control; 200-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, removable faceplate and remote; tilt steering column; variable intermittent wipers; rear glass defogger and wiper; center console with armrest; tachometer and trip computer; remote fuel-door release; 60/40 split folding rear seat; four-wheel disc brakes; fog lamps; 15-inch alloy wheels; carpeted floor mats|
|Options as tested:|
|power sunroof ($750); trunk cargo net ($40)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|2.0-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|138 @ 6000|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|136 @ 4500 rpm|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|37.0 cu. ft.|
|independent MacPherson strut|
|independent multi-link with coil springs|
|vented disc/disc in.|