More features for the dollar.
by Ron Moorhead
Base Price (MSRP) $11,799
As Tested (MSRP) $14,009
If the Elantra proves anything, it's this: Hyundai is serious about catching, then keeping, a new generation of owners.
Catching customers starts with a solid, well-equipped subcompact at one basic price. The Elantra's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is larger and more powerful than those in many other subcompacts. And the Elantra's list of standard features is anything but bare-bones basic. Keeping customers is left to a surprisingly complete warranty. The Hyundai Advantage extends bumper-to-bumper coverage to five years or 60,000 miles, while the powertrain is warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles. To top it off, Hyundai offers Elantra owners free 24-hour roadside assistance.
The impressive warranty wouldn't mean much if the Elantra were otherwise difficult to live with, and in fact, the opposite is true. With improved fit-and-finish and decent performance, the Elantra goes a long way toward changing perceptions of small Korean cars.
Elantra is available as a four-door sedan or wagon. Both come in a single trim level, the GLS. Elantra GLS includes popular features such as air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, thick cut-pile carpeting, a tachometer and six-way adjustable driver's seat. Better still, Hyundai is providing more stuff for the same price as a 1999 Elantra GLS. The sedan retails at $11,799 with the 5-speed manual, and $12,549 with an automatic; the wagon is $12,499 and $13,249 with the automatic.
With the reasonable base price, and judicious selection of options, a buyer can tailor the Elantra to taste without breaking the bank. We specified our 5-speed sedan with most of the factory options available, including a moonroof, alloy wheels and stereo upgrade, and barely pushed the price past $14,000 with the destination charge. Even with ABS, the $15,000 price barrier is difficult to reach with Elantra.
The Elantra may not be the most distinctive small sedan on the road, but it's pleasant enough to look at. Its rounded fenders, sloping hood and large greenhouse afford good outward visibility in all directions, and the optional rear spoiler indeed adds a hint of sportiness. The restyled front end features improved halogen headlights that spill more lumens onto the road ahead.
The Elantra's doors open wide for easy access to both front and rear seats, and its trunk provides 11 cubic feet of cargo space--above average in this class. Unfortunately, the trunk opening is rather small, making it difficult to load larger items that should easily fit.
Hyundai's effort to project a higher level of quality is apparent in Elantra's passenger cabin. The improvement isn't measured by bells and whistles, but by clean, efficient design, better finish and switches that are easier to live with.
The cloth upholstery and door trim feel sturdy, yet comfortable, and the vinyl, particularly that covering the dashboard, is soft and pliable. In all, materials feel quite rich for a car of Elantra's price. Interior volume, including available headroom, compares favorably with other cars in the class.
Remote trunk and fuel release and a carpeted cargo compartment are standard.
The heater, ventilation and air conditioning are now controlled with rotary switches, rather than the sliding type. They're much easier to locate and adjust while driving. Unfortunately, Hyundai didn't extend these improvements to the radio controls, and that's our primary gripe. The buttons are so small that adjusting them distracts from the task of driving.
Let's face it folks we aren't talking a luxurious limousine here. The Elantra is a small sedan that will carry two adults and two or three children to work, the grocery store or a PTA meeting comfortably, economically and free of worry.
Its engine performs better than many in this class. Elantra's twin-cam four-cylinder engine produces 140 horsepower and 133 foot-pounds of torque, which is impressive power in this class. It can get a bit raucous when run at high revs for an extended stretch. But it launches quickly from a stop and offers good acceleration performance for passing other cars.
Our drive took us from city streets to the Interstate to mountains roads near Lake Tahoe, California. Everywhere but up the steepest grades, the Elantra held its own, and even in the mountains it had no trouble keeping with the flow of traffic. As is often the case with small cars, we recommend the manual transmission when performance is a priority. Yet even with the automatic, Elantra is up to the work-a-day grind of commuting and running errands. The available automatic transmission has four forward gears, while some competitors offer only three.
The suspension is fully independent and quite sophisticated for the economy class. Plenty of cars that cost $10,000 more than Elantra don't have multi-link rear suspension, or speed-sensitive power steering. The steering assist gives the wheel a light touch at low speed, for easy parallel parking, yet it's not overly sensitive at highway speed. Feedback through the steering wheel gives the driver a pretty good idea of how well the front tires are gripping.
In general, Elantra's ride is compliant and well controlled, and it handles twisting mountain roads in fine fashion. Only on the most uneven stretches of freeway, where joints and undulations can get the suspension hopping does the Elantra get bouncy. With truly aggressive stops, we were able to heat Elantra's brakes to a point where they began to fade. But in our estimation, drivers will rarely, if ever, experience such conditions in normal use.
Noise and vibration control in Elantra's cabin is average for the subcompact class. As noted, the engine can get loud when run wide-open. Yet overall, Elantra is smoother and quieter than its predecessors had taught us to expect. Hyundai's efforts to dampen shakes and limit cabin noise have paid dividends.
Added features without added markup make the 2000 Elantra a more formidable competitor for the Dodge Neon, Honda Civic and other small cars. Elantra isn't the most refined car in its class, but it's a long way from the least refined. Given the high-value price and solid warranty, we'd guess that Hyundai will catch plenty of new buyers with this little sedan.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.