AS I WRITE this road test, the South African Car of the Year finalists have just been announced. Yes, there are a few unexpected inclusions, most of these on the plus side (Citroen DS4), but as Roger Mcleery introduced each “beautiful motorcar” the only certain marque that everyone agreed would herald a spot in the finals was the Hyundai Elantra. We happen to have the very model chosen as our test unit and it certainly has the ability to surprise – but in unlikely places.
The design language for the latest Elantra was ‘fluidic sculpture’, which translates into a car that looks like it’s been designed by earthly elements such as wind and water. The lines that caress the car look like desert sand that’s been plagued by winds leaving a creased, ribbon-like design flick across the front and rear wheel arches. The effect is a C-segment sedan that out-styles its competition by a long shot. The consistency in Hyundai’s design is showing, with distinct similarities featuring in the Sonata and recently introduced Accent. The sleek and flowing design does have function over and above the aesthetically pleasing nature of the shape. The Elantra has a reduced drag coefficient of 0.28cd and the increase in aerodynamic efficiency in turn reduces the fuel consumption. The only complaint about current Hyundai styling is the front grille that reminds me of a fish’s mouth with a horse bit between it. The Elantra however doesn’t seem to wear this trait as prominently as its larger sibling the Sonata – thankfully.
That exterior design of fluid lines flows through to the interior as well, with swooping lines running from the doors right around the dashboard and then sloping down as they head past the front fascia and down the transmission tunnel. The whole effect creates a cocoon-like atmosphere for both driver and passenger. The dash itself contains a nice hint of cloth fabric that separates itself from the vast black hole of rubber that manufacturers these days insist on calling ‘upscale’ or ‘premium’. The cloth is actually made from synthetic fibres and trace amounts of volcanic rock (yes, you read that correctly) that makes it easy to clean, something that is so often the downfall of cloth interiors. As for standard equipment, the Elantra doesn’t lack in that department, with a generous amount of gadgets and adapters to keep the iPod generation happy. No leather seats are available in the range but you do get rear parking sensors, 6 airbags, auto locking doors, rain sensing wipers and of course the USB and auxiliary inputs.
As I mentioned earlier the Elantra sprung a bit of a surprise on us, nobody expected it to be in the performance department. I’ll start with the 0-100kph figure we achieved. 7.8 seconds. We were sceptical when road test engineer Peter Henkel relayed this figure to us so had him run the sprint several times, with the outcome the same each time, 7.8 seconds. Putting that into perspective, it ranks right up there with your old Opel Superboss and more recently the likes of turbocharged hatches such as DS3 Sport, Mito Quadrifoglio and a list of Golfs; this from a C-segment sedan no less. The reason behind this is a lightning quick throttle response that gives you access to most of the Elantra’s power capabilities in the first half of the throttle pedal range. The 1.8 Nu engine, named after the 13th Greek letter, produces 110kW and 178Nm and, thanks to a 33.6kg reduction in weight of the engine, the entire car weighs in at 1176kg. That kind of power to weight ratio is normally reserved for vehicles with S or R badges. The real test of how it uses this power though is the key and for that we have…
With the rather unassuming speed the Elantra GLS (TI) carries with it, you might occasionally find yourself in need of some of this handling stuff. First off, the steering is a bit over-assisted making inputs less accurate and feedback slightly numbed. This doesn’t mean the whole experience is ruined though, as our video attests (see tag at bottom), it’s rather playful when provoked and has all the safety that front-wheel drive cars are renowned for (if in trouble release throttle). As for everyday use, it’s more suited to this than the sporty nature of its straight line speed. To sum up the Elantra’s handling, it would be soft but not waterbed soft, the type of ride your everyday driver would want. The front overhang is quite short so speedbumps don’t scrape the bumper, and if the missus is driving she can attack the kerbs with ferocity without dealing out costly injuries to the bodywork.
The Elantra breathes fresh air into the rather lifeless entry level C-segment sedan market. Good styling coupled with a modernised interior, brisk engines and a good ride makes it an immediate favourite for this year’s SA Car of the Year. The only thing holding it back is its lack of traction control – it has none. This is a blot on an impressive report card, as passive safety systems are a near necessity to achieve a Euro NCAP 5-star rating. Still, the Elantra is now the class leader in terms of everything else, and that matters.
IN THE RACE for volumes, leading car makers would do well to take a look over their shoulders to see just how quickly Kia and Hyundai have closed the gap. In the last two years the Korean leap forward has been meteoric, and world uptake of the latest crop has been such that a new manufacturing plant is being built. Currently the Koreans are running their plants at full capacity, working 20 hours a day seven days a week.
The rapid advance to desirability is embodied by the newest Elantra, revealed to the world press a mere four years after the last model hit the market. One look at the styling and it’s clear why Hyundai has hustled the model to market. We’re told those flowing, wavy lines and creases were inspired by wind and water. It’s super sleek, and to think this is a mere compact sedan, set to compete with the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Chev Cruze.
So we’ve heaped praise on the styling, but what about the engines? The European take recently has been to downsize and turbocharge, principally to meet emissions tests and the need for lower fuel consumption. The Koreans however are sticking with natural aspiration and higher cubic capacity for now, without losing much on the efficiency downside, as the figures show. So the Elantra gets a 1.6-litre with a six-speed manual or a 1.8-litre with the manual or a six-speed auto.
The motors are strong too: 96kW @ 6300rpm with 147Nm of torque from the 1.6, power usually reserved for sport models, while the 1.8 is good for 110kW @ 6500rpm and 180Nm. A closer look at those figures reveals quite high peaks in both power and torque. This equates to the motors having to be pushed quite hard to get them to move with any discernable pace.
We are set up to drive the 1.8 auto, which is bound to feel more sluggish than the stick shifter, but the changes are smooth and sharp, while ride quality is comfortable and soft – akin to the Sonata and no doubt easy on both the daily commute and long road trips. It’s hard to provide more detailed input on ride quality as our brief driving impression was kept well contained by a Korean overlord barking orders over the radio. The Elantra’s platform is the latest offering from Hyundai and is said to be a step up from the Sonata that tended to be a bit wobbly in the bends.
I can say with assurance that the cabin is a pleasant place to be, with lots of soft touch black rubber all neatly packaged into a flowing dashboard. Hyundai has planted the wind and water theme inside, instantly making the rivals look dated. Build quality seems improved, and tight shutlines abound. As per Korean standard all models are well specced in terms of safety features and interactive kit. Even the lower spec 1.6 has auxiliary out, iPod connectivity with USB. A multifunction steering wheel is also standard across the range.
The new Elantra looks a hot market prospect then, and will no doubt offer great value when pricing is finalised. Hyundai also insists that supply will meet worldwide demand, though I recall they said the same about the Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35…