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Review: Hyundai Elantra
Driven September 2012
The Elantra name isn’t new to us. The third-gen came and went without making too much noise – it may have been capable, but its hard to convince buyers when you sported a toothy 'Korean' grille splashed with chrome. And it was because of its looks that the third-gen Elantra was one of those rare not-so-successful models to come out of the successful Hyundai India stable. To put this new Hyundai in perspective, we need to refresh our memory about the old one.
This new Elantra is, technically, the fifth-generation model. The first, and last, model sold in India was the third-gen type. It was presented as a sporty saloon. And it wasn’t bad when it came to handling and performance. Where it lacked was design and the fact that it was exorbitantly priced for this segment then. We are talking about the middle of last decade. Hyundai tried hard to push the model by stripping features and making it cheaper, but that never really worked.
Then in 2007, the fourth-gen Elantra came into existence worldwide. But Hyundai India wasn’t so sure, having burnt its fingers with the earlier model. It wanted a significant next step and somehow the new model wasn’t justifying enough. Especially, since the next couple of years was going to see an onslaught of new models in the segment dominated largely by the Japanese Civics and Corollas. Obviously, they were the benchmark a few years back, but then the Lauras and Jettas of the world were going to be the new force to reckon and Hyundai needed something to match this wide array of competitors.
Meanwhile, Hyundai has been re-inventing itself with design, with finesse, with technology. Not very long ago, there was this viral video on YouTube of VW global boss Martin Winterkorn sitting in the new i30 at a motor show, chiding his colleagues about Hyundai's fast development.
We are not digressing. This background makes us appreciate what Hyundai presents us with now. The new Elantra isn’t the most fancy-looking car around, but it is distinctive. The whole fluidic theme, which Hyundai harped on for the Verna, looks a lot more elegant on this bigger car. In profile, you cannot miss the Verna design although this car is much bigger. At 4350mm, it is still shorter than all its competitors mentioned earlier. But walk around it and you get the sense of size. The front is distinctive – a bigger grille, wider air dam and the now-familiar Hyundai hexagonal nose keeping things interesting. The rear is very coupe-like and carries rather flamboyantly, the ‘wave’ lines – from the tailamps to the boot lid. Prominent wheel arches and chunky 16-inch alloys gives the Elantra a strong stance. Still, it is more futuristic in the way it looks, rather than the sheer modern road presence like the Fluence or the Jetta. This is more Civic-territory when it comes to the looks department – albeit better than the once-best-seller.
Despite its modest dimensions, the Elantra makes for a spacious cabin that is as well-appointed and elegant yet functional, and possibly the best-looking in its segment. Even as Hyundai settles in its role as a new-age car maker, it tends to swing between what’s wannabe and what’s really classy when it comes to posh interiors. The new Verna and new Sonata being fine examples of the two extremes. The Elantra takes a safe middle route with a minimalist black-and-beige interiors which you will like more for its fit-and-finish and quality rather than the number of buttons and chrome add-ons. The chunky leather- gripped steering wheel with its multiple controls is similar to the Sonata’s. So, you get music controls, plus Bluetooth telephony and cruise control options. The chrome-lined twin instrument cluster dials look smart and are easy to ready. The dashboard plastic is soft touch and comes as a brow on top of the centre console. This is shaped like a waterfall and houses the DVD player, music switches and climate control dials.
Typically, and unlike most other cars in the segment, the Elantra is bejeweled with features that would normally make the grade in the higher strata. Things like ventilated seats and multimedia controls on the rear seat arm-rest are fine examples that Hyundai is still toying with the art of giving. The beige leather seats though, look like they will get soiled quickly and we wonder what’s stopping them from trying new shades here, rather than the standard beige and black tone interiors. On the upside, the seats are wide and comfy, and there’s enough leg and headroom at the rear too despite the arching roof at the C-pillar.
There are two engine options on offer. A 1.8-litre direct injection petrol unit is a new addition to the Hyundai stable. It uses VTVT tech – that’s Variable Time Valve Train – which essentially controls the intake and exhaust valve individually depending on engine speed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The unit is refined and free revving, but it gets noisier in a not-so-very-nice way as it inches closer to the redline. On paper, the unit is capable of 148bhp at 6500rpm and churn out 178Nm of torque. In the real world, the power comes on easy at the start and through the gears. But try to maintain a healthy 150kph on the highway and you will be greeted by that irritating noise that makes you feel as if the engine is under strain. Similar is the story with the 1.6-diesel’s behaviour. We are all familiar with this unit. It is the same as the one in the new Verna – 126bhp and 260Nm – torquey, frugal and refined.
With either engine you have the option of mating it to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The latter comes with manual shift option that isn’t as effective as say, in the Jetta. But the manual box is a quick and smooth shifter. The clutch is sharp and it is easy to use this as a getaway car.
The automatic action is more linear, although it is quick to drop a gear when you stamp the throttle pedal. It feels better than a Civic’s slushbox, but not a patch on the dual clutch transmissions of the Germans.
Where you will also appreciate the Elantra is with its dynamics. It isn’t vague, and feels planted to the road whatever the speed, although you do feel it’s a bit too light for its own good. The steering is ultra light at low speeds. It has electronic power steering so you don’t get the muscled feel of a traditional hydraulic system. Electronic power steering doesn’t need pumps or plumbing either, so it helps with better packaging. Plus, in a bid to add to its dynamic ability, Hyundai has strapped the Elantra with Vehicle Stability Management that works in tandem with the power steering everytime you brake or accelerate hard. And it is effective. Of course, the biggest bane of most Hyundai cars is stability under panic braking and the Elantra trumps that well with all the gizmos like VMS and ESP in place. Our test vehicle was shod with eco-friendly silica tyres, which Hyundai says will be standard on the Elantra.
The Elantra uses a lot of chassis design elements from the i30, and that’s an impressive start. It’s well put-together and carries an air that’s more soothing than exciting. For many, this works. There will be three variants with each engine-gearbox combo which will give buyers enough options to struggle with. Unlike the last time, the new Elantra has more localised content from the beginning, which will keep price under control.
Having skipped a generation, Hyundai India has avoided any more erosion of the Elantra badge. In its new avatar, it comes across as a car that does more things right, than wrong. And if experience is a good teacher, the new Elantra is a fine example of that.
Petrol: 4cyl, 1797cc, petrol, 146bhp, 178Nm, FWD, 6A or 6M, LxWxH 4530x1775x1470mm, wheelbase 2700mm, 205/60 R16, Fuel tank 56 litres
Diesel: 4cyl, 1582cc, diesel, 126bhp, 260Nm, FWD, 6A or 6M, LxWxH: 4530x 1775x1470mm wheelbase 2700mm, 205/60 R16, Fuel tank 56 litres
A much better package this time around. Loads of equipment, loads of comfort and mechanically sound too. More power? Yes, would be welcome.