Updated: November 1, 2014
We are back in the United States, for another review of a car with automatic transmission. This time, it's Hyundai Elantra, driven and tested for a period of about a week across California and Nevada. It's a medium-sized family car, designed to lug honest tax payers and their children about. Well, in the USA, it's labeled a compact car, but size isn't everything, right.
I will try to spill as much experience as possible onto the proverbial paper, but with just a handful of days of driving about, you won't get any long-term impressions, any big faults or issues. Still, it's a worthy experiment, and with a recent Jetta review, you will get a nice comparison into how each drives and what it offers to the prospective buyer. Follow me.
Car at hand
Our model for the week is an American-market version of Elantra, equipped with a 1.8-liter Nu engine, coming with some interesting features like MPI and D-CVVT, which allow this atmospheric unit to deliver 148 HP and a rather meager 178 Nm of torque, at a fairly high 4,700 rpm. Coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, you know it's not designed to thrill with its performance, even before you hammer the key into the ignition slot. A family car, meant to be used with the median income in mind.
Other versions are available, including the 2.0-liter 164HP MPI and and 176HP GDI engines, the latter which still delivers only 213 Nm of torque at high revs. Compare this to a smaller, nimbler Audi A1, powered by a 1.4-liter unit that has the same torque figure, or Jetta 2.0 TDI, which generates just 140HP but an awesome 320 Nm of torque at only 1,500 rpm. Can't beat turbo.
The standard equipment is solid and bland. You get comfy seats without too much grip, durable textile, aircon, an average media unit. However, the materials feel upmarket, and the sense of balance and ergonomics is high. But we will discuss this a little more once we touch the interior. Literally.
Hyundai Elantra is not a bad looking car. True, it's a typical sedan, and from some angles, it looks a little brittle. Then, from others, it looks kind of chunky and heavy. The car has been styled to offer maximal economy to its owner, hence the teardrop shape and the low aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.28. The front end looks feisty and mean, and the head lights cones are pulled almost two thirds of the hood back. If you wanted an angrier face, you couldn't find one.
From the side, the fat appeal vanishes, to be replaced by a flairy and fragile-looking styling. The front end feels blunted, while the rear one has too many curvy lines. Not a bad design, but it is not completely balanced, and the back gets most of attention and details. The standard 205/55 R 16 tires feel a little small. Just remember that in between 2012 and 2013 models, they were upgraded an extra 10 mm in width and one whole inch in diameter, which had made them even smaller back then. Finally, the five-spoke alloys are decent but not exciting.
On the inside, Elantra comes with a sprinking of highly recognizable Korean spaceship elements, which are also present in other cars, by other companies. We will see that soon in another, upcoming review. Anyhow, the central console has that narrow thingie, and then it flares. The position of the air vents is very curious. The plastic is shiny, which lends to a feel of upmarketness and cheap looks at the same time. However, overall, the finish is decent, everything fits nicely, and the interior is clean, airy and practical. But that console just won't give you peace.
Quite strangely for a car sold in the US, the availability of internal space for storage, gadgets and bottles is not that spectacular. If anything, the curvy, futuristic design is a step above the more traditional, conservative offerings across the pond. But it has been well received, and it seems the buyers are keen on some fresh and crazy idea, even if that means sacrificing on the bins and hooks where to store shotguns and ammo.
Pimp my ride
Sort of. Now, the futuristic design does not translate into a futuristic driving experience. Far from it. When it comes to applying some squeal to the rubber and sputtering extra carbon-dioxide from the exhaust, the narrow power bend and the non-ideal transmission come to bear. Even though the gearbox comes with six speeds, it is still not intelligent enough to make the engine behave at its best. Furthermore, you need to rev high to make good use of it, which can be tedious and tiring. But it's okay, really. For what it stands for.
The steering wheel is a bit heavy and feels artificial. You don't really feel the road, and consequently, tight cornering does not lend any confidence to the person in charge of the car. It's nothing too dramatic, but enough to make you realize Hyundai Elantra is not be treated with hooligan manners. It's better suited for leisurely trips and transportation of your DNA in the ISO-fixed booster chairs on the back bench. The cycle of life, hihihi.
The fuel consumption in a mixed urban and freeway setting revolved around 8.5 liters per 100 km. Translating this into colonial figures, this is roughly 28 mpg. Uh-oh, not exactly a world record. This is more or less what we saw with Peugeot 308 equipped with an even less advanced four-speed automatic transmission. SEAT Leon 1.8 TSI returns about 36 mpg in similar conditions. Volkswagen Jetta, as tested, returned 31 mpg.
There were no issues during the test drive. A clean sheet.
The US public voted Elantra ahead of Passat and Focus, which only shows how different cultures with different mentalities perceive automotive technologies. While the Ford car is in the same category, Passat isn't, so any direct comparison is a little tricky. But there's Jetta that we've seen not that long ago, and it has all the cards to be pitted head on against the Hyundai. And it wins, I'm afraid.
If you like cheap practicality, decent quality and stylish looks, you will not go wrong with Elantra. If you're after a more precise feel during the driving, a more generous throttle response across the range of engine revolutions, a punchier acceleration, and an overall driver-attuned experience, then there are better alternatives. SEAT Leon, Jetta, even Peugeot 308, to name a few. Maybe it's my Euro bias speaking, but I doubt it.
Hyundai Elantra is a solid family package. It's priced well, it gives what you need, and still provides with enough kinetic parameters not to be a boring or annoying hassle. Thus, it probably deserves something like 7/10. I would like to see whether my impression is going to change if I were to drive the manual version. Well, we shall see about that. And this is the end.