Hyundai has been in Australia for some time now and is still, mysteriously, stigmatised as “that Korean car company”. As a rule, this kind of comment comes from people that have never driven a car from Hyundai or sister company, Kia. Well people, you’re missing out. A Wheel Thing has spent time triple treating, with three of Hyundai’s diverse range; the Elantras Active and Elite plus the ix35 Elite. Against stiff competition, all three hold their own. Here’s a side by side look at the Elantra duo tested.
The engine is surprising in its flexibility; why so? It’s “just” a 1.8L with some of the feel of a 2.0L, such is the broad scope of its ability. Being a smallish four it’s peaky in its delivery, with 110kW at 6500revs and 178 Newton metres at a relatively high 4700 rpm. Yet, with two adults and two kids, it rarely was found wanting in acceleration across the range, from a standing start to an overtaking move. The only time it was noticeable (and sounding like it too!) that it lacked was up Lapstone Hill, the western gateway to the Blue Mountains in Sydney. It’s a long, sweeping, right hander with a spectacular view to the south heading upwards and out to the coast and the city coming down, with the gradient taxing the engine. The six speed auto supplied in the two test cars (a manual is available) is smooth, ratioed to take advantage of the engine’s linear delivery characteristics and crisp in its shifting. Manual mode is almost superfluous, sadly, being a bloke that likes a manual, with the transmission pretty much on the money when it comes to being in the right gear. Fuel economy ended up close to the 8.0L/100km mark overall.
Handling is sublime, with Hyundai spending time and money aplenty to tune the Elantra suspension for Australian roads after criticism of the previous iteration’s setup. It’s fluid, supple, taut when required and absorbent as well. Float is non existent, there’s no noticeable heavy diving under severe braking and it’s direct in the steering, almost intuitively, with a downside being the three mode electrical assistance or FlexSteer; they numb the true feel and feedback. Turn in is sharp, with some tyre scrub understeer when pushed hard in turns. Road noise is minimal as is wind noise, allowing conversation on the inside to be of normal levels. The proven combination of McPherson strut/multi link torsion rear has reacted well to the Aussie engineering.
Being a three model range, there’s different exterior trim including the wheels; the Active rides on 15 inch steel wheels (195/65 Hankook tyres) and the Elite runs alloys with 16s (205/55s). This is where the ride gets affected; the Active was somewhat more twitchy on the straight than the Elite, never uncomfortably so, just noticeably so, leaving the Elite feels just that touch more precise overall. Front and rear track also differ, with these; Active: 1563 / 1576 mm; Elite: 1549 / 1562 mm; Premium: 1551 / 1564 mm.
The interiors also have their own variations, with the Elite getting a leather like steerer and gear lever cap whilst the Active is a think, chunky, vinyl tiller. It’s keyless start and entry in the Elite, a seven inch touchscreen navitainment system as opposed to the Active’s five inch, a luggage net in the boot, dual zone climate control and, noticeably, over the Active, a reverse camera.
The aircon controls in the Active miss out on Temperature up/down switches, getting a dial to adjust heat and cooling plus misses out on the LED display found in the Elite. The dash display is slightly different, an off kilter hexagon houses a monochrome fuel and temperature display as opposed to the Elite’s square display. Audio in both is good and both, like their Kia counterparts, miss out on systems that display RDS. Seats are comfortable, supportive, easily (manually) adjustable in both with cloth weave in both Active and Elite. Surprisingly, the Active gets, for the power windows, Auto Down only for the driver whereas the Elite is Auto Up/Down.
There’s plenty of hidden tech, with the Elite getting rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing headlights and both being loaded with airbags, including thorax and curtain. There’s an overall feeling of almost everything being “just right”, with a graceful archline sweeping along the doors, across the dash and down into the console. An added extra is simple, a glovebox plumbed into the aircon so one can pop a drink in there and have it kept relatively cool. A glamour touch comes in the shape of stainless steel sill inserts and iPod/Auxiliary inputs are hidden behind a small doorin the front centre console. Boot space is 420 litres, more than adequate for family shopping.
The exterior is a beautiful, fluid design, looking more suitable for the more compact body of the Elantra (4550mm long) than the i45 and the current i40. A high beltline and relatively small glasshouse, prominent fold lines and laid back headlight/taillight assemblies. There’s a sweeping plastic insert in the Elite and Active headlight cluster (yet, oddly, isn’t lit at night so begs the question of why is it there?) but it does add some contrast during the day. Exterior wise, the Active dips out on the folding mirrors available with the Elite and Premium, plus there’s a subtle change to the grille on the Premium, with a dark chrome strip replacing the brightwork. There’s rarely an angle that looks wrong on the Elantra (directly behind the rear wheels, the bumper looks a touch heavy though) and some of the colour range enhances the sweeping sheetmetal more effectively than others. Although the steep slope of the rear window looks as if it would compromise rear head room, it’s surprisingly spacious and doesn’t affect anyone of a normal height, however if you are six feet and above there could be an issue.
It’s keenly priced, the Elantra range (http://www.hyundai.com.au/vehicles/elantra/specification-range) and needs to be in such a hotly contested segment. It’s up against the Cerato, Cruze, Focus, 3, just to name a few. Kicking off from around $21K for the base model Active (manual) and rounding off at about $31K it lacks for little. With Kia’s Cerato using the 2.0L engine, that’s perhaps the Elantra’s biggest weakspot, as the extra torque would be welcome. Having said that, the Elantra has won many Car of the Year awards, including one from Australian radio program, Behind The Wheel (http://behindthewheel.com.au/) and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a totally competent package; with Australianised handling, great interior packaging and high build quality, it really is a worthy contender for your hard earned.