The all-new Elantra is a huge step up from the previous model. The last car Hyundai launched in Australia was the i45 sedan. At the time, some of the motoring press in Australia said the suspension tune on that car wasn’t up to par for pliant travel on the poorly maintained roads in this country. That sent the handling engineers at Hyundai back to the R&D centre to thoroughly re-examine its suspension tuning process specifically for the Australian market.
The good news is Hyundai has absolutely nailed it with the new Hyundai Elantra, with all the suspension testing and tuning carried out in Australia. After a couple of hundred kilometres driving all three trim levels and both transmission options, I'm pleased to report the ride and handling has been well and truly sorted on the Elantra, to the point where it’s up there with anything from Europe in the same segment and price point.
Moreover, you can’t help feeling mighty impressed with this small car (that’s it’s official classification, although it really has midsize proportions inside the cabin) on so many levels; namely styling, fit and finish, and performance and handling. It all works exceptionally well, and that’s before we start talking about the high value for money proposition that this new Hyundai Elantra represents.
Hyundai has chosen to launch the car with just one powertrain; it’s the all-new 1.8-litre ‘Nu’ petrol engine with an aluminium block (so it’s light), developing 110kW of power and 178Nm of torque. While that might seem a tad uninspiring from the sidelines, that’s not how it performs from behind the wheel. Because the car only weighs 1225kg and has six gear ratios to play with, it actually gets going rather well, and frankly, a lot better than I expected. There’s plenty of punch out of the blocks, and the engine spins nicely up the rev range to fifth gear, with sixth being more of an overdrive ratio for fuel efficient freeway motoring.
Clearly, this is no ordinary, run of the mill four-cylinder engine, but rather a thoroughly advanced powertrain, which benefits from the latest technology such as Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-VVT) camshafts along with hydraulic engine mounts for extra levels of small-car refinement. Also worthy of mention is the maintenance-free silent timing chain system, which results in a particularly smooth running engine by the Korean manufacturer. Even the exhaust note has a slight growl to it, both from inside the cabin and outside, which adds to the enjoyment of the Elantra.
The six-speed manual is a treat to use, particularly out on these rather deserted country roads out of Canberra. The shifts are effortless and more of a short-throw 'box, which gives the Elantra a sports car-like feel. If you can drive a manual and you don’t have to put up with peak hour on a regular basis, go with the entry-level model, you’ll love it.
That said, I was not overly confident hopping into the automatic version, which is standard fitment in both the mid-range Elite and top-spec Premium models. Automatic 'boxes mated to small displacement four-cylinder engines tend to be a bit uninspiring, but not this one. The six gear ratios mean this engine doesn’t have to rev its guts out to get you moving along at a reasonable speed, and the ratios are quite well spaced. It’s a sporty enough drive that if you find a nice stretch of windy road, go ahead and use the sequential shift mode, which allows the driver to hold on to the gear ratios a little longer before shifting up, should you wish to.
It’s worth noting that only the new Elantra and Holden Cruze offer a six-speed auto transmission in this segment, whereas the other main competitors in this segment (Hyundai i30 2.0 SX, Mazda3 2.0 Neo, Toyota Corolla 1.8 Ascent, Honda Civic 1.8 VTI) only offer four-speed, five-speed, and CVT units.
The main point to consider here is that Hyundai designs and builds its own transmissions, and clearly puts enormous effort into this area. It shows through with both these gearboxes, as they are unusually refined for this segment.
That’s all well and good, but why not a diesel variant of the new Elantra for those living in cities like Sydney with its hilly terrain? After all, the 1.6 diesel in the i30 hatch is a cracker and I would have thought a prefect match for this new addition to Hyundai’s small car stable. Of course, there’s also a 1.7 litre diesel in the stunning i40 sports wagon, which is one of three more new models that Hyundai will launch in Australia this year.
There’s an interesting Gear Shift Indicator in the manual variant between the two main instrument dials, which indicates the gear that you should be in for maximum fuel efficiency; handy if you like saving a few extra dollars each week at the petrol bowser.
The entry-level Elantra Active comes standard with steel wheels and a manual transmission, but don’t let that deter you; this is a very enjoyable bit of kit to drive. More than anything, it comes down to a well-balanced chassis, which produces excellent cornering and road-holding (even with steel wheels, which I don’t particularly like) and a pliant ride. Bumps and small potholes are ironed out without any unwanted vibrations through the cabin. Push on, and it’s the same story, with an all-together neutral handling characteristic, which is as good as many of the more expensive Euro offerings in this segment.
The same goes for the steering feel and response. Right from dead centre there’s plenty of weight and a very direct response through the steering wheel making tight twisty sections more fun than you can imagine. That meaty feel is also evident when travelling at 110km/h on the freeway, where there's still plenty of weight through the tiller. Again, it’s comparable to the German offerings in this segment, and inspires similar driver confidence. Put that down to the calibration of the Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS).
The Elantra is stylish too and is designed with Hyundai’s current ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language for a ‘Wind Craft’ inspired shape, or so the marketing goes. Whichever way you look at it though, it’s a good thing, and better than the i45 in my opinion. There are less crease lines and it’s a slightly less complex shape than it’s larger sibling.
Hyundai is calling the Elantra 'The Big Small Car' and refreshingly, this isn’t just marketing spin. Big is right, despite being officially classified in the small car segment. There’s a huge amount of open space inside the cabin. Front and back, there is easily enough room for the over-six-foot club, tested and proven with a 6’3” colleague. Plenty of legroom too; heaps up front and unusually so for rear seat passengers.
In the boot alone there’s a massive 420 litres of space and when you add up the interior cabin area, the actual volume equates to 3126.2 litres. For the hopeless mathematicians such as myself, that’s more room than several cars in the medium segment, like the Volkswagen Passat CC and the Honda Accord Euro.
The seats themselves are nicely bolstered and very easy on your back during longer stints behind the wheel. Fabric upholstery can be so-so when it comes to look and feel, but even in the base model Active the fabric is soft and patterned, for a decent look.
The standard leather/leatherette trim in the Elantra Premium is of course a more comfortable seat that the fabric trim and also provides more non-slip grip for your torso. Another bonus is that the driver’s seat is electric in the Premium (that’s seatback and cushion) and when you add in additional kit such as electrochromatic rear view mirror, heated front seats, sunroof, reversing camera, 17-inch alloys, you’ve got a bargain at $28,990.
The centre console and dash layout in the new Elantra is very smart and beyond a contemporary look. There’s a lot of attention to detail inside here with plenty of ‘cool’ switchgear with metallic and piano black accents and soft touch materials used throughout.
Hyundai has always been generous on the creature comfort kit and the Elantra gets the full suite including Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (that will take less than a minute to pair up to the head unit), tilt and reach steering wheel, cruise control and a four-speaker audio unit (better than your average unit) with reasonable tone. There’s also a full-sized spare wheel under the boot floor in all models.
Stepping up to the mid-spec Elantra Elite adds a premium steering wheel, auto lights and wipers, push-button start with proximity key, rear park assist, front fog lamps, tinted glass, luggage net and 16-inch alloys.
Fuel consumption is also a strong point with Elantra and although we didn't run any tests during the launch program, the published combined figure of 6.6L/100km for the manual and 7.1L/100km for the auto would seem possible, due to the car's relatively light weight for its size and trim levels.
Safety-wise, it doesn’t get any better than a five-star safety rating from ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) whose job it is to carry out a series of crash tests on selected cars to determine the level of occupant safety and then rate the car out of five.
According to Hyundai, the new Elantra is the only car in its class that offers Vehicle Stability Management (VSM); an advanced active safety management system that integrates all the car’s active safety systems and adding the Motor Driven Power Steering for additional safety in emergency situations.
In the all-new Elantra, Hyundai has produced a very strong proposition for Australian new-car buyers. This is a small car that offers big car features with performance, handling and ride as good as the Euro offerings at a much reduced price point.
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