Exterior changes to the 2014 Hyundai Elantra range are as limited as the suspension modifications are extensive.
A first facelift for the fifth-generation small sedan from South Korea, which is now three years old, the ‘Series II’ Hyundai Elantra on the outside only gets new square bezels for its headlights, a revised bumper and darkened tail-lights.
Interior changes are slightly more extensive, with the previously too-low mounted central air vents raised to face level height, flanking either side of a new touchscreen infotainment system.
Unchanged is a three-tier model range, all of which continue to utilise a 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder engine producing 110kW of power at 6500rpm and 178Nm of torque at 4700rpm.
Prices rise slightly across the board, accompanied by extra equipment. The Active six-speed manual is now $20,990 (or $23,190 with the six-speed auto, both up $400), the Elite is now auto-exclusive for $26,790 (up $1000), and the Premium continues as a single auto-only grade for $30,190 (also up $1000).
Added equipment to the Active includes front foglights, stainless steel front door scuff plates, rear parking sensors, cloth door trim inserts and glovebox cooling. Other features already standard include 15-inch steel wheels, cruise control, power windows, four-speaker audio with CD player and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a height and tilt adjustable steering wheel with audio controls.
Compared with its outgoing equivalent, the Elite adds alloy-look door handles, electric folding side mirrors, and, thanks to the new seven-inch colour touchscreen, a reversing camera and satellite navigation with a SUNA traffic update subscription. Over the Active, the Elite continues to get 16-inch alloy wheels, leather-like steering wheel, keyless auto-entry with start button, a luggage net and illuminated vanity mirrors.
Top-of-the-tree Premium now gets rear-seat air vents and projector HID xenon headlights, in addition to the already-standard electric sunroof, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and leather/leather-like trim.
While the moderate price rises align the Hyundai Elantra sedan with its closely related i30 hatchback sibling, it comes at a time when many manufacturers are slashing prices of new models. The base Active, for example, is now between $1000 (manual) to $1200 (auto) more expensive than the newer Kia Cerato with which it shares the same engine and transmissions. Its rival also gets larger 16-inch steel wheels and front parking sensors, though it misses out on a colour touchscreen. The Nissan Pulsar ST and Holden Cruze sedans also gap the base Elantra by the same margin in manual trim, and both get standard alloy wheels to the Hyundai’s hubcaps.
All three Hyundai Elantra Series II grades now score the three-mode Flex Steer system that made its debut on Santa Fe and i30, which allows drivers to choose between Comfort, Normal and Sport modes that progressively makes the steering heavier. It’s backed by a power steering electric motor with a faster computer chip.
We spent time in the Active auto only, in which the steering felt slightly improved without reaching the class standards.
The lightest mode highlights the vagueness of the steering, particularly around the straight-ahead position that makes the car prone to ‘wander’ when trying to keep it in a straight line on the freeway. The heaviest ‘sport’ setting mostly eliminates this trait, preferable for freeway driving, though it is dull and heavy around town. Normal is the best option, though the steering still lacks the ease and tactility offered by the likes of the Ford Focus and Mazda 3.
A comprehensive suspension retuning program resulted in Hyundai Australia engineers going through 22 unique damper builds (read the full story here) with the primary aims of improving ride comfort and body control.
It's mission accomplished on rough country roads where the updated model is hugely improved compared with the outgoing Hyundai Elantra. Initial brittleness on sharp-edged bumps at speed, teamed with floatiness over larger bumps, has been replaced with a calmness and sophistication that marks the Series II a fine tourer on a typical backroad.
There is, however, an inherent firmness at low and middling speeds around town resulting in an occasional abruptness when dealing with sharp-edged imperfections – such as concrete-block expansion joins – that isn’t evident at higher speeds. The firmness is also felt on seemingly smooth bitumen, such as freeways, where the Elantra is slightly too jiggly.
This is despite the Active wearing chubby 15-inch tyres; the thinner sidewalls of the Elite and Premium models could potentially bring harsher impacts.
The Active’s Hankook Kinenergy Eco tyres also lack grip, which along with the average steering, mean that the otherwise decently balanced chassis doesn’t satisfy keen drivers as well as it otherwise could.
The tyres even allow the Elantra’s front tyres to chirp off the line given moderate throttle, although the throttle calibration itself is very sensitive to small inputs, delivering quite a lot of engine response in the first few millimeters of travel.
Hyundai’s 1.8-litre engine otherwise teams sweetly with the smooth automatic tested. The engine lacks direct fuel injection and delivers its maximum torque quite high in the rev range, but the six-speed transmission is quick to grab lower gears before too much throttle needs to be added.
It does, however, lack a dedicated sport mode so during hilly or more enthusiastic driving the auto can hunt between gears, necessitating the use of the tiptronic manual-mode selector that allows the driver to hold specific gears. At high revs the engine gets intrusive, but through the lower and middle range it is a refined, quick-spinning and enjoyable unit.
Claimed economy of between 6.6L/100km (manual) and 7.1L/100km (automatic) is impressive by class standards, and realistic if our tested 8.5L/100km is anything to go by.
Inside, the Hyundai Elantra is very well built and neatly packaged. The dash-top plastics are nice, but they don’t match the harder door trims. The new touchscreen is easy to use, and the controls are ergonomically laid out and simple to use.
Grab handles for all passengers is a nice touch, but reserving rear air conditioning vents for the flagship Premium grade is disappointing, particularly for a family sedan being sold in a warm climate.
Plenty of rear legroom is available back there, backed by a comfortable bench, and even further back there’s a sizeable 420-litre boot with the practicality of a 60:40 split backrest standard.
Then there's the car-buying piece of mind of Hyundai’s benchmark five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty (matched only by its cheaper Kia rival, the Cerato) in addition to 12 months roadside assistance and a three-year capped price servicing program.
With a slightly lower price or more equipment, better tyres and a smoother urban ride, the Hyundai Elantra could leverage itself closer towards the best small sedans. An improved suspension calibration that will largely benefit country drivers, however, in addition to a roomy interior and fluent drivetrain, mark the Series II as a worthy update that helps it keep pace with newer small car offerings.