The 25-year old Hyundai Elantra badge is the company’s oldest remaining in service. This small sedan, now in its sixth generation, is also the company’s global top-seller.
So despite the fact its i30 hatchback sibling quadruples its sales in Australia, which always favours cars of the hatch variety, it’s a big deal for the Korean car-maker.
The new 2016 Hyundai Elantra you see here launches locally this week. It brings to the table a more subdued and upmarket design both outside and in, an all-new chassis and new technology to appeal to its target buyers, and to woo people away from sedan versions of the top-selling Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3, and battling Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta and Holden Cruze.
These target buyers are, in Hyundai’s words, “hatch and SUV rejectors”, people drawn to the privacy and silhouette of the traditional three-box sedan, and keen to buck the trend to little crossovers. They’re also, again in Hyundai’s words, typically older and more conservative.
It’s a shrinking but still notable market, one in which Hyundai has grown its share to more than 12 per cent. The Elantra makes up about 8.5 per cent of its Australian sales, so it remains a vital cog in the machine.
On first impressions after a quick drive this week, this new one is a significantly better car than its stylistically edgier, but otherwise lukewarm, predecessor. In fact, in many ways it’s pushing for overall class leadership.
First off, the cabin of the 2016 Hyundai Elantra feels a bit like a downsized Sonata. This means everything is laid out conservatively, but the ergonomics make up for the lack of pizazz or energy inside.
The instruments are clear and legible, while the material quality, including the Elite’s silver and piano black highlights (the former are also in the Active), and leather seats, are all quite excellent. It’s a classy little affair.
The base Active at $21,490 plus on-road costs ($2300 more with an automatic transmission) is $500 pricier than before and the same amount above the equivalent i30. It gets good levels of standard equipment though, extending to dusk-sensing headlights, LED daytime running lights, a reverse-view camera, a full-sized spare wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth/USB connectivity and a 7.0-inch touchscreen.
This unit also comes with Apple CarPlay integration, so if you have an iPhone you can plug-in and mirror your device onto the screen. That said, the standard Apple Maps is no substitute for an in-built sat-nav system, because it’s bad software (Apple’s fault, not Hyundai’s) and dependent on data on-the-fly, ergo having cell coverage.
Android users also miss out, because Hyundai Australia does not yet have the license to use Android Auto with its cars. There will be a software update that makes it available before the end of 2016, the company says.
Step up to the $26,490 auto-only Elite and you get extras such as climate control, leather seats (in black or beige), electric-folding mirrors, proximity key, a clever boot that opens by itself if you prompt it by walking close by with the keys on you, and rear air vents.
Read the more detailed 2016 Hyundai Elantra pricing and specifications story.
It’s good kit for the money, though the $26,790 Mazda 3 Touring or $24,390 Ford Focus Trend sedans with autos get standard sat-nav. The Elantra range shapes up well against the equivalent Corolla Ascent and SX variants. The imminent arrival of the all-new Honda Civic should breathe further life into this segment. Volkswagen's Jetta gets CarPlay/Android Auto and is the subject of sharp deals at the moment.
Rear seat space for two adults is generally fine, with ample legroom and shoulder room for long trips, decent outward visibility and a pair of Isofix anchors, plus the aforementioned vents in the Elite. You also get door bottle holders and a single map pocket. The only potential problem is headroom, which is only about average.
The boot, at 458 litres, is not all that far shy of the much larger (but rear-drive) Holden Commodore, and you can flip those rear seats forward for longer items via latches in the boot itself. This capacity is actually marginally smaller than the previous car, because of the revised dampers in the rear. We say it's a fair trade-off, since it's still 50L bigger than the Mazda. Under the floor is a full-size spare, and the Elite gets a cargo net. We do wish the Active got a boot release button that allowed you to open it from outside without the key fob.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre MPi (multipoint injected) engine making 112kW at 6200 rpm and 192Nm at 4000 rpm, matched to six-speed manual or auto gearboxes. Hyundai/Kia fans will note this falls short of the latter’s 2.0-litre GDi direct-injected unit with 129kW.
It still has a little more punch than the old Elantra’s 1.8 though, and around town or ticking over at 2000rpm on the freeway it feels absolutely fine. But push the car, or have a few hundred kilos on board, and that generally intuitive auto will start to kick down a little more than we’d like to harness what pulling power there is.
In the engine’s defence, it actually has a small window of strong torque delivery from about 3500rpm. But it’s only serviceable at best, and never inspiring. The fuel consumption of 7.1 litres per 100km is adequate in the modern climate, but actually a shade worse than the old Elantra — that’s unusual, for a new version to go backwards in this area.
Remember, also, that a new 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged Elantra SR will hit our shores around July this year. That engine will do this car far more justice than the meat and potatoes 2.0-litre.
How does the Elantra drive?
In regular Hyundai Australia fashion, its Sydney-based suspension engineers changed the suspension tune for our market, because the Korean tune is always too soft. The result is something that feels surprisingly premium. We don’t jest. Of the many Hyundais with local tuning we’ve driven, this is close to the best.
The company trialled about 50 different damper setups either front or rear, and made a host of other changes to the standard springs, stabiliser bar and torsion beam bushes. There’s also the much stiffer body (there’s a lot of ultra-strength steel used) that translates to the chassis feel.
A goal was to make the setup more supple on longitudinal inputs, meaning potholes and ruts, but more responsive and firmer under lateral ones, meaning quicker changes of direction.
In other words, it should be suitably comfortable tackling urban roads — remember its demographic — but should also hold this untapped reservoir of dynamic abilities if by some chance you ever call upon it.
It worked, too. The result is a small sedan that rides and handles far better than any vehicle in this class really needs to. No target buyer is ever going to push one of these cars in anger the way we did during testing.
So why did we push it, then? To put its bold claims to independent testing, Hyundai Australia gave us a steer of the new Elantra on a range of targa roads in Tasmania. So really… how could we not?
Irrespective of surface — tarmac or gravel, pockmarked or corrugated — the suspension remained notably unflappable at disposing and rounding off the edges, without ever really hurting the handling, or kicking the car off its line.
The rapid change of direction points to a well-sorted chassis with good balance, while the way the car tucks in and tackles turns, even those long, sharp numbers that keep tightening beyond first impression, without scrubbing is commendable.
Elevation changes were dealt with nicely, the car remained supple enough to dispatch uneven surfaces, but tied down enough and sufficiently composed on rebound to keep body control in check.
The electric assisted steering does lack a little feel-and-feedback, but it loads up well at speed and lightens up around town for parking. It’s also suitably quick on centre without being too racy for someone taking it to the bowls club.
Naturally, with three larger people and camera gear on board and edging GVM, the road manners degraded slightly. We hit the bump stops once or twice, but no real harm done. It proved itself an apt weekend cruiser with a near-full load.
The compliancy also means the Elantra, even on the 17-inch wheels (with Hankook tyres that barely squealed once), performed well enough in the urban duties most buyers will tackle 99 per cent of the time.
Rail tracks and speed bumps are soaked up here better than in most small cars, it rarely feels brittle over those sharper road imperfections you face in cities, and the overhangs didn’t scrape.
The only real dynamic bugbear we found was the tyre noise intrusion, which amplified at higher speeds beyond the norm. Whether it’s the Hankooks or some lack of insulation we aren’t sure, though Hyundai’s claim of much-improved NVH is worth remembering…
Still, this car balances sharp handling with comfort better than a number of proper premium cars we’ve driven. It didn’t need to, and that only makes Hyundai’s efforts all the more worthy of acknowledgement. The Elantra SR should be quite the little sleeper.
From an ownership perspective, Hyundai iCare gives you lifetime capped servicing, a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, complimentary roadside assist for 12 months and a 1500km complimentary first service.
To conclude, we realise that the way the Elantra handles twisting roads is likely not a key consideration for the target buyer, but it points to a brand that actually cares about how its cars are engineered for our specific market, and that continues to bode well.
And fact is, the new Elantra is better in almost every other way over its predecessor as well, despite the very small steps backwards in fuel economy and boot space. The cabin is quite upmarket, though a little subdued in a design sense and perhaps in need of proper sat-nav at Elite level, the urban manners are excellent and engine entirely adequate for the average user.
Is the new Elantra the class-leader Hyundai hopes it to be? It's certainly up there. If you want a spacious, comfortable and well-made little sedan that can actually handle if you need it to, it's a sharp bet.