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FIRST THOUGHTS: The all-new Hyundai Elantra sedan looks a lot like its big brother the i45, but unlike that car which was universally panned for its driving dynamics, Hyundai has gone to great lengths to detail the ‘Australianisation' of its newest small car.
So, most car companies talk up the abilities of their new car at its launch. But very few go to the lengths that Hyundai did when it showed its new Elantra to the Australian motoring press earlier this week.
On hand was rally ace Ed Ordinski and a video of the new Elantra at a test facility up against it top-selling opposition: Holden Cruze and Mazda3. The video outlined the Elantra, in the handling and braking stakes, to the others.
There's nothing new in that sort of thing, but it just felt Hyundai had perhaps overreacted and was attempting to push its barrow a little too forcefully.
So what's the new car like? Designed in North America by the same team that gave us the ix35 and i45, Hyundai's ‘fluidic sculptures' design strategy has been taken to the next level.
‘Windcraft' is the term Hyundai used to describe how this latest sedan has come into being, and it sounds like a lot of hot air to us. But, the realities are that, as a scaled-down version of the i45, the Elantra's proportions work to create a balanced-looking sedan.
The new car achieves a five-star ANCAP rating across the three specification levels.
It's an all-new power train line-up, with no diesel included in the mix, and a 110kW 1.8-litre four-cylinder replacing the previous generation's larger 2.0-litre unit.
New six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available and, in an era of increasing mechanical complexity the new six-speed automatic is actually 5kg lighter and has less moving parts than the old four-speed unit. Pretty impressive.
The old Elantra made do with just two versions: the SX and SLX with the SX priced from $19,900, and the SLX an extra $2,590, at $22,490. The new Elantra has an expanded line-up that includes three variants: Active, Elite and Premium, and the entry level Active goes on-sale for $20,590, a price hike of only $690 over the old SX.
The Elite is priced at $25,590 and the Premium sells for $28,990. The Active sedan is the same price as the i30 hatch, but gains the new 1.8-litre engine and six-speed manual or automatic transmission. As a result, the official fuel consumption figure is better for the new Elantra (6.6L/100km Vs 7.1/100km for the I30 SX, which only has a five-speed manual transmission.
The entry-level Elantra Active standard features list mirrors the i30 SX hatch but adds cruise control and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Importantly both entry-level models have Bluetooth connectivity. Standard is air-conditioning, power windows, a six-speaker audio system and heated external mirrors.
The mid-specced Elite is only available with the six-speed automatic transmission and gains a stop/start proximity key, reverse parking sensors, dusk sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers, a leather wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control air-conditioning, and sixteen- inch alloy wheels.
Moving up to the Elantra Premium adds a sunroof, seventeen-inch alloy wheels and leather trim. All versions have a full size spare wheel.
The key message from Hyundai is the ‘Australianisation' of the Elantra's chassis, to suit our roads and driving tastes. What does that actually mean?
Well, the new Elantra sold here has a uniquely calibrated electric power-steering rack, up-rated front springs and dampers, a larger diameter front anti-sway bar and different rear dampers.
Inside, there's plenty of room, the front seats are amply bolstered and supportive, and the steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach. The front windscreen A-pillars are large and sharply raked and so, depending on your seating position, they might be intrusive and hinder vision when cornering.
Even with the front seats in their rearmost position, rear occupant space is excellent for this class. The rear seat base is angled nicely to provide adequate thigh support, and there's enough seat bolstering to stop you from sliding around. It looks like the designers have thought about all the seating positions, and not just the front.
Glass area is reduced due to the upswept side profile of the Elantra but you don't get any feeling of claustrophobia when you're seated inside. The rear seats are 60/40 split folds but their practicality is reduced somewhat as they don't fold flat into the floor.
In front of the driver the Elantra is nicely laid out, with two large easy to read dials for speed and engine revs. Positioned between the two dials is a shift up light, alerting the driver when to shift to a higher or lower gear (for the manual model).
The centre console design follows the theme set by the i45, with contrasting silver and grey (piano black finish on the Premium models) tones and lots of sharp flowing lines and surfaces housing controls for the air-conditioning and audio. Overall, most of the controls are easy, at a glance, to identify and use.
The new 1.8-litre four-cylinder is a willing enough unit developing 110kW and 178Nm, putting the Elantra on equal footing with most of its popular opposition.
Handling wise, both the Active on 15-inch wheels and the Elite on 16s are up to the task. The electric power steering is light enough to perform car park duties easily and not be too vague out on the open road. The Elantra turns in but remains reasonably linear so that you're no having to see-saw with the wheel as you move through the corner.
On poorer quality surfaces the ride is a little too firm becoming jiggly and fidgety on rougher roads. Point it at a smooth stretch of highway blacktop, though, and the ride improves.
VERDICT: Like the other recent offerings from Hyundai, the new Elantra sedan ticks a lot of boxes. A five-star ANCAP rating, a new, more fuel-efficient 1.8-litre four-cylinder, one-year/15,000km service intervals, and a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and an attractive suite of standard features are undeniable attractions.
But unlike other recent Hyundai releases, the Elantra doesn't drop the ball in the on-road stakes, delivering a competent drive experience that, even after my brief drive, puts it on equal footing with its major competition.
|Country of manufacture||Korea|
|Available from||July 2011|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.8 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||1100 kW @ 6500 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||178 Nm @ 4700 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||6.6 L/100km|
|CO2 Emissions||158 g/km|