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2011-08-26 09:44

CURVY SEDAN: The Elantra borrows elements from its larger Sonata sibling and comes into its own with a stylish design.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Hyundai
Model Elantra
Engine 1.6-litre petrol; 1.8-litre petrol
Power 96kW at 6300rpm; 110kW at 6500rpm
Torque 157Nm at 4850rpm; 178kW at 4700rpm
Transmission Six Speed Manual; Six Speed Manual/Auto
Zero To Hundred 10.7seconds; 9.3s and 10.2 (auto)
Top Speed 200km/h; 205km/h, 202km/h (auto)
Fuel Tank 48.5l
Fuel Consumption 6.1l/100km; 6.5l/100km and 7.2l/10km (auto)
Boot Size 420-litres
Steering Power steering
ABS Yes
Airbags Driver and passenger. Side and curtain (1.8l model only)
Front Suspension McPherson type strut with stabilizer bar
Rear Suspension Coupled Torsion Beam Axle
Service Intervals 15 000 km
Service Plan Five year/90 000 km
Warranty Five year/150 000km
Price 1.6l - R186 900; 1.8 manual - R214 900, 1.8l auto R224 900 (auto)

SERGIO DAVIDS

Hyundai has gone through a number of transitions from being seen as “the cheap brand” in South Africa, to getting the "value for money" image with the introduction of its popular Getz and Tucson. With the launch of its Sonata and new Elantra, the Korean automaker hopes to earn itself the “modern premium” label.

And there's no reason why it shouldn't...

For 2011 the brand has transformed its practical, albeit forgettable, Elantra into a compact sedan easily out-classing its competition.  Also it’s managed to shake off Hyundai’s ‘i’ car branding, but more on that a little later...

TWO ENGINE OPTIONS

The Elantra never really took off in SA, from the ugly 1990's shape of the J1 to the “bubble” version of the 2000's; even the outgoing model failed to make an impression among SA’s loyal Toyota Corolla supporters. After taking inspiration from its bigger Sonata sibling, the new Elantra’s design, performance and price may change all that.

The new model is launched with two engine options and spec levels: the 1.6-litre manual GLS and 1.8-litre GLS available with manual or auto. In terms of features, the kit is virtually the same, although the 1.6-litre loses out on side and curtain airbags, climate control and parking assist.

EASY ON THE EYES

The Elantra is stylish and easily the best-looking model in its class. Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design for a ‘Wind Craft’-inspired shape, or so the marketing spiel goes, really comes through and is sure to turn heads.

I think it’s better-looking than the larger Sonata, even if the latter is a lot more elegant. There are fewer crease lines and overall it’s a slightly less complex shape than the Sonata. Viewed from the front, you can see elements of Honda and even Suzuki's styling coming through.

But what’s it like to drive?

The higher-specced models receive a 1.8-litre NU engine capable of 110kW at 6500rpm with a torque peak of 178Nm at 4700rpm. The 1.8-litre is available with either a six-speed auto or manual box. Fuel consumption for the new engine is rated at 6.5 litres/100km for the manual and 7.1 litres/100km for the auto.

The 1.6-litre is carried over from the outgoing model, producing 96kW at 63000rpm and 157Nm at 4850rpm. Fuel consumption is rated at six litres/100km.

At the launch event held in Cape Town this week, I drove the 1.8-litre derivative in both manual and automatic guise; the 1.6-litre was a no show. Driving the Elantra isn’t quite as riveting as its interior and exterior design would have you believe. It’s not boring by any means, but it doesn't provide any white knuckle driving either.

STYLISH: It looks as though Hyundai has skipped a generation with the latest version of its Elantra compared to its ugly predeccesors

It’s comfortable enough to handle urban driving challenges or use on longer family trips. The Elantra could serve as an excellent daily driver, I suppose you could say that about any car, but although the ride may not be exciting it certainly looks the stunning and its price makes it one of the most affordable sedans out there.

The suspension is a tad harsh, especially over irregular surfaces, but push it around the bends and you’ll find the handling quite competent with its ability to hug the road. The six-speed manual and automatic provide slick and accurate gear changes though with all Hyundai’s talk of noise reduction, the low grumble of the engine still comes through.

Inside, the Elantra is as pleasing and eye-catching as its exterior. If you’re tired of the drab grey on black approach of the Chev Cruze and Toyota Corolla, the Elantra is a showcase of how a vehicle interior should be; practical, exciting and comfortable. As with the exterior styling, the Sonata influence is quite apparent though there are enough differences (in the centre console, in particular) to make it the Elantra’s cabin come into its own.

The centre console and dash layout in the new Elantra is very attractive, with chrome accents, flowing lines and intuitively placed controls. There’s a lot of attention to detail inside with metallic and piano black accents and soft touch materials used throughout.

Overall the quality finishes really come through and since you’ll be spending much of your inside the car, the interior just boosts the overall package.

The seats feel a tad flimsy and the boot, while rather spacious at 420-litres, has a raised sill - I suppose to cater for its bubble derrière - but I always find it frustrating when you’re presented with a vehicle with a large boot, but are forced to angle large items in due to the raised lip/sill.

STEP INSIDE: The slick interior design makes any journey a pleasure, even if the performance is very timid.

Prices start at R186 900 for the 1.6, R214 900 for the 1.8 manual and R224 900 for the auto. The B segment claims 22% of SA’s vehicle sales with several automakers clambering for their share of the local market. Price-wise the Elantra is very competitive, especially its 1.6-litre derivative.

FIERCE COMPETITION

Hyundai’s baby Sonata faces fierce competition from the likes of Corolla, Cruze, Kia Cerato and Ford's Focus. With so many rivals, how does the new Elantra compare?

Well in terms of design, the Elantra has its Japanese, Korean and US rivals beat with its curvaceous design, though the Focus and Cerato deserve a special mention. The price of the 1.6, at launch, is lower than many of its rivals compared to the marginal price difference of the 1.8 in comparison to similar specced competitors.

Once again, brand loyalty will come into play and, despite its looks and performance, the Elantra has its work cut out for it.

There seems to be some confusion with Hyundai’s higher-ups with regards to the naming scheme of its models. The Korean automaker went on a renaming blitz with its ‘i’ car branding changing the names of its popular Getz (i20) and Tucson (ix35) when the new generation cars were introduced. The Elantra, Santa Fe and Sonata (designated the i45 for European markets) and the soon-to-be-launched new Accent retain their traditional titles here in SA.

Overall, it is certainly the best-looking compact sedan available, if not the most exhilarating to drive. If you’re not sold on its looks, the Elantra’s performance and price could be the deciding factor for most. Hyundai has come a long way with its model line-up over the past two years and the new Elantra is a potential hit, if it can just manage to persuade brand-loyal SA buyers that it’s grown-up quite a bit since the previous century.

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