Hyundai has come a long way since it launched Elantra and Accent in South Africa back in the '90s. A decade ago the Korean carmaker was no serious threat to established brands such as Toyota, VW and Nissan. However, a lot can change in a decade.
Today Hyundai products are generally respected and actually giving its competitors a run for their money.
The small Getz and Tucson SUV are showcases of this. Although Hyundai doesn't report its sales to NAAMSA, rumour has it that the company is now one also of the major role players in the local car industry.
The latest Elantra is proof of Hyundai's evolvement as a carmaker. This model has never been regarded as one of Hyundai's more exciting products but it seems as if the Elantra's fortunes are about to change.
The Elantra is competing for a slice of the important mid-size sedan segment, where dull cars are the name of the game. Think Toyota Corolla, Nissan Tiida (previously Almera) and VW Golf/Jetta.
However, although all are serious competitors for Hyundai, the company is pitching the Elantra more against the Corolla. And after driving the cars at Australia's Gold Coast, we think the Elantra has what it takes to tackle its Japanese enemy.
Let's be honest - the previous generation Elantras weren't worth a second look.
The car looked Korean and was just plain unexciting. There was nothing inspiring about it. Fortunately Hyundai seems to have seen the light with the newest version.
Yes, the Elantra still has a conservative and sober design, but style is now part of the equation.
In fact looking at the car from the rear, one could mistake it for a Lexus IS. It has smooth lines and even a seductive curve or two.
The front end doesn't quite compliment the sporty look of the rear of the car, and appears a bit boring. To be honest, it looks as if the designer's creative juices stopped flowing from the front doors backwards.
But in our books it still looks more athletic than a Corolla or Tiida, which probably doesn't take a lot.
Naturally the interior design is also better than before, especially the general fit and finish - in fact, the Elantra proves again that long gone are the days when Hyundais were synonymous with low budget cars with shiny dashboard plastics.
We also liked the clean and modern layout of the dash as all controls are placed sensibly and are easy to operate.
The dash looks attractive too and at nighttime, with the headlights switched on, the blue illumination of the dials also ads a classy aura to the car.
Naturally the car is well-equipped with all the usual comfort features.
Experiencing the Elantra
South Africa will only get a 2-litre petrol derivative and only time will tell if a turbo-diesel derivative will find its way here. The 2-litre engine develops 105 kW, and it seems more than able to do its job in the Elantra.
There is also a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions. Both transmission options seem to suit the 2-litre engine well.
The autobox is a smooth-shifting unit, and although the manual transmissions isn't as slick as that of a Honda Civic, it feels direct and effortless.
On the road the road the latest Elantra is balanced, offering a neutral and composed ride. Hyundai also has done a great job with sound deadening.
Safety features are comprehensive too and the car comes with six airbags and ABS brakes with EBD.
The fourth generation Elantra, with its sharp-suited looks, good equipment levels and improved build quality, has a better chance than any of its previous incarnations.
Not only is it more crisply designed but it is an all-round better car and more than a match for its archrival, the Corolla.
As for reliability Hyundai has proven in recent years that it is upping its ante and recent top-performance in JD Power owner/quality surveys shows that drivers can find peace of mind in the company's products.
Although Hyundai is blunt that it isn't aiming to pitch the Elantra as its new volume seller in South Africa, this sedan doesn't have to stand back for the competition.
Like its siblings it is a capable vehicle and Hyundai now has a proven track record of producing quality products.
Yes, the Elantra might not be the most thrilling new car to hit South Africa in 2007 but it is built to standards competitive with Japanese or European products.
The latest model is also as far removed from its predecessors as possible. It is crisp and likely to be good value for your money too.
When will it be here?
- Expected in the first quarter of 2007.
How much will it cost?
- Approximately R170 000 to R180 000.
- 2-litre petrol, although Hyundai must still confirm the transmission choices for SA.