IF RECENT form continues, I’d suggest Hyundai has motoring world domination in its sights by the end of the decade.
The one-time Korean also-ran is subtly holding two fingers up to a fair chunk of its rivals – and that includes Toyota, Mazda and Holden – by offering a car range that’s now near impossible to look past.
Point in question: the new Elantra.
This new generation small to mid-size sedan joins its i20, i30 and i45 stablemates as passenger vehicles that blend style with decent dynamics and deal-clinching high spec for not much money at all.
No, you won’t drop your Hyundai key fob proudly on the bar as a Porsche owner would (he’s surely in debt, anyway), but there’s a reason Hyundai is the fastest growing major car manufacturer, and the world’s fifth largest overall.
Its new Elantra comes in three trims: Active, Elite and Premium, with each option looking like bargains considering their inclusions.
Perhaps most appealing, the entry-level Active with manual gearbox is the most fun of the lot from a driver’s perspective, and is just a smidge over $20,000 before on-roads.
Hyundai’s tagline for its new Elantra is “The Big Small Car” and it’s hard to argue. It’s priced in the small car segment, but the marketing team is quick to point out it has more cabin space than a Toyota Corolla, VW Passat and Honda Accord Euro.
This gives a great sense of space for front and rear passengers. Head room isn’t wildly generous if you’re over six-foot, but in every other area, including rear passenger legroom, it feels far removed from most small cars.
You don’t expect miracles from cabin quality and feel in sub-$30,000 cars, but the Elantra shows cheap doesn’t have to be nasty.
Dashboard layout and design is superb, while there are plenty of soft touch plastics. Attention to detail is admirable, too, with funky styling and tasteful metallic and high-gloss piano black accents.
The fabric seats in the base Active variant are supportive and pleasing to the touch, but move into the range-topping Premium and you’ve got leather throughout, heated front seats and electric driver’s seat.
All very impressive so far, but the ride comfort won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Hyundai has gone for a sporty setup underneath, meaning a rather crashy ride over poor road surfaces.
The trade-off is an excellent chassis for enthusiastic driving, and if the roads where you live are well maintained you’ll love it.
On the road
This is where the new Elantra really shines. Hyundai has tuned the suspension specifically for Australian roads, and on my test route along Canberra’s open and undulating rural roads it proved a gem.
Its sporty chassis makes for an enjoyable and surprisingly good steer. Road holding was excellent, it cornered confidently and the steering was refreshingly weighty.
You only get one engine choice throughout the Elantra range, namely an all-new 1.8-litre petrol engine with lightweight aluminium block. Its 110kW of power and 178Nm of power won’t set the world alight, but there’s enough performance here to satisfy and it proves a very revvy four-potter.
A six-speed auto is standard on the Elite and Premium models, and optional on the Active, and is sporty enough to work with the engine and chassis to deliver smiles.
The basic six-speed manual is the pick however. If you still enjoy your driving and don’t spend your
life in traffic, it makes the Elantra feel like a far pricier sports car. You can fly through the gears quickly and smoothly, keep the revs up and truly enjoy yourself.
For more sedate trips the Elantra’s sense of size means it would be a good partner for a long highway trip.
Its sixth gear in both auto and manual models translates to low revs and good fuel economy when cruising.
What do you get?
The entry level Active boasts an impressive array of electronic stability and traction systems, six airbags, USB/Aux/iPod compatibility, Bluetooth and cruise control if you get the auto gearbox.
Spend five grand more and the Elite brings a classier interior, climate control, rain sensing wipers, smart key, front fog lights, rear park assist and 16-inch alloys. Not bad for the dollars.
The Premium feels the real bargain for $28,990 before on-roads.
It adds leather, 17-inch alloys, sunroof and reversing camera plus more. Hyundai knows we buyers are suckers for the toys.
With about 30 small cars currently on the market it is crowded, but the Elantra also challenges the true mid-size cars.
It unashamedly squares off against market leaders Holden Cruze 1.8 CD ($20,990) and Mazda3 MaXX sedan ($23,755), while sales could also be stolen from the Toyota Corolla 1.8 Accent ($20,990), Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0 SX ($22,790) and Honda Civic 1.8 VTI ($22,490).
Comparing the fuel economy of the Elantra’s new petrol Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing powerplant to its rivals above, it comes out trumps.
With a quoted 6.6L/100km in the manual and 7.1L/100km for the auto it makes for impressive reading.
But I dare suggest when driving the car as enthusiastically as it coaxes you to, these may be optimistic.
Small car purchase and running costs with larger car practicality? The Elantra succeeds. To match the roomy cabin you’re treated to 420 litres of boot space, again hitting the market sector’s higher reaches.
Styling is always subjective, and while the Elantra isn’t offensive viewing, it has a few too many curves, bulges and points of Fluidic Sculpture (Hyundai’s term) for my taste.
The Elantra’s a great drive, has impressive space and practicality, five-star ANCAP safety and excellent pricing.
Model: 2011 Hyundai Elantra.
Details: Four-door small/mid-size sedan.
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder D-CVVT petrol generating maximum power of 110kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 178Nm @ 4700rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual/six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.6L/100km (manual), 7.1L/100km (auto) combined average.
C02: 158g/km (manual), 169g/km (auto).
Bottom line: $20,590 (Active manual), $22,590 (Active auto), $25,590 (Elite auto), $28,990 (Premium auto). All prices before dealer delivery and on roads.
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