LAUNCH REPORT:

Hyundai Elantra review

by Malcolm Baylis (7 March 2001)

Hyundai Elantra.

Hyundai strides into the new year where it left off in 2000: delivering new cars. Last year saw the arrival of five new models and the demise of one. In came the revised Accent, new Amica, XG 30, Trajet people carrier and Coupé. Out went the Atoz. This year the in-car is the Elantra saloon, a replacement for the Lantra, and coming in a few weeks is the Santa Fe off-roader, about which more soon.

The Elantra has just arrived in the showrooms and its job is to challenge the likes of the Vauxhall Vectra, Nissan Primera and Peugeot 406. Voted the most improved franchise last year, Hyundai also knocked up to 15% off its car prices, but is still going to have its work cut out getting ahead of these three when it comes to sales figures. Nonetheless, the Elantra arrives with pretty sound credentials, including competitive pricing and up-to-date technology.

Up-to-date, that is, except for one glaring irritant.

There is nothing more embarrassing and frustrating than switching the left or right indicator on and finding the windscreen wipers screeching across the glass. Or flashing the headlights as a courtesy signal to another motorist and instead getting the windscreen washed.

Hyundai's designers still insist on putting each of these levers on the wrong side of the steering column for European drivers. Other Far Eastern manufacturers are getting the message that Europeans, especially we Brits, prefer the indicators on the left and the windscreen wipers on the right. Hyundai just cannot get it right . . . or is it left!

But otherwise there is little to fault the new-look Lantra because the added E can justifiably stand for either Excellence or Exuberance.

Interestingly, when Hyundai came up with its new name for the new Lantra it ran into legal obstruction from Lotus, which felt that the Elantra title was too close to its Elan. But that was resolved when the Elan was written out of production.

Power for the Elantra comes from a development of the present Lantra's 1.6-litre and two-litre fuel injected engines, matched with a nicely slick five-speed manual gearshift.

There is plenty of power packed into the 1.6, producing a healthy 106bhp at 5800rpm, while the two-litre has 139bhp on tap at 6000rpm. While cruising, that carried somewhat irritatingly through to the cabin, and this despite new soundproofing under the bonnet.

Perhaps the test car was just a fraction out of sync, because Hyundai's United Kingdom product manager, Sonia Baird, spoke highly of the work that had gone into reducing cabin noise with special materials and engine mounts.

However, the Elantra's petrol units are also more about fuel efficiency than the ones in earlier models, the 1.6-litre producing an excellent 45mpg on suburban highways, and the two-litre manual not far behind with around 44mpg.

For today's customer, the Elantra with its five-model range comes in either four or five-door form, the latter a first-time alternative. Whereas the Elantra is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor (it is on a completely new platform), it is also bigger and therefore roomier than the Vectra, Primera, Volvo S40 and Toyota Avensis, but undercuts them all on price.

Encouraging customers to part with the cash is important when the competition is so tough, and the entry-level 1.6-litre Si five-door comes in at a pound coin (or pound note if you are north of the border) short of £11,000. Compare this with the £14,000 needed to buy the Nissan Primera 1.6-litre E five-door. Or buy the two-litre CDX Elantra in five-door form and get some change out of that £14,000. Even if it is only £1 it's still change!

Hop into the entry-level Si model car and there is plenty of gear to keep everyone happy. There is the power steering with column tilt adjustment, powered front windows, air-conditioning, anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution to ensure all-round smooth pulling-up power, as well as safety features such as driver, passenger and side airbags. Sadly, the radio is small and frustratingly fiddly.

Move up a notch to the £12,199 GSi and driver gear includes trip computer, height and lumbar adjustment to the seat, powered sunroof, foglights and a six-speaker CD and radio. A nice touch comes with the back-lit blue electro-illuminescent dials.

The two-litre models, both four-door and five-door are £13,999, come with added traction control, leather seat trim and leather finish to the steering wheel and handbrake grip, cruise control and climate control as well as riding on 15" alloy wheels.

Ride and handling are well-controlled, especially now that the front and rear springs have been strengthened.

The engines are matched to either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. The manual, slick and smooth to use, has also been uprated, while the automatic has been specially developed for the Elantra, providing wider gear ratios to save fuel as well as boosting exuberant performance.

Hyundai sold 26,248 cars in the UK last year, and expects the Elantra to prove a more than popular addition to its range. It has proved pretty popular elsewhere and 145,000 are expected to be sold worldwide this year, with a fair chunk aimed at the UK buyer.

335stars

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