At the risk of dating myself, I admit that I have seen the entire history of the Hyundai Elantra unfold in North America. Introduced in 1990, it was powered by a Mitsubishi-designed engine and immediately had to contend with the overwhelming dominance of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. It did this primarily by coming in with a lower sticker price and higher standard equipment level….Hyundai’s tried and true method of getting a foothold.
Over the years, Hyundai has done its homework and the Elantra has steadily improved….especially in the areas of refinement and styling. Up until recently, it has never been the kind of vehicle one covets….you bought it because it represented decent value and was really what you could afford….not because you saw one and said to yourself: “Hot damn! That’s one hell of an automobile!”
These days, it’s still unlikely anyone would stop in their tracks to gape at an Elantra, but it has matured into a top-notch compact sedan…..even though it’s technically a mid-sizer.
Now in its sixth generation, the Elantra is …well….just about perfect for this market. I recently spent some time with the Sport version, and with one or two minor quibbles, consider it to be at the top of its game.
My tester, the Sport version, is propelled by a turbocharged 1.6 litre four cylinder….what the company calls its “gamma” engine. In this configuration, it develops 201 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. It can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox, or seven-speed dual clutch automatic. Mine had the manual….which I’ll get to shortly.
Other standard equipment includes traction control, vehicle stability control, hill start assist (with the automatic trans), 18-inch wheels and tires, tuned exhaust, and the usual array of modcons and comfort features, such as flat-bottomed steering wheel, heated front seats, Bluetooth, and with the automatic transmission option, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. As well as special badging throughout the car. An upmarket “Tech” edition adds things like an 8-inch navigation system, an 8-speaker Infinity audio system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear park assist, and dual-zone automatic climate control with auto defogger. In every respect, this is a well-equipped and comfortable sports sedan that presents no challenges when it comes to things like ergonomics or switchgear.
A word about the manual gearbox. It’s been my experience, over the years, that a car-makers progress can be measured by the way it designs manual transmissions and shift linkage. Honda, for example, has been the benchmark for smooth, easy to get along with shift linkage for years….especially with the Civic. Hyundai had some work to do when the Elantra first appeared, and this they have done….in spades. My standard test with cars like this is to shift gears as few times without using the clutch, and the Elantra Sport passed with flying colours....no balking or grinding. A nice surprise. I could kvetch about the gates being a smidge too close together, but that’s really picking nits.
And let me add that I’m happy Hyundai has decided to stay with a manual gearbox option in the first place….the stick shift seems to be something of an endangered species these days and there is an entire generation of drivers who can’t handle a manual transmission.
I’d also like to add a word about this car’s NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness)….in a word: excellent. Hyundai claims to have increased the Elantra’s chassis strength and torsional rigidity for the 2017….and it shows. The car is quiet on the highway, and predictable through the corners.
Speaking of the highway, with the six-speed, at 100 km/h in top gear, the engine is ticking over at a leisurely 1800-1900 rpm….which may or may not contribute to its overall quiet ride.
And, finally, the styling. Hyundai seems to have been paying close attention to what Mercedes designers have been doing lately….especially vis-à-vis the C-class….but then, so have many other carmakers. As a result, the Elantra has a nice clean look about it….much less cluttered than – say – the latest generation of Civic.
In fact, the Elantra is now equal to the Civic (and Corolla) in every department….and actually out-performs them in many areas.
See: homework is good for you.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: Turbocharged 1.6 litre four cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Horsepower: 201 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 195 ft. lb @ 1500 - 4500 rpm
Price: $24,999 (base); $27,499 as tested.
Fuel Economy: 10.7 L /100 km (city) & 7.8 (hwy.) Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Forte, Ford Fusion, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Chrysler 200.