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The more John Heinzl drove the Hyundai Elantra Touring model, the more impressed he was by its supple ride, competent handling and all-around versatility. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
The more John Heinzl drove the Hyundai Elantra Touring model, the more impressed he was by its supple ride, competent handling and all-around versatility. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Family Wheels

A wagon you can really warm up to Add to ...

Some cars win you over with their flashy looks or thrilling performance. Others are more of an acquired taste, revealing their subtle charms gradually.

The 2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon fits squarely into the latter category.

When I picked up my test vehicle, my first impression was that it wasn't going to win any beauty contests. It lacked the cute factor of a Honda Fit or the sporty lines of a Mazda3, which is a drawback if you think a car should be a fashion statement and not just a method of transportation.

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But looks can be deceiving; the more I drove the Elantra Touring GLS, the more impressed I was by its supple ride, competent handling and all-around versatility. This is a very capable family car, with a generous and comfortable interior, ample cargo space, and loads of features for the money. It's also fun to drive, which was a pleasant surprise for a family wagon.

Let's start at the front and work our way back.

I've always considered heated seats a superfluous option - until I drove the Elantra Touring during a cold spell. Then it dawned on me: The point of seat warmers isn't to heat up your buns, it's to warm up your whole body while you wait for the heater to kick in.

Once I made that discovery, the seat warmer was the first thing I turned on - always to the "high" position - before I ventured out into the frigid Canadian winter. Other cold-busting features included heated power side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer, both of which are standard on the GLS trim level, which is a notch below the top-of-the-line GLS sport model.

The front seats weren't just warm, they were roomy and comfortable, and the six-speaker stereo provided an above-average listening experience, even though road and engine noise were noticeable on the highway. The cabin also featured plenty of cup holders, storage bins and assorted nooks for all the stuff that families accumulate. The materials were of reasonably high quality, with good fit and finish.

When carting around kids, the folding rear centre console came in especially handy.

When we were venturing down the highway to grandma and grandpa's house, my seven-year-old son used the console's cup holder to hold his loose Lego pieces while he played. That probably saved us from getting plastic bricks lost between the seats.

When my four-year-old daughter was getting antsy and asking for mommy, we pulled over and my wife folded the centre console back into the upright position. Then she climbed into the rear between the two booster seats and kept my daughter entertained the rest of the journey.

In many compact cars, getting a human being wedged into the centre position between two child seats is impossible without risking serious bodily injury, so the Elantra Touring deserves credit for its family-friendly roominess.

"It was pretty comfortable. I wasn't squished," my wife said. "Usually if I sit back there between the two car seats, it's tight."

Cargo room is another area in which the Elantra Touring excels. Tossing my son's hockey bag into the back barely made a dent in the expansive trunk. When I needed to move a couple of chairs for my parents, the vehicle handled them with ease.

If you're hauling around larger objects, the rear seats fold flat to create more room.

Our well-equipped model - which also featured keyless entry, fog lights, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and front, side and side-curtain air bags - retails for $21,994, which includes $1,495 in delivery and destination charges. The entry-level Elantra Touring L model starts at $16,494, including delivery.

In conversations with people, I'm struck by how Hyundai still suffers from the baggage of its admittedly crummy cars from a decade or more ago. I learned to drive stick on a Hyundai Pony many moons ago, and my bones are still rattling from the experience.

But Hyundai has made huge strides and is now right up there with Toyota and Honda in terms of quality and reliability. The Elantra Touring earns a coveted "recommended" rating from Consumer Reports.

If you're looking for a practical, affordable and versatile wagon, the Elantra Touring is worth putting on your list of vehicles to consider.

2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring GLS

Type: Small wagon/hatchback

Base Price: $21,994; as tested, $21,994

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque:

138 hp/136 lb-ft

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km):

8.7 city/6.5 highway; regular gas

jheinzl@globeandmail.com

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