In some ways, Hyundai is kind of like the Dell computer company. If you're prepared to shell out the money, you can get a good-quality product. On the other hand, go down the scale a little and purchase an economy model and, well, you get what you pay for.
While Hyundai's new Genesis sedan is an example of the former situation, the new Elantra Touring seems to fall into the latter category. A fundamentally sound automobile, it's a little rough around the edges and kind of unrefined, especially compared with some of its stable mates. Quite honestly, it caught me by surprise, probably because just about every Hyundai product I've driven lately has been a paragon of fit and finish and build quality.
And just to clarify; the Elantra Touring is not the sedan with a different body configuration. It's actually a separate vehicle, sold in Europe as the i30 and manufactured both in South Korea and the Czech Republic. Apparently, models shipped to Canada come from South Korea, and the i30 was actually designed in Germany.
That said, it does share the same powertrain with the sedan, and comes in four trim levels: L, L with the "preferred" package, GL and GL with the Sport package.
My tester was a GL with no package. You can get this model with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. I had the latter and it runs an additional $1,200.
Power output is 138 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, with 136 lb-ft of torque. This engine displaces 2.0 litres and is one of the sources of the Elantra Touring's overall unrefined feeling. Maybe it just needs a little more soundproofing, but engine NVH (noise, harshness and vibration) is much more pronounced than some of this car's rivals, which include the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, Kia Rondo, and maybe even the Volkswagen Golf.
On the highway, it's a loud little tusker and drivetrain noise is kind of obtrusive. This vehicle could also use a five-speed automatic; many of its rivals have one.
On the other hand, this body configuration is just about as practical and useable as you can get. Fold down the back seats and you get some 1,848 litres of cargo room. By way of comparison, the Matrix has 1,384 litres.
You don't have to remove the headrests to lower the rear seats, but they don't fold completely flat, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I'd choose this configuration over the sedan, any day. It's interesting to see how this market has ballooned over the past few years. Affordable hatchback/wagons used to be as scarce as hen's teeth, now they're very well represented in North America.
And, as it turns out, this particular affordable wagon is also one of the better-looking ones out there. I've had problems getting my head around the newest redesign of the Matrix/Vibe and the latest version of the Mazda3, both of which are direct competitors, but Hyundai has done a nice job on the sheet metal of this model - they always manage to turn out good-looking cars on a pretty regular basis. Funny how wagons are often better looking than their sedan counterparts.
But I digress. For its before-taxes-and-extras MSRP of just under $20,000, the Touring GL has a reasonably high complement of standard equipment.
Air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering, one-touch driver-side window and power door locks all come with this model, and so do heated front seats and a cooled glove box. When you're at this price level, these items are usually optional and alter the affordability factor considerably.
That said, Toyota is pricing its base Matrix at well under $17,000 these days, and the much bigger and more versatile Dodge Journey costs about the same for its entry-level model. I realize the Journey is not officially a competitor, but it just shows you how cutthroat the car business is getting.
I should also point out that the base L Elantra Touring starts at just a whisker less than $15,000, but it lacks virtually all of the amenities.
One final word on the unrefined factor of this vehicle. As well as drivetrain noise, the Elantra Touring really hits the bumps hard. Drive over even modest-sized potholes and the car seems to amplify the impact from one end to the other. It's been my experience over the years that suspension refinement is one of the hallmarks of a superior automobile -how it handles road surface changes and holes in the pavement.
The Elantra Touring has the ubiquitous MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear setup, with stabilizer bars, but it should probably be retuned. Hyundai has some recalibrating work to do here.
And although nobody asked me, I have some words of wisdom for Hyundai. The Genesis sedan has surpassed everyone's wildest expectations and the best-selling Sonata and Santa Fe are excellent vehicles for the money. But don't let it go to your head. Don't get cocky.
2009 HYUNDAI ELANTRA TOURING GL
Type: Compact four-door wagon
Base Price: $18,795; as tested: $19,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 138 hp/136 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.5 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Mazda3, Kia Rondo, VW City Golf, Saturn Astra, Suzuki SX4 hatchback, Nissan Versa
- Reasonable sticker price/equipment level
- Pleasing body style
- Good fuel economy
- Overall unrefined feeling
- Crude suspension
- Stroppy engine
- Could use a five-speed automatic