Car company fortunes rise and fall, up for one cycle with models people are paying premiums for and bottoming out in the next with showroom bombs.
Hyundai has been around for long enough now to have experienced some of these bumps in the road – although always managing to maintain onward and upward momentum. But it’s currently launching off a high spot with two recently introduced mainstream car models that are providing some much-needed wind beneath its wings. And it has a third arriving soon that should add additional lift.
The South Korean car maker introduced its new-generation mid-size 2011 Sonata last year to customer enthusiasm that continues this year with first-quarter sales up more than 38 per cent, a woo-hoo number in anybody’s books. But which is eclipsed by its latest fifth-generation Elantra compact, which made its debut in December, and in the first three months of 2011 has seen sales climb almost 79 per cent versus last year.
Negative first-quarter numbers dog the rest of the range, which now extends from SUVs and crossovers to the luxury Equus sedan, leaving it to the Sonata and Elantra to account for Hyundai’s 5.7 per cent early 2011 gains. A new subcompact Accent – the best-selling subcompact in Canada for the past two years – arrives this spring and if it’s as well received, should keep Hyundai’s passenger car business healthy.
The 2011 Elantra offerings begin with the L model at $15,849 and work their way up through GL and GLS versions to the $22,699 Limited reviewed here, with a step beyond that involving inclusion of a navi and rear-view camera system.
The first thing you notice about Hyundai’s new Elantra sedan is that, well, you notice it. And that isn’t a universal reaction in a compact category which, if it isn’t exactly all grey porridge in terms of design conformity, does exhibit rather too much bland stodginess.
The Elantra’s four-door sedan’s structurally stiffer body was apparently shaped by one of those wonderfully designer-esque notions, in this case termed “fluidic sculpture.” But it looks great, really does stand out, particularly the front-end styling that will certainly catch attention in rear-view mirrors and which is significantly more aerodynamic.
The inside is almost Lexus-elegant – with a touch of gee-whiz thrown in – although understandably not executed to quite that standard. It is, however, nicely put together from obviously good-quality materials, with attractive dark silver swoop-y trim pieces. Things you need to reach and operate are easy to find and function well, mirrors do a good job, instruments are legible, there’s very little cabin noise and front seats are comfortable for the long haul.
Rear-seat passengers benefit from a fairly flat floor, but many will find headroom a bit marginal. Behind them is a commodious 420-litre trunk (just 44 litres smaller than the mid-size Sonata’s).
Which brings us to equipment. And you always get a lot of that in a Hyundai. The Limited comes with a 172-watt all-bells-and-whistles audio system, dual-zone climate control, trip computer, power locks, heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth hands-free phone, leather-wrapped wheel, leather seat surfaces, automatic headlights, sunroof, turn signals in the mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Safety is boosted by a Vehicle Stability Management system that works with the stability control system to actively assist in maintaining control on slippery surfaces, backed up by a variety of airbags.
Under the hood is a new 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine cleverly named Nu, rated at 148 hp (among the highest in the category) and 131 lb-ft of torque. New six-speed manual and automatic transmissions connect it to the front wheels. It isn’t quite as smooth or quiet as you might expect, but (I think) more so than the 2.0-litre it replaces.
The automatic transmission (which you can shift manually) delivers good initial acceleration and a gear to tap into the engine’s best output range to suit all situations. It’s no slug, getting to 100 km/h in about nine seconds.
It also puts up impressive economy numbers of 6.9 litres/100 km city and 4.9 highway, about 16 per cent better than the old model. The tester managed 7.2 litres/100 km at a keep-up-with-traffic highway cruise, and after a week of highway and rural/urban driving averaged 7.9 litres/100 km.
The suspension is a touch disappointing, feeling a little clattery and bangy over sharper bumps, suggesting damping control or bushings aren’t all they might be. It’s firm enough to produce positive response from the naturally enough weighted and quick-ish electric power steering and flat cornering through highway ramps though.
This motor/transmission/suspension system give the Elantra improved driving dynamics over its predecessor and elevates its status in this area in the segment.
Which, combined with its style, pleasant interior and high level of equipment, make it no surprise it’s doing well against tough competition.
2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Type: Compact sedan
Base Price: $22,699; as tested, $24,194
Engine: 1.8-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/131 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/4.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra