2013 Hyundai Elantra- The Secret Recipe For Success

DSCI0274Kimchi is the national dish of Korea.  The Seoul specialty is fermented cabbage smothered in garlic, hot pepper, ginger and other pungent ingredients leading to an intense flavor.  It’s an interesting dish, but when it comes down to it; it’s still just cabbage.  The Korean-sourced Hyundai Elantra has been like that since its introduction in 1992; prepared from basic ingredients and spiced up with valued-packed pricing and a generous warranty.  At first the flavor suits the palate, but the taste doesn’t linger.  Not to say the Elantra is a bad car at all.  In fact I’ve bought two of them in the past partially due to the bargain price and was very satisfied with them.  And here lies the issue, although the Elantra has always been a competent and decent little car, there was little beyond the sticker price to recommend over other compacts if you were looking for a set of wheels with character.  When the all-new fifth generation Elantra debuted for 2011, all of that changed.

DSCI0267With the exception of the quirky hatchback and wagon varients of the past, the Elantra has never been attention grabbing or intriging.  The prior bodystyle Elantra, introduced in 2007, came from an era when Hyundai was building more desirable cars, such as the fourth-generation Sonata and second-gen Santa Fe.  That lineup was able to oversome quality concerns but the styling was dull and could cure insomnia.  Some potential buyers never gave that newly refined Elantra a second look, mainly because they forgot what they looked like after the first glance.

DSCI0278Not so with this model.  The new Elantra, in my opinion, has leap-frogged all other compacts in the looks department.  Hyundai’s fluidic styling theme was introduced on the Sonata a year earlier, but seems to work better with the smaller dimensions of the Elantra.  The swept-back headlights reach far into the front fenders and over the wheel arches.  The sheetmetal is an intricate dance of swoops, bulges, and curves that seem to flow into one another and coincidently create the outlines of a car.  Like the Ford Focus and Honda Civic, the Elantra’s roof pillars are stretched out toward the outmost edges of the car and result in a rakish windshield.  The rear quarters are almost coupe-like with a short decklid, a rear window that reaches for the tail of the car, and aggressively slanted tailights.  From all angles, it appears sophisticated and more stylish than its modest economy car aspirations would have you believe.  Some may find the look overwrought and will believe that it will age quickly, but I find it daring, and along with the Ford Focus, believe it’s the most attractive compact offering out there.  A two-door coupe and European-sourced five-door hatchback are also available in addition to our four-door sedan.

CAM00151Inside, the complex and intrepid theme continues.  The center stack is pinched and arches out to form the console as well the radio and ventilation housings.  It’s obvious that the design team sweated over the stylistic touches; the prominent and beefy grab handles on the front doors, for example, forge the shape of the meaty door handles and frame the speakers while eventually encasing the front air vents.  My only complaint is that with all of the parting lines, there’s a variety of materials used for the dashboard and door panels (seven different textures that I could count from within the driver’s view) making it appear busier and more inconsistent than it needs to be.  Still, the overall look is thoroughly modern and almost futuristic.  Usually these adventurous sweeps of the pen will lead to a compromise of functionality or ergonomics.

CAM00160Not so in the Elantra.  That pinched center stack opens up knee room for front passengers and provides several extra storage cubbies in the front footwells.  This may not sound like a big deal, but in an era when center consoles are getting more expansive and impede on precious passenger room (I’m looking at you Ford Focus!), the Elantra’s arrangement can not be taken for granted.  Up CAM00153front, there is plentiful headroom and legroom, enough to the point that I had more space than my 6’4” frame needed, requiring me to pull the driver seat forward.  That is yet another aspect that can’t be taken lightly in a compact car.  Adjustments on the seats are simple and all of the knobs and releases are user-friendly.  The seats themselves are more than adequate, with enough shaping and padding to remain comfortable on long trips.

CAM00150In the back, things get a little tighter.  Legroom is decent yet long-legged knees will be rubbing against the hard-plastic cladded front seatbacks.  I’ve never been a fan of plastic backings on front seats.  Not only does it look cheap, but it can prove to be uncomfortable in these situations when thinly padded knees are pressed up against them.  Headroom is compromised by that sleekly raked rear roofline.  Taller passengers may find themselves in the chin-to-chest position and the vast rear window will undoubtedly lead to rear occupants scoring an unexpected tan.  But there is some good news back there; entry and exit are good due to wide swinging doors and large openings.  The center floor hump is almost non-existent, making it easy to slide across the back seat or cram in a third, middle passenger.  The Elantra’s roominess overall is fine and better than some competitor’s, such as the Focus, but not as good as the Subaru Impreza.

CAM00159I’ve said it before on other tests, and I’ll say it again here; I admire how Hyundai has been able to couple brash design with solid ergonomics and simplicity on all of their models.  The overall look of the cabin and the available goodies will please tech-freaks, while the straightforward controls will not bewilder the confused among us.  Ventilation controls are unique in having the temperature and fan speed intertwined on two large dials piled onto one another.  Initially, it is possible to mix up the two but it doesn’t take too long to adapt.  Straightforward buttons control the air flow direction and are fool-proof.  The radio is CAM00156shared with other Hyundai products and is sensible and logical to navigate through.  Lastly, cruise control buttons on the steering wheels fall right at hand and are back-lit at night.  Gauges are clear, crisp, and lit in Hyundai’s attractive blue lighting. 

CAM00157Storage is plentiful with a large console bin, immense glove box, and generous pockets on all four doors that incorporate true American sized cupholders.  Even with the swoopy styling, visibility is surprisingly good thanks to large windows and relatively thin pillars that do not block the driver’s view.  Sizable mirrors also aid with reversing or lane changes.

Construction seems solid and like many newer compacts, materials are soft-touch, durable and rich, although this interior is still no match to a Volkswagen in that regard.  Overall, there is little to fault the Elantra in terms of ergonomics, except for one odd reservation.  The center air vents are mounted too low, a victim to fashion, and don’t provide enough air to the back seats and could freeze the driver’s hand.  It’s an odd yet valid complaint, and wouldn’t be noticed on a regular test drive.

CAM00154Those hoping for sports car-like moves to compliment the flamboyant looks may be disappointed.  The Elantra is an economic compact to its core.  That being said, it’s also one of the best small cars out there in this regard.  Under the stylish hood of every Elantra is a new 1.8 liter four-cylinder with dual-overhead cams, variable timing and advanced direct-injection, replacing the trusty 2.0 liter that served the prior generations for many years.  Power is now up to 148 horses, but California versions, like ours, receive a partial zero emissions vehicle (PZEV) status along with a slight decrease to 145 horsepower.  Around town and on freeways, the Elantra feels energetic enough and sprightly.  From a standstill, full accelerations feel about average for a compact car, but the eagerness of the engine makes it feel faster.  This engine likes to rev and has no trouble with freeway merges and hill climbs.  Noise levels do get a bit thrashy at higher rpms, but are restrained at lower speeds and when cruising. 

DSCI0275Mated to this engine is another new Hyundai-developed piece, the optional six-speed automatic.  It is a refined unit characterized by its smooth and well-timed shifts.  Many of the Elantra’s competitors feature automatics that will stubbornly surge their way to the highest gear possible as a fuel-saving trick (I’m yet again looking at you Focus), leaving the car feeling lethargic.  Not in this case; the Elantra’s transmission is responsive and attentive to driver input.  It doesn’t hesitate to retreive a lower gear or two when passing or climbing a mountain grade, complimenting the 1.8 liter nicely and making it feel continually energetic.  Shifts are consistently smooth, even under hard acceleration.  There is a manumatic mode and it is more perceptive and interactive than most small cars that offer the same feature, many of which often overide the driver’s initiated gear changes.  In contrast, the Elantra’s clutchless manumatic is responsive and can be rewarding.  A six-speed manual is offered on base Elantras, but most cars will be equipped with the automatic.

DSCI0268One issue that has continually plagued Hyundai’s offerings is handling and the Elantra is no exception.  Steering feel comes across as lifeless and non-communicative.  It’s fine around town where most Elantras will spend their life, making the car easy to park and navigate around shopping carts.  In fact, it can be downright pleasing to have such light steering while doing drab errands.  But take it on a windy road and things deteriorate quickly.  With no feedback, the driver has little clue as to what the front wheels are doing. 

DSCI0276Overall, handling is sloppy on curves.  The car’s limits are reached quickly while negotiating curves and oversteer sets in with just a twist of the steering wheel.  The back end of this car does like to slide out which can be fun, but when accompanied by the steering that has as much life as a zombie, can cause some white knuckles and pure luck to negotiate the turns.  It’s not precise and not that enjoyable on the twisties, something that the Ford Focus and VW Golf easily trump it on. 

DSCI0277The four-wheel independent suspension with traditional front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam deliver a compliant and comfortable ride that coincide with this car’s around-town chore-running destiny.  It absorbs bumps with little drama at lower speeds.  However, at highway velocities, larger road imperfections will jolt the body and the car has a habit of skipping off course.  The car’s heft can feel featherly light at these speeds and not solidly planted to the road. 

CAM00148Trunk space is generous for a compact at 14.8 cubic feet.  That easily beats the Ford Focus, Dodge Dart, and Honda Civic, but is still trumped by the Toyota Corolla and new Nissan Sentra.  The cargo area is well-shaped and nicely lined with rich carpeting.  Seats fold down 60/40 and are flush with the trunk floor, making the loading of long, awkward items easier.  A large opening and low liftover also assist with cramming gear in.  CAM00149Gooseneck hinges impede on space, and the rear seats releases are in the trunk, where they are not as easy to use as in the cabin.  The trunk floor itself is a flimsy piece of lined cardboard and can be easily displaced.  Lastly, like several other Hyundai models, the Elantra does not offer a spare tire and comes solely with an inflator kit.  This is a weight and fuel savings measure that is inexcusable.  Many new owners will not be aware of this elusive CAM00161flaw, which I consider a safety issue.  If a driver ever encountered a shredded tire on a remote patch of road without cell phone service, the results could be dire.  At the very least, in the city  it could result into a major inconvenience when an owner must wait for a tow truck and purchase a brand new tire immediately, no matter what they had planned to do that day.  Strangely enough, while the sedan and coupe do without a spare tire, the hatchback comes standard with one. 

Our Elantra only had 900 miles on the odometer at the time of testing and didn’t have enough time in the abusive world of rental duty to show wear and tear yet.  Everything worked properly and the car felt well-made with no creaks or rattles.

DSCI0271There was a bit of a fiasco several months ago about over-inflated fuel economy claims by Hyundai that the Elantra could do 40mpg.  The manufacturer is now paying back current owners the difference in cost between the actual fuel ratings versus the fictional ones.  The up-to-date ratings on the Elantra are 28mpg city and 38mpg highway, which is still very competitive.  We had a mixture of driving conditions around LA streets, freeways, and mountains, and returned 31mpg.  Not bad for a comfortable car with the sprightly engine.

DSCI0266Prices on the 2013 base GLS model Elantra increased $1,350 over last year’s version, but with that comes a host of newly standard features that buyers were demanding including air conditioning and cruise control.  The cheapest 2013 Elantra starts at $16,965 and in addition to the new added creature comforts, comes well-equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.  The only option on our GLS tester was the six-speed automatic transmission which added $1,000 to the bill and a set of carpeted floor mats.  Once the destination charge was included, the total on our Elantra came to $18,870.  In true Hyundai fashion, it represents good value versus its competitors especially when the famed warranty is inclusive.

DSCI0273But the Elantra is more than a good price and warranty, it’s a desirable car on its own merits.  When it comes to refinement and style, its closest competitor could very well be the Ford Focus; which is targeting a different type of buyer. Like the Elantra, it is also striving to battle the Civic and Corolla for top honors in the compact car segment.  Whereas the Focus is aiming for the driving enthusiast who doesn’t mind the cramped quarters, the Elantra is looking for more mature folks who want fewer compromises and aren’t planning on taking their car to the track.  Aside from the sloppy steering that few owners will ever push limits of, the one glaring issue is the omission of a spare tire on the coupe and sedan.  Being a potential safety flaw, it’s an issue that prevents me from whole-heartedly recommending this car and does cost it some points.  The Elantra is a very pleasing car; stylish, comfortable, nice to drive, fuel-efficient, and roomy.  It’s a delicious flavor with only one important ingredient missing- a decent 3.0/5.0 boomerangs


One Response

  1. Fantastic write-up, man. Just can’t wait for your next post.

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