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Hyundai Elantra Offers Bang for the Buck

Economical, Comfortable, Affordable

by Jim Bray

The 2002 Hyundai Elantra is a good example of how the Korean auto company has started to mature.

Time was when Hyundai cranked out Ponys with few horses and Stellars that weren't particularly. But that was then and now Hyundai is threatening to give the Japanese giants a real run for your money.

And that's good news for consumers.

Available in four and five door models, the Elantra is not only a nice car to drive, it offers just about all the creature comforts you could want and it won't break most people's budgets.

The first thing that struck me about the Elantra 5 door was its Saab-like shape. Well, Saab-like with a touch of the old British Rover V8 thrown in for good measure. This does not look like an economy car.

Once inside, I was also struck by the great greenhouse. Elantra's expansive glass area leaves very few blind spots, and that's a wonderful thing.

The Elantra also gives you more stuff for about the same price as a Honda. The Civic sedan I tested earlier this year sold for about $16,000, which is just a few hundred dollars more than my 2002 Elantra GT tester would set you back. But for that price the Elantra throws in a bigger and more powerful engine, antilock brakes, traction control and leather upholstery that would have upped the Civic's ante by at least a couple of grand.

So maybe Hyundai's "Driving is Believing" slogan isn't just hype.

Powering the Elantra's front wheels is a 2 liter, 16 valve double overhead cam four cylinder, fuel injected engine rated at 140 horsepower @ 6000 rpm (the redline is 6500) and 133 foot-pounds of torque @ 4800 rpm. This provides plenty of pep, though it definitely isn't "push you back in the seat" performance - not that you'd expect that from a car in this class anyway.

Elantra's independent MacPherson strut suspension up front is coupled with a fully independent multi link rear suspension and both ends of the car feature stabilizer bars. The steering is power assisted rack and pinion, and it has a pretty good feel. The brakes of the Elantra GT are power assisted four wheel discs (the lower trim levels have drum brakes in back) and they bring the car to a nice, straight stop without undue fuss. And of course the ABS doesn't hurt….

The five speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and easily.

I found that, despite it not being a race car, the Elantra performed just fine in "real world tests" that consisted of a week's worth of everyday urban driving, including a few days during the first serious visit from Old Person Winter.

The snowfall gave me a great opportunity to test the car under less than ideal driving conditions, and it did the job just fine. The traction control and ABS came in quite handy and worked quite well, though it isn't difficult to beat either one of them if you really want to.

The leather interior is comfortable and I had no trouble finding a good driving position. The seats are supportive and the driver's has a lumbar support adjustment. There's also a foot rest for the driver, though I thought it was a little too close to the seat for my optimum comfort. Still, that's a pretty minor complaint and it is by no means unique to the Hyundai.

The instrument panel is well laid out and easy to read, but the red on blue color of the nighttime lighting is more than a bit distracting and looks almost as if it came out of a video game. I wish they'd fire whoever decided on the car's stereo, too; as with the Accent and Santa fe I drove earlier, it's an ergonomic pain in the butt, with labels that are hard to read and tiny buttons that are easy to miss. I had to park the car and put on my reading glasses to figure it out. Other than that, the AM/FM/Single disc CD stereo is fine, with good sound.

Elantra's fuel economy is EPA rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway, so it won't break the bank once you own it, either.

Hyundai offers a five year/60,000 mile overall warranty with 10 years/100,000 miles on the power train.


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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