By Jim Bray
So this is how they do it!
Hyundai and its sister carmaker Kia have come a long way in a relatively short time, from the days in which their wares were basically automotive jokes until today, where they're whipping members of the established competition on a regular basis. And if you've ever wondered how they do it - which also (purely coincidentally, I'm sure) is their current advertising theme - one drive in the 2017 Elantra will show you why.
Click on the image to open a slideshow.
And while I hate the ad campaign, in which they dump all over their apparently dimwitted and stereotyped competition (just tell me why you're better than them and spare me the dirt), I certainly can't argue with the vehicle quality.
I'm not surprised, really. A few years ago, Kia hired a guy named Peter Schreyer away from a long and honoured career with Audi and the Volkswagen group, where he was responsible for creating some of the most beautiful Audis ever, and he's also behind the exquisite styling of the past few years' worth of Kias.
Schreyer now oversees Hyundai as well, and is undoubtedly at least in part responsible for helping move the company's styling away from the flowing "fluidic sculpture" curves of the last generation Hyundais - the swoopy curves that made the last Elantra so distinctive - to the new and classier styling of this new and improved Elantra. It's a much more straightforward design, with less in your face swoopiness but still with modern styling that looks kind of like a small Sonata - except that the styling works better on the smaller Elantra.
Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the real question becomes: Is the new Elantra as good once you scratch below the surface as it is on the surface?
Indeed it is, and very much so. It's kind of like the old Elantra has been taken to the next level, from a car that competes well in its niche to one that is at - or at least very near - the top of that niche. That's high praise when you're talking about a market segment that includes such great cars as the Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Forte and the new Honda Civic, the latter of which has been garnering all sorts of Car of the Year awards for some reason I don't understand.
Naturally, your mileage may vary.
A new model means new stuff - features, benefits, capabilities - and of course the Elantra bristles with goodies. Some of them are things you may not want - such as Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection and Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist. Fortunately, this stuff is available in Canada only on the top of the line "Ultimate" trim level, which starts at about $29,000 CAD. Hyundai Canada's sample wore one less set of clothes than that, its "Limited" trim level (starting at $26,249.00 sans extra kilos of flesh) offering everything I'd want except for adaptive HID headlights, which also require the Ultimate expenditure - and I could live without the HID's easily if it means I can avoid the damn nannies.
The Limited trim level does give you blind spot and rear cross traffic monitors, both of which can actually be quite handy and aren't particularly obtrusive or annoying.
Even the base Elantra, which starts at $15,999 according to Hyundai's Canadian website, comes equipped pretty well, with such stuff as heated front seats, remote keyless entry and projector style headlights.
The Elantra's cabin is a model of attractive efficiency, which is particularly nice to see in an era when cars are getting so complex you almost need to go back to school to figure them out. Hyundai has eschewed excess knobs and such (but not at the expense of important conveniences like a volume control knob - are you reading this, Honda?) in favour of a well-designed LCD screen interface that simply works well. My only issue with it was that Mr. Schreyer and his team forgot about we of the short armed brigade, who may find the centre stack and its LCD to be just a tad far away from easy reach of the right hand.
It definitely isn't a deal breaker and if that's my biggest complaint (and it is), then Hyundai can rest assured it's done a great job on the interior. And it isn't just its functionality: it also looks and feels great, imparting an atmosphere that's higher end than one might expect.
Elantras get their power from a two litre, Atkinson cycle four cylinder engine (though there's a 1.4 litre option in the U.S.). The two litre unit puts out a reasonable but not world-beating 147 peak horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. Power gets to the front wheels via either a six speed manual or a six speed automatic transmission (no CVT is offered, thankfully!), but if you want the manual you have to opt for the bottom end of the Elantra food chain.Hyundai's sample came with the six speed automatic and it's a good one, though it seemed a tad reluctant to downshift when pressed. And no paddles are offered, though the manual mode is pretty good otherwise.
Hyundai's sample also came with a Drive Mode Select feature (it's only available with automatic transmission models) that lets you adjust both the throttle response and the steering effort to match your style. There are three modes - Eco, Normal and Sport - activated by a button on the centre console. 'Twould be nice if the sport mode also tightened up the suspension, but it's a pretty great suspension anyway, reasonably taut without being a bladder buster, so I had no issues with it.
I did have a minor issue with the width of the driver's seat cushion, which I though was a tad narrow, though this is a problem with an increasing number of vehicles I've reviewed recently, so perhaps it isn't the cars…
The audio system works kind of like a PVR, in that you can skip back to the beginnings of songs you join in progress, at least with the satellite radio band. This isn't brand new for Hyundai, but it's pretty neat nonetheless - though if it weren't there I'd never have missed it. I would miss the audio quality from the Infinity stereo, though, because it's a very good system.
As you can undoubtedly tell, I came away from my week in the new Elantra impressed mightily with this new generation of Hyundai's bread and butter car. I liked previous generations, but this one is a whole new ballgame. It's not only attractive and thought out very well, it also imparts a feeling of solidity and quality.
It appears that Hyundai/Kia made the right hiring choice when they lured Mr. Schreyer away from the Volkswagen group. And to be honest, this new Elantra drives and feels very Volkswagen-ish which, since that's my favourite automotive brand currently, is high praise indeed.
Is the competition taking them seriously yet?
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
We welcome your comments!