Ever notice that right after acquiring something — be it a new purchase, an experience or in this case, a press car — you suddenly start seeing it everywhere? Being dogged by random sightings of Hyundai Elantras this week was probably as much due to it being one of Canada’s top-selling compact cars as it was coincidence or hyper-awareness.
Less than a decade ago, we were incredulous at Hyundai’s announcing its intent to become one of the world’s top automakers within five years. Disbelief gradually gave way to acceptance as the automaker continued to turn out sharply designed, decently built vehicles, at a fair price.
Hyundai has finally shaken its association with such odious vehicles as the Pony, replacing it with the Elantra, which nudged out the venerable Toyota Corolla last year as the second-bestselling car in Canada.
The number of Elantras spotted on the road, in neighbours’ driveways or parked beside this week’s test vehicle not only emphasized the Korean compact’s popularity but also served to underline the differences between the new and the outgoing model. At first glance, the 2017 Elantra appears only subtly refreshed, but when it is parked beside an older model, the changes become a bit more obvious.
Where the previous model’s hood dips down in an almost Lotus Elise-style duckbill, this one ends in a wider, more upright fascia, flanked by boomerang LED daytime running lights. The arched roofline finishes in a neat and tidy rump with LED tail lights. The sharply sculpted character lines have been smoothed out, and if the overall effect has been softened, it’s also more aerodynamically efficient. The slippery shape and functional grille vents contribute to an improved 0.27 drag coefficient.
Just over an inch longer and wider, the new Elantra projects an almost mid-size maturity; this is good if broadening appeal is the main objective, but it loses the head-turning edginess that propelled its predecessor to one of the compact segment’s top spots.
Nearly 48,000 Elantras were sold in Canada last year — 242,000 in the U.S. — and Hyundai’s understandably playing it safe.
While most of the previous Elantra’s bones remain unchanged beneath the new sheet metal, doubling the amount of high-strength steel and structural adhesives increases torsional rigidity by 30 per cent for a stiffer, quieter and more crash-resistant ride. The suspension is largely a carry-over, except for repositioned rear dampers and springs for better ride and handling. It’s interesting to note that only the top trims boast disc brakes on all four corners, because they were standard across the lineup on 2016 models.
Inside, the Elantra channels its inner Sonata with a cabin that borrows much of its design from the mid-size sedan. Gone are the curves and swoops, replaced by linear shapes and horizontal planes.
One of Hyundai’s signature selling points is loading even the base models with plenty of attractive features. On our Limited-trim tester, there’s leather upholstery and an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings. All models have heated front seats and from the mid-range GL trim onward, the rear seats and steering wheel are also heated. However, you can’t get Bluetooth on the base model.
There are plenty of storage cubbies, including a handy bin in front of the shifter with USB and charging ports. While trunk space decreases slightly, the result of the revised rear suspension geometry, at 407 litres, it’s still mid-pack in the segment. It’s more space than the Corolla or Ford Focus, but less than the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra or Volkswagen Jetta.
The Elantra is comfortable and very quickly becomes familiar. Climate and volume control are defined by simple switches, and the eight-inch touch-screen display is easy to use (lower trims have a standard seven-inch screen). The Limited trim also includes GPS navigation and Android Auto, but no Apple CarPlay. Boo.
Power is supplied by a new 2.0-L four-cylinder engine that’s engineered for efficiency rather than performance. Using the Atkinson cycle technology normally used in hybrid vehicles, this power plant helps the Elantra achieve a fuel rating of 6.1 L/100 kilometres on the highway and 8.7 L in the city. During a week of mixed driving, I achieved 7.0 L/100 km combined. With 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, it’s slightly more powerful than the previous model’s base 1.8-L engine, but falls short of the 2.0-L four-cylinder engine of the previous model’s upper trim, which offered 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque.
On the road, the extra sound absorption in the Elantra Limited makes it a very quiet cruiser. Steering is good but predictably lacking in feedback; the revised rear suspension geometry eliminates the previous model’s frantic handling over rough pavement but it still feels a bit busy. Overall, the ride quality is very smooth but not at all sporty.
Power delivery is more than adequate but far from compelling. Step on the gas and the engine protests, but the automatic transmission does a good job of keeping it in the powerband without maximizing the fuel consumption. A six-speed manual transmission is available only on the base $15,999 base Elantra L.
Drivers wanting a bit more engagement might want to wait for the recently announced Sport model. The Avante Sport, as the Elantra is known outside North America, boasts a more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an optional manual or dual-clutch transmission and an independent multi-link rear suspension. Or drivers could opt for the Honda Civic; in contrast to the Elantra, the 2016 Civic has adopted an edgy redesign with a more performance-oriented, younger appeal. But if a well-equipped, drama-free sedan with mainstream refinement is more your cup of tea, the 2017 Elantra is well worth a look.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016