Although the precise model name used has varied a little, fundamentally, the first Hyundai Elantra appeared in the autumn of 1990, going on sale in 1991 and it was one of those cars which took everyone by surprise as until that time, Korean built cars scored on value and dependability but precious little else. Aimed at the mid-sized sector, a crucial one in just about every market of the world, the Elantra scored well in initial reviews and in some cases was declared the victor in comparison tests. It was never intended to be a fashion icon, or to be a car that majored on excitement, but as a classic family saloon that was nicely built, roomy enough and decent to drive, it hit the spot, Sales were slower to take off than they perhaps should have been, but they did climb steadily, especially in Australia and in America. As is still the Korean way, a complete rethink arrived only five years later, with a five door estate model joining the traditional four door saloon. And the pattern was repeated, And again in 2001, for the third generation car this time with a hatchback as well as the saloon. A fourth generation model arrived in 2006, this time only a saloon, and not offered in Europe, where the related i30 hatch occupied the same market sector as the outgoing Elantra. It was 2011 when the fifth generation car arrived in the US market, and this car impressed everyone with its dramatic new look adding to the general level of competence sufficiently for the car to be awarded the North American Car of the Year. I drove one in early 2012 and found nothing significant to criticise and lots to like. With short model cycles the Korean Way, it was no surprise when the fifth generation car made its debut in Korean in September 2016 going on sale in North America in February 2016 as a 2017 model year car. The Elantra remains a conveiontal four door sedan, and for this version, the Fluidic Dynamic styling of the fifth generation car was no more with a more conventional look with an almost fastback-like appearance with its roofline sloped from the windscreen to the rear of the car. There are fewer curves overall with pentagonal head and taillights, a hexagonal grille, and redesigned body panels and bumper emphasising straight lines along the body. The interior is also less curved, with a cockpit, audio/temp controls, and glove compartment in a single integrated unit across the dash. This was done without reducing the interior cabin space of the prior generation. Under the skin, every component was been revised with different engines, and revised suspension and chassis components and a body structure which is claimed to be significantly stiffer than what went before. For some time now, Hyundai models have been pretty pervasive in the rental fleets, so I was pretty sure that I would get to sample this latest Elantra pretty quickly, but as is sometimes the way, Hertz entered a period of over a year without buying any Hyundai product in any quantity so the prospects did not look that likely. But just as sure as their procurement department closed down a deal, so they clearly signed a new one, and by mid 2017 Hyundai models have started to appear again, with the Elantra now being of the more numerous cars in the Group C, mid-sized category, certainly at the facilities in LA and Phoenix which provide most of my US rental cars. Phoenix throughout this March 2018 trip seems to have been particularly starved of cars and every evening I have arrived to find a largely empty rental car facility with very limited choice. Wandering around for some time in the hope that a sudden rush of newly cleaned up cars would appear (this does happen), I got fed up with waiting any longer and so settled on a red-coloured Elantra as the “best” option for the following 24 hour period. After enduring a bare-bones spec Yaris the previous day, I knew this was going to seem to be a much better car. The question was by just how much and how I find it in comparison to its mid-sized rivals, most of which I have sampled in the last couple of years.
There are three different engine capacities offered in the sixth generation Elantra. The entry level models actually have the largest of these, and my test car was one of these, in SE trim. This uses Hyundai’s 2.0 litre four cylinder Nu engine which generates a class competitive 147 bhp. Interestingly, this is the same as the output of its predecessor which had a 1.8 litre unit. In the case of this test car it was coupled to a 6 speed automatic transmission, a cost option on the SE trim where a 6 speed manual is standard. This is a very smooth and refined engine and it is always quiet in operation. Indeed, unobtrusive is probably the best way to describe how it functions. It endows the Elantra with decent performance, but clearly this is not going to be the fastest car away from the traffic lights. It is not that sort of car, anyway! I took the Elantra on one of my favourite test routes out of Phoenix on route 87 heading up towards Payson. Once clear of the valley this has some lengthy and moderately steep grades (by American standards) which is a good test of any car, and indeed I have manufacturers with their camo-ed up prototypes up here in the past. The hills did not fax the Elantra, the transmission simply slipping down a gear or two to provide the necessary boost to performance until such time as it could select a higher ratio again. Gearchanges were largely imperceptible unless you watched the rev counter. Back in the valley, among traffic, the car was nippy enough. Far more impressive was the fuel economy. The trip computer told me for most the day that I was averaging 45mpg and remember that is a US gallons figure, which equates to 53.76 mpg Imperial, a truly staggering figure for a car of this size. When it came to refuelling at the end of the rental, I needed to put in 10 gallons. I had covered 380 miles so assuming the car went back no more full than it had been when I collected it, then the test average was actually 38 mpg US, or 45.4 mpg Imperial, which is still very creditable and a significant improvement on what I achieved with its predecessor. There are three driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. These do alter throttle response, gearing and steering feel, and I found that in Eco mode, the steering was particularly light and a bit lifeless. It was far better in the other two models, so that is where I left it. Even so, it remains on the light side with nothing like the level of feel you will get from a Ford Focus or a Mazda 3 but by the standards of the rest of the class, this one is very much on a par with its rivals. There is plenty of grip and safe predictable front wheel drive handling which in extremis will give you understeer, but you probably won’t drive the Elantra to provoke this very often. You might be more interested in the ride quality. Standard on SE models are 15″ wheels, but this one came on relatively high profile 195/65 R16 wheels and thus suspended, it proved comfortable with a nice pliancy that coped with the admittedly generally smooth roads of Arizona, a notable improvement on the rather coarse ride of the last generation car. The brakes are well up to par, too, with good stopping power and a progressive feel to the pedal, There is a traditional pull up handbrake between the seats. Visibility is about as good as you get in a lot of modern cars. There is a second piece of glass in the corner of the door mirrors which helps to eliminate any blind spot. There is no reversing camera in SE spec and the steeply sloped rear window means that you can’t see the back of the car, though the fact that it has s tubby tail does mean that you can take a good guess at how close you are getting to a potential obstacle behind the car.
Like a number of other recent Hyundai products, there is a definite Audi-esque look to the dashboard. Whilst the material quality is not quite up to the standards of the real Ingolstadt product, it is really not bad at all. Clue, perhaps, apart from the badging, that this is not an Audi comes from the fact that the moulding is in two colours, separated by a metal-effect divider. The upper part is a much darker grey than the lower portion. I think this colour contrast helps to lighten what could otherwise be a rather sombre interior, though the test car did have pale grey upholstery which helped with the visual effect. The SE trim of the test car means you get a plastic moulded steering wheel but of its type it was one of the better ones and no unpleasant to hold. There is a raised element of the dash which goes from the door pillar to mid way in front of the passenger, with a slightly raised area for the instrument cluster. You get two large dials, for speedometer and rev counter with two smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature inset in the lower part of the large ones. The markings on all are clean and unfussy making them all easy to read at a glance. The central area between the dials is for the trip computer displays and you cycle between the various displays using buttons on the right hand spoke of the steering wheel. Also on the wheel are the cruise control and audio repeater buttons. There are two column stalks, with the lights added to the functions of the left hand one. The audio unit is mounted high up in the centre of the dash, which makes it easy to reach. It looks a bit old-school with a very small display screen, though this is not really an issue as this is not replete with functions as you get in more sophisticated (and costly!) such infotainment systems. It did include a Satellite XM function, though and the sound quality was perfectly acceptable. Below this are two rotary dials and a number of direction buttons for the air conditioning system. The overall design of the cabin controls is neat and simple, and easy to use.
Not surprisingly for an entry level spec car, the seat upholstery is cloth, and in the test car was pale grey which I quite liked, but some will take against this and call it very typical of what used to be the Asian standard of years ago. There is a full range of adjustment available for the front seats, all of it manual, of course, but pleasingly there is a height adjuster on both sides of the car, something a front passenger would appreciate. The steering wheel has a telescoping facility, going in/out as well as up/down, so it was easy to get the driving position I wanted and to feel comfortable ready for the off.
The sixth generation Elantra has the same 106″ wheelbase as its predecessor and it is the same height. There is an extra width to the car. So despite largely unchanged dimensions, it isimpressive to learn that there is more room in the passenger compartment than there was. Space in the back of the Elantra should prove sufficient for a couple of adults, but a third occupant would be tight, not least because the centre console extends back quite a long way and is a tall unit. The sloping roofline means that headroom is on the tight side, with my head brushing the headlining when i tested the seats out here. There are integrated rear headrests but you don’t get a central armrest in the SE version of the car. Cupholders are provided in the back of the centre console unit. Oddments stowage is confined to the door pockets here as there are no pockets on the back of the front seats. Things are better for those in the front with a good-sized glovebox, pockets on the doors, a central armrest cubby and a lidded area in front of the gearlever as well as a small lidded are on the dash over the driver’s left knee. The boot is a decent size, but the opening slot is not that big, a consequence of the short tail to the car. It is quite long from front to back, and there is decent depth and width as well. There is a slight bump in the floor from the space saver that sits beneath and you could tuck a few odds and ends around this. More space can be created by dropping the rear seat backrests, though the resulting floor is not quite level, but it will give you a lot more length.
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra comprises two models. There is a hatch model, called the Elantra GT which to Europeans looks awfully like the i30 model sold in Europe and other markets, and then there is the commercially far more significant (to Americans) four-door sedan which is offered in four main trim levels: SE, Eco, Limited and Sport. As the base trim level, the SE is sparsely equipped, especially if you get it with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (147 bhp, 132 lb/ft), 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split folding rear seatback, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and a CD player. Automatic-transmission SE models also offer a Popular Equipment package that adds a lot of desirable features, which includes 16-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, cruise control, a 7-inch touchscreen (but no CD player), a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and smartphone integration with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. With the Popular Equipment package added, you can also get the SE with the Tech package. Those extras include LED daytime running lights, keyless ignition and entry, a hands-free boot opener, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. Next up in the Elantra lineup is the SE Value Edition. It’s basically an SE with all of the above included as standard. It also has a sunroof. The most fuel-efficient model in the lineup is appropriately named the Eco. It comes with the same equipment as the Value Edition but with 15-inch alloy wheels and without the sunroof. It also adds a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine (128 bhp, 156 lb-ft) paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. To maximise the number of creature comforts in your Elantra, there’s the Limited model. It comes with everything found on the Value Edition (including the standard 2.0-litre engine), plus 17-inch alloy wheels, additional chrome body trim, adaptive xenon headlights, LED taillights, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment), Hyundai’s Blue Link system and a second (charge-only) USB port. Limited models have two options packages: the Limited Tech package and the Limited Ultimate package. The Limited Tech package adds a sunroof, heated rear seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a bigger driver information display, an 8-inch touchscreen, voice commands, a navigation system and an eight-speaker Infinity sound system. The Limited Ultimate package (which requires the Limited Tech package) bundles adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, lane departure warning and intervention, automatic high beams and driver-seat memory settings. For a more powerful and sporty version of the Elantra, there’s the aptly named Sport. It is equipped similar to the Limited, but it has a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine (201 bhp, 195 lb-ft), a six-speed manual transmission (the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional), 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, bigger brakes, special front and rear fascias, xenon headlights, and some interior touches such as alloy pedals and a black headliner. The Sport Premium package essentially adds the same equipment as the Limited Tech package.
If you are looking for excitement, then the Elantra SE is not for you and to be fair, it does not pretend that it will deliver this, unless you go for a top of the range Sport model. But what the Elantra does offer is a contemporary looking, nicely finished and competent family saloon that will prove utterly painless to own with the combination of a reputation for reliability and a generous manufacturer’s warranty. I found that this Elantra has no significant weak points, and is a comfortable and refined cruiser, agile enough and particularly frugal, improving in many ways on the generally high standard set by the fifth generation car. These virtues are exactly what an awful lot of people are looking for. In the past such buyers would doubtless have considered a Toyota Corolla as the exemplification of these values and put up with the rather anodyne driving experience in exchange for the other attributes. The Elantra delivers better than that, and indeed is one of the best cars in its class. It would probably be worth spending a little more to get more equipment than the rather bare entry level SE model, at the very least adding the Popular Equipment package. There are once more lots of Elantra models in the rental fleets, not just chez Hertz so if one of these is what you end up with, well, you could do worse. Far worse. The Elantra has definitely come of age in its sixth generation.