Hyundai Elantra

Newfound driving maturity makes for a better four-door

TOBY HAGON

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IT MAY be Hyundai’s biggest-selling model globally, but the Elantra is up against it in Australia, where four-door sedans are being steadily usurped by SUVs.

On paper the sixth-generation Elantra doesn’t look much; fuel use has increased, the boot is smaller and prices have edged up.

The reality is more appealing, starting with a crisper design that emphases the sloping roofline rather than the boot.

The step from a 1.8- to a 2.0-litre engine brings a modest increase in outputs – 2kW and 12Nm – but a more meaningful kick-along to mid-range flexibility thanks to an emphasis on accessing that torque lower in the range. It’s a noticeably more willing engine, one that shifts the car nicely in suburban driving, albeit with fuel use up by 0.5L/100km for the manual (to 7.1) and a modest 0.1L/100km (to 7.2) for the auto.

Open it up and the Elantra auto nears 6000rpm before slurring into second. Peak revs increase in higher gears to the point where you can eke a vocal 6500rpm out of it, minus the thrashiness of previous small Hyundai fours.

The six-speed auto (a six-speed manual is standard on the entry Active but was not available to test) is not particularly clever in on-off-throttle driving, constantly wanting to change up rather than hold a cog. Without a sports mode or shift paddles, it limits your selfcontrol options to the gear lever.

Refinement has made a big leap, eschewing the rawness of the previous Elantra (and its i30 hatchback sibling) for a more hushed in-cabin experience.

There’s a newfound maturity to the dynamics, too. Put that down to the stiffer chassis – use of ultra-high-tensile steel has more than doubled to push torsional rigidity up some 30 percent – and redesigned suspension, which was extensively tuned in Australia. It has better control, yet there’s enough suppleness, albeit with gentle body lean when shifting direction.

The Hankook tyres – 16s on the Active and 17s on the Elite – are well suited to the car’s relaxed nature, delivering respectable grip but ultimately squealing at punishment, while the steering has a reassuring meatiness.

Inside, there’s a mass of grained plastics and fake-metal inlays for what is a bland look.

A more convincing silver streak around the touchscreen adds a dash of flair, as does the centre stack that’s tilted to the driver.

It translates to great functionality. The touchscreen has logical menus, anchored by five main menu buttons and two audio knobs just below it.

The Apple CarPlay function provides hands-free operation to everything from maps and audio to phone calls and messages.

There’s brilliant adjustability to the front seats, ensuring tall drivers are blessed with legroom. The rear loses points for headroom with that sweeping roof, and the middle seat is very narrow. But rear vents are a plus.

Equipment levels help offset modest price rises. The entry Active is $500 more at $21,490 ($23,790 for the auto) but gets alloys, 7.0-inch touchscreen, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto headlights and a full-size spare. Apple CarPlay is part of the deal, while Android Auto arrives as a software update late in the year.

The auto-only Elite ($26,490) throws in leather facings, auto wipers, smart key entry, dualzone climate and 17-inch alloys.

Discount deals have seen Hyundai achieve an enviable share of the small-car market. Elantra’s challenge is to repeat that success in a declining sedan segment.

PLUS & MINUS

Bland interior; suspension boom; auto lacks sporty smarts; no AEB Refined and relatively quiet; perky engine; plenty of space; decent value

01 EXTRA DIMENSION

Sixth-gen Elantra rides on the same 2700mm wheelbase as the model it replaces, though with a a slightly narrower track.

Hyundai insists it’s an all-new platform, also destined for i30.

The rakish body is 20mm longer, 25mm wider, and 5mm taller.

02 TRUNK CALL

Elite variants come with a ‘smart’ boot release, which senses when the key is nearby and opens three seconds later.

The delay is to allow you to walk behind the car without the boot popping open.

03 INSIDE TIP

The forthcoming hatchback version of the AD Elantra (known as i30) will depart from its sedan sibling noticeably, particularly its interior treatment featuring a more Euro-appealing design.

Expect many mechanicals to be shared, but a broader range.

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Mazda 3 sedan $20,490–$37,040

Classy interior and capable dynamics make for a popular small car with an expansive model range, complete with affordable active safety options.

Road noise still a minor blemish on an otherwise accomplished drive.

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Elantra is a two-model range for now, but will be joined by a rortier SR model by the end of the year. Featuring a multilink independent rear end, as well as the solid 150kW 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo engine from the Veloster coupe, the SR is aimed at “adding some sizzle” to the category, according to Hyundai Australia boss Scott Grant.

Elantra SR’s hatch relative, – the i30 N – is expected to follow in 2017.