2007 Hyundai Elantra: Selling on a lot more than just value.
Let's admit this first: Bargain-priced compact sedans typically aren't love at first sight for shoppers, who in this price range tend to be a very practically minded lot. For the same money, they could get a two- or three-year-old luxury car - probably one with a little more street cred and more creature comforts - but they opt for a new car with no previous abuses, a clean slate, and a full warranty. It's all about priorities, and here it's about the frugal car-as-appliance. Shoppers of simple compacts also may have long commutes on congested urban highways, tight budgets, and busy lives, and are looking at getting the most car for the money, with low running costs and reasonable room and comfort.
The outgoing (through model-year '06) Elantra was a good choice for those frugal folks, and if you mapped out all the features for the money in a matrix, like the most intense bargain shoppers do, it might even be the winner. But it was also quite blandly styled and had an interior that felt overtly cheap in places. That said, over various drives it totally wowed us with its driving characteristics compared to other cars in its thrifty price class, especially when equipped in GT trim, where the speed-sensitive power steering and capable chassis really came together, without sacrificing ride comfort, and really brought a lot of soul to an otherwise anonymous small sedan (or hatchback).
Enter the new Elantra, which borrows - outside a little, inside a lot - from the look and feel of the Sonata, the brand's mid-size sedan and probably best-known model.
Most cars - especially small cars - are moving toward higher beltlines (where the top of the door meets the window), but the new Elantra has a rather low beltline, accented by both a higher roofline and a full-length body crease that swoops down beside the front doors, then up toward the rear fenders and dipping again to meet the tail. Shorter drivers might appreciate it, as it allows for more window glass in front and a better view out, but depending on the angle the styling can be fresh or a little odd; we’ll let you decide.
The warm interior follows a soft, not edgy, design, with rounded edges and flowing curves. Some of the details feel a bit borrowed from Volkswagen, Lexus, Nissan, and others, but the result is attractive and useful. Switchgear and gauges are straightforward, though tactile and well detailed, while center-stack sound-system and climate controls are high-mounted, large, and intuitive. 'Quality feel' is a very subjective term, but in my opinion the Elantra has it.
In my first hour or two in the Elantra, puttering around town at low speeds, I thought I had its character pegged as feeling softer, heftier, and less sporty than both its predecessor and most of its competitors. But I was wrong. Little in the Elantra's presentation asks you to drive it enthusiastically, but throw it into a corner and it responds sharply, with an unexpected sporty character that comes out with enthusiastic driving.
Nice ride, with a pleasant surprise
And after really putting it through the paces, that stands out as one of the Elantra's strongest attributes. It has a nice ride and does well in soaking up even small potholes, yet it responds with much more verve than expected. It's tighter and more responsive overall than a standard Corolla, rivaling the Civic while offering more ride comfort and isolation in the process.
Key to that feel on the road is that the Elantra is sprung quite softly and damped moderately, yet rather large stabilizer bars front and back keep everything under control when you go into a corner a little too fast.
One of the high points of the driving experience is the electric power steering, which here is tuned for a nice, firm on-center feel at speed, or fingertip-light and especially responsive at low speed. What's more, the steering rack is well isolated, so as to get some level of feedback on rutted roads without it being jarring.
The Elantra instead carries over its old-design iron-block four underhood. The engine is heavy compared with the engines in the Civic and Corolla, but it does the job just fine, and has variable valve timing, which assists with both fuel economy and low-rpm response. There’s plenty of mid-rpm torque, and drivability was great with our test car's optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Possibly the quietest in its class
If you keep your right foot light, the Elantra is likely the quietest car in its class, with road noise remarkably absent even on coarse road surfaces and little if any wind noise at high speed. Hyundai claims that the Elantra's road noise levels are about two decibels lower than those of the Honda Civic. However, the engine changes its character when revved much above 3500 rpm, where it becomes coarse and boomy. Fortunately, in highway cruising the engine is kept below that range.
Besides the nice compromise between wide and handling, the true triumph of this new model is the interior, which is rather mind-blowing in terms of functionality. There are plenty of storage areas for front-seat occupants, including a cubby at the top of the instrument panel that’s deep enough for larger objects, along with a lower-down storage compartment large enough for PDAs (both covered and hinged). Center console storage is also generous, and the glovebox is expansive; beside that there's an overhead compartment for sunglasses, door storage recesses, deep storage compartments in the back of the front seats, and even an ashtray. You can have a lot of clutter in the car, and keep it all out of sight.
The trunk space isn't skimpy either. There's plenty of space back there for one of the largest suitcases, along with a smaller suitcase and a couple of duffel bags. The only thing we wished for on our test car was a cargo net to help keep grocery bags from losing their contents.
Sized for Americans, at last
Hyundai seems to have conceded to the size of Americans this time around, with seats that are more generously apportioned, both for height and girth, and even okay in back. We especially liked the seat fabric on our test car, which was soft and textured, slightly grippy but not so much as to attract lint and stray pet hair; no need nor want for leather (which is offered on the top-range GLS).
The equipment list inside would not at all be out of place in a $30,000 car, let alone one that's around $16,000. Heated seats (unusual in this price class) are available; steering-wheel&45;mounted audio controls are standard (on our SE); so are tilt/telescope steering, a cabin air filter, illuminated door switches, and cruise control.
The Elantra also has four-wheel disc brakes standard, whereas many other models at the low end of the market, including the Corolla, Civic, Focus, and Cobalt, do not. Some of those other vehicles don't have standard anti-lock brakes either, but the Elantra does, along with electronic brake-force distribution.
Several other important safety features are standard on the Elantra, including front seat-mounted side airbags, side-curtain bags that protect front and rear occupants, and front-seat active head restraints, which help prevent whiplash injuries. Each of the seating positions in back has an adjustable head restraint.
Insurance companies, when figuring their premiums, should take kindly to all those standard safety features, along with the fact that the Elantra has 5-mph bumpers front and back.
A standout for safety, and quite frugal
In about 120 miles of real-world driving, about equal parts city and highway, averaging 25 mpg, we found the new Elantra to be efficient but not downright miserly, and not up to its EPA rating of 28 city, 36 highway. In a separate, short 25-mile stint on the highway, keeping our speed below 70, we saw 31 mpg from the trip computer.
Our only complaint of note is that the driver's side window has a one-touch down feature but no one-touch up, and there's no express up or down for the passenger-side front window.
The warranty still stands out as one of the best in the business, with five-year or 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, ten years or 100,000 miles on powertrain components, and seven years on rust. Five years of roadside assistance is also part of the deal.
Our test car had no significant options (just floor mats) on top of the SE's $16,695 base price. The base GLS starts at $13,395 ($13,995 with destination), and comes quite a bit more simply equipped, with steel wheels, no telescopic steering wheel adjustment, cruise control, or steering-wheel controls, and none of the upgraded trims inside and out. A/C is optional, along with sound systems, so unless you plan to get a stripper the SE looks like the best deal. There's also a Limited model, but it seems like a harder sell as the SE has the equipment most people want, and in this tight price class if customers can pay more they may just be looking at a different model.
We'd say, value aside, that the Elantra is a better, more appealing package than many other cars in its class, including the made-in-Michigan but outdated 2007 Ford Focus (we've yet to drive the revised 2008 model). The Elantra isn't pulse-quickening (we'll tell you about the upcoming GT package as it's available), but it feels surprisingly upscale for one of the most affordable Hyundais. To people who really know cars and have test-driven everything, the Elantra feels a bit derivative. But to almost all compact car shoppers who need to fit their day-to-day commuting needs on a budget, the Elantra is now on common ground with a new Civic, Corolla, or Sentra.
As you might expect, the new Elantra makes an even stronger appeal based on value, with more features packed in for less money than most of the competition. What you might not expect is that the Elantra now has a look, feel, and apparent quality that's truly comparable to the direct competition. The newest Elantra isn't just for cheap skates, hardcore smart-shoppers, and those sold on the peace of mind of the warranty; it stands out on its own.
2007 Hyundai Elantra SE sedan
Base price/as equipped: $16,695/$17,380
Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 138 hp
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 177.4 x 69.9 x 58.3 in
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Curb weight: 2747 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 28/36 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain bags, front active head restraints, anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, fog lamps, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, leather-trimmed steering wheel, keyless entry, split folding rear seat, six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles comprehensive; seven years corrosion; ten years/100,000 miles powertrain
by Bengt Halvorson The Car Connection