As I was walking out of the grocery store, I noticed someone walking up to my Hyundai Elantra SE test car. That’s nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong. I was a little confused when this person pulled out their keys and attempted to open the car, so I stopped walking and just watched. Granted it was about 9 o’clock at night so it was dark, but not so dark that you couldn’t see where you were going. I figured he must have mistaken my car for his, or he was trying to break in and steal my Fibre1 bars that were sitting in plain view! But then again, I didn’t know what to think.
I then approached my car and asked him if I could help him. He stood there, in confusion as to what I was asking him. Finally he clued in. His Mercedes C230 was parked right beside mine. Both cars were a similar shade of silver with cool rims, but other than that there were no other physical similarities I could draw upon. He, embarrassed, apologized and asked what kind of car he walked up to. I told him it was an ’08 Hyundai Elantra. To that he replied, “Really? That’s a Hyundai? Well, the Koreans are definitely doing something right! And I see you like Fibre1 bars. Good call.” We laughed about it, and went our separate ways.
While I was driving home, I was thinking about the words exchanged in the Safeway parking lot. Not the words about the Fibre1 bars, but Hyundai doing “something right” with their cars. Actually, Hyundai has been doing a lot ‘right’ over the last few years that I’ve been a journalist. Not only did Hyundai implement the 24/7 program a couple of years ago – a program that consisted of launching 7 new products in 24 months; hence the 24/7 name – but the Korean auto manufacturer has continually been upping the safety standards, build quality, refinement and overall appeal of its vehicles. The new Elantra is an example of the above characteristics.
Starting at a mere $13,625, the 4-door Elantra sedan offers its driver a comfortable cabin, a 5-speed manual transmission and a 16-valve, DOHC, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. Up the price tag to $16,325 and you’ve got the Elantra SE. It not only comes with keyless entry and power door locks, mirrors and windows, but air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped around P205/55R16 tires, redundant audio controls on the steering wheel, dual front airbags, fog lights, front and rear disc brakes with ABS, EBD and BA (brake assist), a rear spoiler, and the list goes on. Throw in an amazing 5-year/60,000-mile comprehensive warranty that incorporates a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and life gets even better.
Looking at the Elantra, it’s not hard to see why Mr. Parking Lot was impressed with it. The four-door sedan has clean, tight lines on the outside and in. Its body-style is fresh and upbeat (the Elantra went through a metamorphosis for the 2007 model year), but also mature enough to appeal to both the young and not-so-young. Underneath its unmistakable continental silver exterior paint scheme is a steel cage with side-impact door beams and built-in front and rear crumple zones to enhance safety.
On the inside, along with those airbags the Elantra’s cabin is spacious and refined, with a total interior volume of 112.1 cubic feet that includes 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space. I particularly liked how the interior is set up. The placement of the buttons and gauges are ergonomically-friendly and the elevated driver’s seating position allowed me to have a good view of what was going on around me. The cloth-upholstered yet heated front seats also made my mornings a little warmer, especially since the weather on the Wet Coa… I mean West Coast hasn’t been very Spring-esque lately. Nevertheless, the gloomy sky didn’t get my spirits down when driving to and from work or wherever life and the Elantra took me. The suspension setup, with gas-charged MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar up front and a rear multi-link system with a stabilizer bar in the rear was just peachy for everyday driving, absorbent enough over rough inner city roads while still capable of managing corners with verve. Rear seat passengers enjoyed it too, as there’s a lot of room back there. Parents will appreciate the LATCH child safety seat anchors tucked between the lower cushion and backrest of each rear window seat.
Whether it’s everyday driving to and from work, or to the gym, or for that matter the grocery store, the Elantra has a fuel economy rating of 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. So, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to operate the car, or buy it. Not too shabby.
Overall I quite liked the Elantra. I did find, however, that when putting the 5-speed manual transmission into reverse it was sometimes a little fussy. I couldn’t always shift from first to reverse directly. I had to push in the clutch, shift from first into neutral, let up the clutch and then push the clutch in again to slot the shift lever into reverse. My boyfriend liked to call this a ‘safety’ feature. I liked to call it a pain in the butt. After all, men are from Mars! Just kidding. This only happened occasionally so I’m pretty sure it was an isolated case, as I haven’t incurred this problem in any of the other Hyundai’s I’ve driven.
Gearbox niggles aside, it’s quite a testament to me to see the growth of Hyundai Motor Corp. in such a positive direction. From the first time I drove the base model Accent to when I drove the top-of-the-line Santa Fe, the cars just keep getting better. While the Elantra SE is no Mercedes C230, literally, it is a finely-tuned piece of Korean engineering that even luxury car owners can be impressed with. And with all of the options and features, not to mention good looks inside and out, the Elantra is a luxury vehicle in its own right.