Hyundai’s Come A Long Way

Hyundai’s come a long way

'07 Elantra brings automaker in line with big boys

Hyundai redoes its best-selling car for 2007, giving the Elantra sleeker styling, a larger size and a wealth of safety features.

The compact front-drive Elantra sedan now is a viable competitor to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Who ever thought one could say that about a Hyundai?

I'd bet on the Civic and Corolla for higher resale value, although Hyundai has progressed a lot since it sold marginal models and has a milelong warranty. It makes a lot of good stuff standard, and now offers value and quality -- not cheapness.

The new Elantra is 2.2 inches taller, which allows a raised driving position that's trendy with small cars. It's also 2 inches wider than its predecessor, with a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. There's more interior volume (passenger volume plus trunk space) than offered by a Civic, Corolla or even the upscale Acura TL.

However, moving the driver position up 1.8 inches might cause taller people to wish for more legroom. There's decent space for four tall adults, and the middle of the rear seat has a nice fold-down armrest with cupholders. Outside door handles are large for easy entry, and all doors open wide so athletic moves aren't needed to slide in or out.

The large trunk is unusually long, but its lid has old-style sickle-type hinges and no interior liner. Rear seatbacks sit flat when flipped forward for more cargo room, but the pass-through area from the trunk to the back seat area isn't very large.

The Elantra has lower list prices than many rivals, if you count its standard features. It starts at $13,395 for the base GLS with a slick five-speed manual transmission. Add $1,000 for a four-speed automatic.

The new Elantra has anti-lock all-disc brakes (key rivals have rear drum brakes) with electronic brake force distribution. There are also more standard safety items than competitors, with six air bags -- front, curtain and side-impact.

Side-impact bags aren't available on a Chevrolet Cobalt. Side curtain bags are optional on the Corolla and Cobalt and not available on the Ford Focus.

The GLS is moderately well-equipped, but you pay extra for air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, power door locks and power heated outside mirrors.

Standard GLS items include tilt steering wheel, front bucket seats with a manual driver-seat height adjustment, intermittent wipers, tachometer, split-folding rear seat, rear defogger and power windows.

Move to the mid-range ($15,695-$16,695) SE, and added are air conditioning, power door locks with remote keyless entry, tilt/telescopic wheel with audio controls, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, XM satellite radio and larger 16-inch (vs. 15-inch) wheels and tires.

The top-line $17,695 Limited has heated front seats offered for the first time and leather upholstery, which isn't available for other Elantras. The ever-popular power sunroof is among options.

A GLS Premium Package contains a 172-watt AM/FM/ CD audio system with six speakers and Hyundai&#39s first auxiliary jack, which allows iPod and other portable MP3 players to be connected to the car's audio system.

The Elantra has greater structural rigidity than its predecessor for a more solid feel, and Hyundai didn't stint on significant mechanical items that can't be seen. A fully independent suspension with gas shock absorbers provides a comfortable ride and better handling, and front/rear anti-sway bars limit body lean in curves.

However, the electric power steering feels rather artificial and is occasionally too light at low speeds.

The Elantra is no thrill machine, but it feels composed even when driven relatively hard. The ride is comfortable, and the brake pedal has a nice linear action for consistently smooth stops.

The smooth 2-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine is rather small -- but sophisticated. It has dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and continuously variable valve timing. It provides lively acceleration, although the manual transmission calls for a downshift from fifth gear to fourth or third gear for the best passing times on highways.

Estimated fuel economy is quite good: 28 mpg in the city and 36 on highways with both the manual and automatic transmissions. Only regular grade gasoline is needed.

Soft-touch materials help give the interior an upscale feel, and front seats provide moderate side support in curves. The tachometer is a bit too far to the left of the speedometer for a quick read, and BMW does a better job with white-on-black gauge numbers. But climate controls are large and well-marked. Audio system controls are conveniently located above the climate controls and acceptable for safe driver use. The driver-side interior trunk release is handy.

Cupholders are positioned to avoid spills, and there are plenty of decent-sized interior storage areas.

2007 HYUNDAI ELANTRA

PRICE: $13,395-$17,695

LIKES: Nicely redesigned. Roomy. Well-equipped. Decent performance. Competitively priced.

DISLIKES: Rear visibility hampered by roof pillars. Small trunk pass-through opening. Odd tachometer location.

February 26, 2007
BY DAN JEDLICKA Auto Reporter Chicago Sun Times

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