BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Perhaps Hyundai were stretching the gulf between perception and reality when they billed the Elantra as a rival to the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra. Although it almost measured up in terms of feet and inches, the pricing for the Elantra had been more aligned to cars like the Rover 45, the Fiat Marea and the Mitsubishi Carisma. As long as you're prepared to forgo a more traditional badge, there's little reason why a used Elantra can't forge a place onto your shortlist. Relatively inexpensive, well specified and decently screwed together, the Elantra may not be the last word in elegant design but it's well thought through and makes a lot of sense especially when compared to higher mileage Mondeos and Vectras.
Models Covered: 1.6 Saloon & Hatch [Si, GSi, GLSi] / 2.0 Saloon & Hatch [CDX] / 2.0 Turbo Diesel Hatch [Si, GSi, CDX]
Launched in June 2001 the Elantra continued Hyundai's quest for better build quality and slicker all-round design. Whilst still no great beauty the Elantra, available in saloon or hatchback forms, was at least a little less anonymous. The two engines, of 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacities, were carried over from the superseded Lantra model. The Elantra soon proved a minor hit for Hyundai, often selling to older customers who didn't care that the car lacked the chassis balance of a Mondeo when cornering at ten tenths. Any model range that campaigns on keen value for money but doesn't have a diesel on offer is by definition fighting with one arm tied behind its back. Hyundai rectified this in late 2001 with the introduction of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel at almost ludicrously inexpensive pricing. To put it into perspective, some supermini diesels such as the Peugeot 206 or Vauxhall Corsa were dearer new than the Elantra. Unlike the Lantra model, we have yet to see an Elantra Estate, although this is possibly only a matter of time. A facelift in the spring of 2004 brought modest alterations to the frontal styling but also saw the Elantra line-up reduced to one single model - the 2.0-litre CRTD CDX diesel. The last Elantra models were sold in 2006.
What You Get
The shape is certainly a lot more distinctive than the old Lantra, especially around the front end, where it has an almost Cadillac-like gravitas. The back is rather more generic, especially on the five-door model which has a very Toyota look to its admittedly tidy posterior. It's not particularly adventurous, but it is a great deal more interesting than the old Lantra model range that this car replaced. Aerodynamics were improved, as evidenced by the fact that with equivalent engines the Elantra is 4-5% more economical than its predecessor. In fact, it was one of the slipperiest cars in its class; with a Cd of 0.333, only a Mitsubishi Carisma cleaves the air more effectively. The Elantra was awarded a maximum five stars by the NCAP North American safety tests, and it's easy to get the impression that the Elantra has been designed with the US, its biggest market outside Korea, in mind. Even the base model Si gets driver, passenger and side airbags, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, air conditioning, a four-speaker CD system and an airbag passenger presence detector. All this from a company that as recently as 1994 was trying to sell us the X2, a car whose idea of a luxury accoutrement was intermittent windscreen wiping. The GSi model adds a trip computer, electric rear windows, keyless entry and alarm, two more speakers for the stereo and body coloured door mirrors and handles in order to assert a bit of good old hierarchy over its more humble sibling. The range-topping CDX gets all of this as well as a two-litre engine, traction control, leather trim, fifteen-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and electronic climate control.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Although great strides have been made in recent years, Hyundai interiors are unlikely to worry Volkswagen's designers and some parts feel quite flimsy. Unlike the Lantra though, even the base Si is well equipped, but the standard fit alarm fitted to the next model up may well prove tempting, especially if the car is not garaged. There's very little to finger mechanically, and Hyundai's reputation for reliability and customer service has seen been reflected in a number of customer satisfaction surveys.
(Approx - based on a 2001 Elantra 2.0CDX) Clutch assemblies are about £135, brake pads around £40 and a starter motor about £85. You'll pay around £145 for a headlamp, around £175 for a radiator, and about £105 for an alternator.
On the Road
On the road, the driving experience is safe and stolid. The 1.6-litre models use their 106bhp engines to reach sixty in 11 seconds on the way to a theoretical maximum of 113mph. The 139bhp 2.0-litre model meanwhile, manages 9.0s and 128mph respectively. Refinement was always a Lantra strongpoint and has been further improved in the Elantra, which was one of the quietest cars in its class. As Hyundai has learnt, however, quietly spoken virtues don't always provide the necessary sales rewards in such a competitive market. Unlike their counterparts in Korea, European drivers don't look on their cars as domestic appliances differentiated only by buttons and switches. Many hours on the Ulsan test track were spent trying to produce a car that's more than just a means of transport. Go for the diesel version mind you and a simple means of transport is probably all you want. And a frugal one of course. Here, the Elantra's 111bhp 2.0-litre unit won't disappoint, returning 32.9mpg on the urban cycle, 55.4mpg on an extra-urban run and 44.1mpg combined. It's not too slothful either, making sixty in 11.7s on the way to 118mph.
Although it's not a car many will enthuse over, the Elantra offers a mature blend of affordability, practicality and reliability. Unfortunately, its lack of personality and profile may see it overlooked by many. If you need transport that will last and won't dent the wallet too badly the Elantra is well worth consideration.