Hyundai leaves few reasons to consider the competition
IntroductionHyundai Elantra – Review: Every graduating class has one; the kid who lacks the looks, the smarts, and the personality to make it amongst the in-crowd. Therefore, it's amazing to discover that the well-dressed, well-educated, and personable center of attention at your 20-year reunion is that same forgettable kid. Two decades can represent a complete turnaround. Just ask Hyundai, once a company represented by the ironically-named Excel and now a legitimate Honda competitor. Time has been good to Hyundai, but this Korean powerhouse has worked hard to improve its products, expand its lineup, and deliver what the American car buyer desires. The results shine in models like the redesigned Elantra, a comfortable midsize sedan with features that belie its value-priced sticker.
We spent a week and roughly 600 miles behind the wheel of a 2007 Hyundai Elantra SE, which means our time, and thus this review, cover the mid-level model. To save some cash, buyers can opt for the GLS, or they can spend more and get additional features with the Limited. Our SE arrived with all the standard goodies and little else except for an $85 set of carpeted floor mats. The window sticker read $16,380; Hyundai has since raised prices by $150, so we'd see $16,530 for the same model on the lots today. Testing took place primarily along the highways and city streets of Southern California, though we did sneak away for an afternoon of fun in the local mountains.
With its 138-horsepower engine (132 horses and PZEV-rated in California and the Northeast), the Elantra feels ready to take on anything the daily commuter can throw its way. Throttle response is well modulated, and when paired with the light-effort clutch makes for effortless green-light launches and smooth operation in stop-and-go situations. The 2.0-liter four-banger eagerly climbs into redline territory, and during our aggressive driving loop proved capable of hanging out there for extended periods without complaint; though it was loud, the engine otherwise maintained a nice level of refinement. Equally impressive was the five-speed stick shift, characterized by slick movements and relatively short throws. We recorded 24.8 mpg overall, but that reflects some hard driving.
Many buyers want comfort andhandling, but truth be told, that's a hard package to deliver. In the case of the Elantra, the comfortable ride comes at the price of sporty handling. The steering remains light at all speeds and is too quick in reacting to input, but you'll never feel taxed when trying to navigate through traffic at slow speeds. The suspension absorbs most bumps well, though with its notable body roll the Elantra throws in the towel early on tight corners. That represents a point when you'd expect the 16-inch Kumho tires to squeal; they do, but only when you're on the very threshold of traction. Braking is great until the pads heat up, at which time they start to shudder.
Though the rear pillars are a bit wide, they feature small inset windows that offer an extra glimpse of what's going on when merging. The rear window is set at an angle, which restricts the rearward view, but three retractable headrests help to make the most of rearward visibility. Same goes for the large exterior mirrors and expansive side glass. The B-pillars are narrow enough so as not to be a problem when checking for lane changes, but the base of the A-pillar is on the wide side.
Fun to Drive
Despite the soft suspension and the fact that this little rig has less then 140 horses under the hood, we actually had some fun driving it. Under everyday conditions, the smooth powertrain made for stress-free navigating, and became second nature after only a few miles. The fun came into play when wringing the engine out on highway ramps, and when repeatedly tickling redline up in the twisty mountains. Even the brakes, which started shuddering after a good dose of abuse, never lost their effectiveness. In short, the 2007 Hyundai Elantra is great at satisfying its daily tasks, and provided you can accept a few weaknesses, is a decent partner for a back road romp.
For 2007, the Elantra matches its new style and size with an unquestionable focus on comfort. Our mid-level SE model, decked out in standard garb except for some floor mats, offered a surprising array of features designed to make the driver feel right at home. Among them were padded armrests on the doors (plastic) and between the seats (cloth), with leather on the shift knob and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and generous amounts of overall room. The driver's seat offered a manual height adjustment, and both front buckets were spacious and supportive. If anything, the chairs could use additional side bolstering. We also suggest a little padding on the doors and lower center console, areas that rub uncomfortably against the driver's knees in hard turns.
This is a spot where your friends and carpool buddies will be comfortable. Well, at least two of them will be, assuming they don't have extra long legs that cause their knees to rub against the hard center sections of the front seatbacks. Get past that though, and they'll find plenty of head and foot room, a soft fold-down center armrest with a couple of cupholders, three adjustable padded headrests, and lightly padded armrests on the doors. The cushions on the split bench are much like those up front, meaning they're firm and supportive; the seatbacks are set at a comfortable recline angle.
Interior noise is one area where the Elantra SE's low price becomes less surprising. The outside noise penetrating the cabin isn't horrible, but with the pronounced road rumble there's no question regarding this Hyundai's economy car status. What's more intrusive is the engine. At highway speeds the tachometer is registering about 3,000 rpm, a number that's pretty common, but in the Elantra sounds more like 4,000 rpm. At that point, what's going on under the hood is forced to the forefront of the driver's mind. That being said, the tires, usual culprits when it comes to offensive interior noise, remain largely quiet, emitting only the slightest chirp when pushed to their limits.
The 2007 Hyundai Elantra is a midsize car, and as such, offers a spacious trunk. Thanks to a reasonable liftover height and wide opening, lifting and fitting large and bulky items into the cargo hold shouldn't be much of an issue, though make sure the lid hinges don't crunch your goods. The trunk is lined, except for the lid, and features two release tabs for each side of the split rear seat: Pull the tabs, and then walk around to the interior and fold each seat section. The seatbacks are covered in hard plastic, which means you won't need to fear ripping fabric when sliding in large items.
Even under our strict scrutiny, our Hyundai Elantra SE tester wasn't willing to fork over one build quality issue. We checked the gaps around the hood and trunk and along the door seams, we checked the flushness of the head and taillights, tugged on every interior bit we could grasp, and even rolled it over to see if anything shook loose. Yes, that last bit was a joke, though all the other stuff is true. If the Elantra has any secret build quality issues, we didn't unearth them.
If you've read any of our reviews over the past few years, you're no doubt aware of our disdain for hard interior plastics. However, if they must be used, we see no reason for them to be anything but durable and of high quality. Hyundai apparently agrees. Indeed, the bits applied to the door panels, center console, and upper and lower dash are rock hard, but each piece feels up to the challenge of time and daily abuse. Plus, it's not like that stuff is used throughout the interior. Soft leather is on the steering wheel and shift knob, soft fabric covers the seats and center armrest, the headliner and visors are dressed in matching mesh, and the center dash panel is cushioned.
Chances are if you're looking for inexpensive transportation, attention-grabbing style comes in behind price, efficiency, comfort, and roominess. In that light, the 2007 Hyundai Elantra shines with a look that fails to ignite any inner passion, though the total package isn't without its pluses. Gone is the previous generation's dowdy appearance, replaced with a swept-back front fascia, gently sculpted flanks that curve upward over the rear wheels, and a short tail marked by mostly red lenses sitting high. Inside, soft curves serve to envelop the driver and front passenger, while silver and chrome accents impart a sense of class and sport.
Thank you, Hyundai designers, for understanding that few things are worse than offering a bigger interior without a commensurate amount of storage. Up front, there's a small glovebox that's offset by deep door pockets, a dual-level center armrest, a damped overhead sunglasses holder, two rubber-lined cubbies below the center controls (one covered), and a total of four cupholders, two of which are incorporated into the door pockets. Don't forget about the deep, covered cubby resting atop the dash. Rear seat accommodations are less impressive, consisting of only net pockets on the seatbacks and a couple of cupholders in the fold-down center armrest.
Again, what Hyundai offers for about $16,000 is surprising. In the case of radio controls, it's not the simple layout with two dials for volume and tuning, or the clearly-labeled and large buttons for seek/scan and presets, but the illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls. No, they're hardly uncommon by today's standards, though they're not typically standard fare on inexpensive cars. What our SE lacked was access to satellite radio. That would require opting for the Elantra Limited and the $1,300 Sun and Sound Package with its 220-watts and XM. That's fine for those who want to spend more money; we were happy with the standard auxiliary jack, despite its awkward placement several inches below the radio.
The word's getting out: Simple climate controls rule. OK, so the Elantra doesn't have the rubber grips that one of our editors seems so oddly fascinated with. At least the dials are big, easy to read, and feature noticeable detents when rotated. The chrome accent rings dress them up nicely, too. There are three dials: temperature; fan speed; and mode. Push the left dial for a/c, push the center dial to get recirculating air, and push the right dial to activate the rear defroster. We had the opportunity to test the heater and air conditioner, both of which proved to be expeditiously effective.
If, when faced with the question of how to power down your driver's window upon coming to a toll booth, you first look at the door panel, you should have no problem finding your way around the Elantra. Not only are the power windows logically placed, they're also clearly marked to indicate which window they operate, and inform you that the driver's window includes an auto-down feature. Next to the window controls are buttons for the power door locks and power mirrors. Given the lack of a navigation system or other such technology, those door switches are essentially all you're looking at for secondary controls.
As good as it is, the 2007 Hyundai Elantra still faces a chore in overcoming competitors of varying strengths. Among them are the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Ford Focus, the redesigned Honda Civic, and the Kia Spectra. Offering a bit more power are alternatives such as the Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Lancer, while the Nissan Sentra and Suzuki Forenza share stats closer to the Elantra. Rounding out the list are the Toyota Corolla and the updated and renamed Volkswagen Rabbit.
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
Hyundai Elantra – Buglewicz's Opinion:
Shoppers in this segment would do themselves a huge disservice by skipping the Elantra. It's not without its faults, but there are no real deal breakers in the mix, and a lot to recommend. The interior is huge, cleanly styled and classy, the exterior is distinctive without being goofy, and there are features galore. The drawbacks are few: a noisy engine under acceleration and at freeway cruising speeds; steering that's too light and sensitive; hard plastic on the door panel tops where soft should be. But overall it's a very good car, easily competitive within its class. I'll admit it wouldn't be my first choice, but I wouldn't talk anybody who wanted one out of buying it.
2nd Opinion – Chee
Hyundai Elantra – Chee's Opinion:
What a delightful surprise. The Hyundai Elantra is roomy, powerful enough for its $16,000-plus price tag and built with what feel like durable materials throughout the cabin. It has a nice, modern style and communicates an overall sporty driving experience for its price tag. The interior is built with dark, hard plastics, and as such may hurt the perception of quality, but don't be fooled: The Elantra feels like it will last a good long time. Unfortunately for Hyundai, however, much of the competition is as good or even better: the Elantra matches up against the Mazda3, Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit, among others. Of course, there's always that great warranty, which makes this little Hyundai a serious contender.
2nd Opinion – Wardlaw
Hyundai Elantra – Wardlaw's Opinion:
Based on the sticker price of our Elantra SE with floor mats, I figure I could drive one off the showroom floor for little more than $14,000 with some educated negotiation. For that sum, I'd get an impressive automobile outfitted with everything needed for daily commuting plus a full complement of airbags, decent performance, supple ride quality, and stable handling. Fuel economy registered 25.1 mpg during my time with the car, which needs to be better considering the engine isn't nearly as refined as that in Honda's Civic. Also, I could've used some additional front leg room. But all things considered, especially the class-leading powertrain warranty, it's hard to go wrong with the new Hyundai Elantra.
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry