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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hyundai Ups the Ante With Handsome New Elantra: First Drive

BOLD RIDE

Copyright © 2016 Bold Ride LLC.
 
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Remember when the fifth-generation Hyundai Elantra first hit the market in 2010? It was somewhat of a design revolution, at least as far as small sedans go. It had a sweeping profile and some aggressive features—and Hyundai sold like a million of them.

Fast forward five years, and America’s love affair with the Elantra hasn’t slowed much. Hyundai sold 9,885 Elantras in January of this year, and that’s riding on a platform that’s already almost six years old. Now Hyundai has a new one, and as far as sedans go…it’s pretty darn nice.



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Up-Market, Upscale
 
There’s a big grey area between compact and mid-size sedans. Actually, I’d call it less of a grey area and more of a total overlapping. The new Elantra has almost as much interior volume as the outgoing Cadillac CTS (110.2 cu. ft. vs 110.7 cu. ft.). My brain hurts just thinking about how that’s even possible.

With those 110.2 cubic feet of space, the EPA classifies the Elantra—and actually the Civic and a few others—as mid-size sedans. Granted, to most of you this literally means nothing, but for a normally significantly segmented market this is a dramatic, confusing shift.


2017 Elantra Sedan

But it’s not just all space and no substance. Optional leather seats make all that room more comfortable. Rear legroom is abundant, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bring the Elantra into the modern age of infotainment.

Interior quality is what you’d expect, but often shows signs of being more upscale than it actually is. Among the cheap, silver, plastic finishes, a few knobs and buttons feel like they belong in a more expensive vehicle (probably because they do).



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Expensive Looks

Gone is the Elantra’s signature swooping design. Like the rest of its lineup, Hyundai tightened up the Elantra package to make more of a lasting impression than an initial ‘wow’ factor.

Lines are sharp, specifically on the rear where the taillights might be some of the most handsome fitments around. Yes, I’m telling you how good the taillights look. The front end is less subtle with a gaping hexagon grille and some sharp LED fixtures.



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Better Than Ever, But Not Perfect

It’s kind of surprising when you hear Hyundai engineers aren’t as concerned with driving feel as much as they are wind noise.

 Granted, it’s definitely quiet. Not even the bulky 17-inch wheels can be heard much from inside the cabin. But it’s that first part that’s disconcerting—and it shows.

You only get 148 horsepower from a 2.0-liter engine that feels like its best days are behind it. The power is there, but it takes someone with a serious lead foot to coax all 148 horses out of hiding. Not to mention the lackluster autobox.

The steering is about as numb as you’d expect in a small sedan that isn’t wearing a Honda or Mazda badge. Don’t worry, the suspension wasn’t necessarily built for cornering anyways, but is instead soft and spongey to soak up any impurities in the road.

 Be thankful this Thanksgiving when the Elantra Sport shows up at SEMA with 200 horsepower and a tighter suspension. It needs it.



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The Verdict

Deciding on which mid-size sedan best fits your needs is like deciding between flavors of ice cream. No matter what you get, it’s probably going to be good.

In that sense, the Hyundai Elantra is bound to be one popular flavor. Though it may not be the best driving sedan on the planet, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make it even more relevant to young consumers, a $17,150 starting price keeps it affordable, and its design bridges segments. It’s hard to imagine anything but success for the small Hyundai.

Specs

Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder
Horsepower: 148
MPG: 29 / 38
Price (base): $17,150


Positives

Upscale design
Modern amenities
Spacious interior


Negatives

Low on power
Not-so-refined drive


Photo Credit: Jeff Perez for BoldRide