If one were to go back 10 or 20 years, it would be hard to fathom a time where the successor to the cheap and…well…cheap Hyundai Pony would gain such huge acceptance by North Americans.
Behold Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re looking at the number two best selling vehicle in Canada. Yes, you read that right. Not only was the Hyundai Elantra voted as the 2012 Canadian and North American Car of the Year but it is currently the 2nd most popular car as far as Canadian auto sales are concerned.
In case you’re wondering, the crown for the vehicle with the highest Canadian sales volume goes to the Honda Civic. Apparently us Canadians really do love our fuel efficient compact cars.
So what makes the Elantra such a hit among consumers and journalists alike? To find out, I borrowed the keys to a Geranium Red 2014 Hyundai Elantra Limited with the Technology package for a week.
Like other vehicles in the company lineup, the Elantra was styled based on Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design principles. This design philosophy borrows heavily from nature, specifically how the natural world around us is full of curves and not right angles. Indeed Hyundai’s designers cite Antelope Canyon in Arizona USA as one of their inspirations.
But the swoopy design goes beyond just aesthetics. It is also functional and endows the Elantra with a slippery shape with an exceptionally low drag coefficient of 0.28 (a Toyota Prius is 0.25 as a comparison).
New for 2014 is a more open front grill paired with newly styled foglamps. My Limited trim model also included newly available projector headlamps with attractive LED accents that would not be out of place on a German luxury car. Not a bad comparison to be associated with!
The Limited trim also includes some extra bling in the form of chrome beltline moldings and chrome door handles. Out back, new LED tail lamps contrast against a new two-tone rear diffuser.
The end result of this “refreshed” design (for 2014) is an even sleeker compact car that stands out in its class. Top sller Honda Civic’s conservative design looks rather snoozeworthy compared to the Elantra. But yet the Korean car has not been overstyled. An important point that still lets it win the hearts of the more conservative shoppers in this category.
To my eyes the Elantra ties with the Mazda3 as being the most attractive vehicle in the compact sedan class.
The Elantra’s cabin has always been a strong point. The curved roof does mean that tall rear passengers will need to duck their heads to get in. But once they’re in there, they’ll find a best-in-class roomy interior with supportive front seats that are comfortable for long distances, and rear seats that are commodious enough for 3 small adults in a pinch.
Thanks to a relatively flat rear floor, there is a reasonable amount of rear foot room too. Your rear passengers won’t be playing 2nd fiddle sitting out back as the outboard rear seats are heated, just like the fronts. A rare feature in this price range and surely much appreciated during Canadian winter months.
The Elantra is still a “class above” some competitors when it comes to interior room. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a mid-size car, rather than a compact car like the Civic, Mazda3 and Focus.
The Hyundai’s total interior volume of 110.4 cubic feet beats the 2013 Honda Civic sedan, 2014 Chevrolet Cruze, and 2014 Ford Focus. Surprisingly, it even surpasses the Acura TSX (108.5 cu. ft.), Nissan Maxima (110.0 cu. ft), and VW CC (106.8 cu. ft.) in total interior volume.
Golfers will also rejoice as the Elantra’s trunk volume of 14.8 cubic feet means that 3 sets of golf clubs fit versus only two for Focus and Civic.
New for 2014 is a revised centre stack with repositioned HVAC vents and controls. Gone is the odd layered wedding cake-styled fan speed/temperature control. In its place are large buttons and a logical layout which make it easy to find and adjust major functions.
I particularly appreciated the soft touch dash and the sliding front centre armrest which has now been positioned higher for improved comfort.
Infotainment system-wise, Limited models with the technology package are equipped with a new generation 7.0 inch touchscreen navigation system, similar to the headunit in the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe XL I reviewed last year.
Like the Santa Fe, I had high praise for the system due to its crisp graphic and user-friendly interface. The large LCD screen also provided an expansive view out back when paired with the rearview camera.
The system’s only real demerit is the lack of a 3D birds-eye map view; pretty much the de facto standard these days. Hopefully Hyundai will see fit to invest in updating the software to include this for the next model year.
But beauty is more than what meets the eye. Numerous NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) refinements for 2014 have resulted in a quieter cabin. These measures include a full underbody cover, higher density carpets, and increased anti-vibration material applied in the floor pad, cowl and dash pad. Engine noise and vibration has been significantly quelled as a result.
Although inexpensive compact cars are pretty loud as a class, the refreshed Elantra is arguably now one of the quietest in the category.
SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
In a nutshell, the Elantra drives pretty well. Despite the swoopy coupe-like styling, driver visibility is good. The A-pillars are relatively thin and help to provide an expansive view outwards.
Steering is quick and responsive, though not as sporty as that in the VW Jetta or Mazda3. But it’s still quite pleasant to drive.
Being a driving enthusiast, I wasn’t particularly a huge fan of Hyundai’s Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) system. In theory, the DSSM system is supposed to provide three driver-selectable operating modes (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) so that the vehicle’s electric steering response can be adjusted at any time to suit driver preference and road conditions.
In practice though, I left the system in “Sport” almost all of the time as the other modes felt particularly artificial. Will most shoppers in this class care? Probably not.
New for 2014 with all Limited trim Elantras is a GDI direct-injection 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that generates 173 hp and 154 ft-lbs of torque. Lower trim models make do with the carryover 1.8L 4 cylinder producing 148 hp and 131 ft-lbs of torque.
Hyundai claims that the 2.0-litre “Nu” engine has been tuned to provide greater low and mid-range torque. And guess what? The 2.0L engine performs as advertised with linear power delivery all the way to redline without too much buzziness.
Working in tandem with the engine is an available 6 speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, or a 6 speed manual transmission. The former isn’t anywhere as quick as the DSG dual clutch gearbox in the VW Jetta, but the manual shift modes do add a wee bit more control and fun.
Hyundai been making some huge strides in fuel economy by improving the efficiency of their engines while reducing the weight of their vehicles. This is all quite evident here in the Elantra with its impressive fuel economy numbers.
Hyundai claims 8.4L/100 kms in the city and 5.6L/100 kms on the highway with the 2.0L GDI engine when equipped with the 6 speed auto box. I averaged 9L/100 kms in mostly city driving. Impressively close to the laboratory results.
As for the Elantra’s ride and handling, it’s quite good. The car feels nimble and light on its feet. Occupants are relatively well isolated from rough roads despite the cheaper torsion bar rear suspension design. But if you’re looking for a sportier ride, the Mazda3 and Ford Focus might still be better choices. Nonetheless, the Elantra pleasantly surprised me with how fun to drive it was.
Braking performance is good with progressive pedal feel and well-tuned ABS. Playing into its value-for-money quotient, the Elantra remains one of the few vehicles in its class with four wheel disc brakes.
People expect a lot in small car these days. A roomy interior, something that is fun to drive, a reasonable price, and good fuel economy.
Hyundai’s latest marketing tag line is “New Thinking, New Possibilities” and the Elantra certainly fits that bill.
While it isn’t perfect (what car is?), it gets an awful lot of the right checkboxes ticked off. It’s enjoyable to drive for its class, has a roomy cabin, a super competitive price, and great fuel economy to boot.
This is all backed by Hyundai’s industry leading 5 year/100,000 kms comprehensive warranty. Hyundai is serious about taking that sales crown away from Honda, and their warranty program is the icing on the cake.
All-in-all, I think that the Elantra a terrific value. It’s not difficult to see why other Canadians have embraced the model with not just their words but also with their wallets.