At best, the Hyundai Elantra has been an also-ran in a class that has some formidable players like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and the Volkswagen Jetta. It has never been able to replicate the success its bigger siblings like the Sonata, Santa Fe or the Genesis have had in their respective segments. This wasn’t surprising, as the previous-gen Elantra, with its excessively swoopy lines, uninspiring cabin and choppy ride, was never a match for any of its rivals. Hyundai is seeking to change equations with the new Elantra, which is longer and wider than before, and sports a more grown-up, angular styling.
The design, especially at the front and sides, represents a shift from the overly busy lines of the earlier car, and takes a much more restrained route with cues from the brand’s Genesis-inspired styling language, complete with the signature hexagonal grille. Along with the redesigned headlights and boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights, the new grille lends more road presence to the Elantra. Despite being less distinctive-looking along the sides, the simpler lines in profile make the car look more mature than before.
The cabin has also been spruced up, with the dashboard layout now pretty similar to that of the latest Sonata’s. While the interior is roomier and better designed than the previous model’s, surprisingly the plastics used aren’t up to the mark. Especially disappointing is the use of hard plastics in areas that come into contact with your hands, like the door cards. Even the metallic trim on the dashboard looks cheap and takes away from the overall ambience of an otherwise well-crafted cabin.
On the bright side, the seats have been restyled with beefier side bolsters offering more lateral support for the driver and front passenger. It’s also heartening to see that there are separate knobs and switches to control often-used functions such as climate control and audio, rather than drowning them in a sea of menus within the touchscreen interface as many cars do today. The increase in overall length and width has translated into improved interior space, which is now on par with competitors like the Civic and the Corolla.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-pot that’s good for 152bhp and 192Nm of torque, paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. While it’s adequate for the job, it sounds gruff and less refined compared to similar powerplants in a Toyota, Honda or a Volkswagen. Although still offering nothing much by way of feedback, the steering is an improvement over the numb wheel in the previous model. The suspension, a basic strut front and twist-beam rear set-up, has been tweaked to provide a smoother, more composed ride quality.
While none of these improvements except the design are groundbreaking enough to sway buyers in favour of the Elantra, there’s one trump card up the Elantra’s sleeve. And that is the suite of features that it offers for a price tag that is considerably lower than that of its European and Japanese rivals. These include lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines, auto headlights, cruise control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, electronic stability control, and seven airbags as standard.
It even features a hands-free, proximity-controlled boot lid operation, which is not available in any of the other cars in the segment. While it’s doubtless a convenient feature, our test car’s boot would unlock but wouldn’t open up fully and had to be nudged up every time before loading or unloading goods. Minor niggle though.
Has the new Elantra achieved what Hyundai set out to? Yes and no. It’s definitely one of the better-looking saloons in the segment, offers more passenger and cargo space than before, and boasts a long list of class-leading features. But these pluses have been sort of negated by the harsh, unrefined engine note, and some below-par – by segment as well as Hyundai standards – cabin materials. That stops me from recommending it over a Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta or a Toyota Corolla.
But if those factors don’t bother you and you’re a fan of the new Hyundai design language, by all means go ahead and buy it. You won’t be disappointed.