You’ve heard the one about the panda right? A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go. One patron says to another patron “What’s the deal with the murderin’ Panda?” and in reply the guy pulls up Wikipedia and reads aloud “Panda Bear: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”. Haha, get it? Grammar jokes! Improper use of a comma is hilarious. Well, on this particular trip, I was the panda, but my weapon of choice was a Canon T5i instead of a 9mm pistol. It was a quick 24 hour trip to San Diego to drive the All New Elantra, and of course eat some delicious shrimp tacos. Read on to get an in-depth look at all of the new tech available in the Elantra, and get an idea for how it is to drive. Before we get into that, I have to say that I’m impressed that Hyundai has kept to traditional names instead of alpha-numerics, and I told them so in person.
Being frank, I felt that the prior generation Elantra was a bit milquetoast. A bit too beige, in exterior appearance, if not in actual paint. It wasn’t really all that attractive, it didn’t appear particularly well placed in the market, and nothing about it could really be called ‘inspiring’. Luckily, people learn from their mistakes, and everything gets better with time and effort. It would seem that Hyundai thought highly enough of the compact market (where they sell about 200,000 units per year) that they’d give it their best shot for the new Elantra. I must say, I was actually mostly impressed with this one. It’s taken them 30 years in the US market, but this is the culmination of everything they’ve learned. Hyundai has sold more than 2.6 million Elantras in the US, and with this new model, they should easily get past the 3 million mark. It’s the best one they’ve built, and it is genuinely competitive in the market.
Before we drove anything, Hyundai wanted to show us all of the cool new bits that they had put into the new Elantra to make it better. There was your average new-car tech, like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, smart cruise control, optional LED tail lights, and dynamic headlights. Automakers love to use that word, “dynamic”. These are actually really cool things, and I’m happy that we can now have stuff that was until recently reserved for German Luxo-Sedans in a compact Korean economy car. Is it time for America to embrace the ‘premium compact’ concept that Europe has been loving for years? Boy I hope so. Hyundai says otherwise, as they shift considerable efforts toward the ‘truck’ market, which makes up a massive percentage of recent market growth. How soon we forget about those painful fillups at the pump when fuel drops below 2 bucks a gallon.
Some of the new tech in the Elantra is cribbing against the eventual rise in price of fuel, and investing efforts toward having a sleek and aerodynamic car that still has visual gravitas. As you can see in the photo above, Hyundai worked hard to get the new Elantra as slippery as possible. Their results have the new car at a 0.27 coefficient of drag, which is better than Nissan’s Leaf, Chevrolet’s new Volt, and Mercedes’ CLA (which Merc calls the “aero benchmark for production vehicles”), while falling just shy of the Prius and Tesla S. With the air directed around the wheels instead of getting caught up in them, and a smooth profile leading back to a relatively kamm-back style rear end, combined with a trunk-lid integrated rear spoiler, the car cuts pretty well through oncoming air. In fact, the new Elantra even implements a nearly full-body flat underside, as well as a rear bumper underbody spoiler to reduce turbulence as the air exits the underside of the car.
Another part of the discussion is interior noise. We’ve all been in some compacts and subcompacts that are hella loud and the engine makes the whole car vibrate, and the wind noise is unbearable, so you don’t go over 60, and shutting the doors sounds like slamming an empty tin can into a shopping cart. Hyundai, it seems, worked pretty hard to make it so you couldn’t say that in the new Elantra. By using that aerodynamic shape, Hyundai passively cut down on wind noise wherever they could. In addition to that, they worked in a lot of ‘high-strength steel’ into the body shell to make the new car “53% more rigid” than the outgoing model, and more importantly, a lot of those panels are bonded with high-strength structural adhesives, which also helps to limit noise transfer between panels. There are further efforts made to reduce the all important noise, vibration, and harshness levels, including thicker glass, felted wheel liners, reduced number of holes in the firewall, and rubber/TPE bushing isolated subframes. The end result is highway travel at a calm and quiet 65 decibels (which google says is quieter than your average office).
The third major ‘creature comfort’ tech piece that Hyundai was really proud of was the new Clari-fi music restoration technology that they’d worked with Harman to produce. With the majority of music in the car now transferring to digital sources, and most of those being streamed live, the quality isn’t quite what it always could be. There is always a bit of loss on the highest highs, and the lowest lows. You lose a bit of the crispness and clarity of an original source track. Clari-fi is an audio technology that helps restore some of the fidelity by filling in the gaps that are lost. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical before, as I’m not exactly an audiophile and have a hard time differentiating between high-fidelity sources and low ones. That said, I was relatively impressed with the audio in this Hyundai. After talking with a few other people about the audio quality, they mentioned that the ‘sound stage’ was a bit low for their tastes, but that has more to do with the cost of placing the speakers higher in the car than it does the quality of the system. Another tweeter in the a-pillar might have helped, but how much would that add to the cost of each unit? Considering this is a compact car, the audio was well above ‘acceptable’.
Aside from Clari-fi, the rest of the Hyundai’s interior was pretty good for the segment. In a quasi-Issigonis inspired piece of work, Hyundai has managed to massage the traditional 3-box design into a reasonably well-sized car. It’s pretty clear from looking at the car that it is a compact car. The Elantra actually has a smaller exterior footprint than the Corolla, Civic, Focus, Cruze, Sentra, and Mazda3, and yet manages to cram 110.2 cubic feet of combined passenger and cargo volume into that small frame. That interior dimension pushes the Elantra into the ‘mid-size’ segment as far as the EPA is concerned, as they measure cars on interior volume, rather than exterior dimensions. The Elantra actually has as much combined space (interior and cargo) as a Cadillac CTS, and has a good bit more than an Audi A4. That’s not to say that material quality is on par with the premium brands, but space certainly isn’t an issue. I’m over 6 feet, and on the hefty side of the scale, but I fit without any issues and drove reasonably comfortably all day.
Obviously there are some cheap bits in the interior, and I found issue with a few of them. Not everything was sunshine and rainbows. The center stacks of most cars are just too wide for my liking. I understand the need to fit an 8″ screen in there, which honestly is kinda nice, but it is making the center area of the car invade into my legspace, and I actually have to actively bend my knee to the left in order to kick my leg back over to the right to reach the throttle. This can be uncomfortable after a few hours of driving, and I’d only need an inch or so more space to the right of my knee to be much more comfortable. I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to my own exterior dimensions, but it is something I noticed. And keep in mind, this is not a Hyundai-specific flaw.
Where material choices are concerned, I think Hyundai did the best with what budget they had for the car. The seats were cushy and comfortable. The center arm rest was reasonably well padded for elbow-resting. The steering wheel was somehow both plush and firm enough to grasp for *enhanced* driving. The few minor issues I did find were the tops of the doors, as they were hard plastics, and didn’t allow for long-term arm-resting with the windows down. The sunroof was nice and large for the size of the car, but could use a bit of refinement, as it buffeted a bit at highway speeds. Even with the sunroof added, there was no headroom issue for someone my height. Honestly, Hyundai could probably reduce headroom a bit, and I’d still be comfortable sitting in there. The driver’s seat had a LOT of range, and could jack the driver all the way up to a near-minivan-upright driving position.
The rear seats were decent as well, even for someone my height. It would be difficult for me to sit behind someone my size, however. If you need to transport four 6’2″ tall adults, you might want to reconsider taking the Elantra for anything more than across town.
One minor issue of interior design that we found on our trip in the new Elantra was in the brushed aluminum trim. If you look just in front of the door release handle, Hyundai has their tweeters positioned there. With that plastic speaker cover, however, they’ve blocked the flow of the aluminum trim from the door into the dash (right below the vent). In a pricier car, that would have been one long visual extension from door to door, and would have looked quite nice. With this break, though, it looks slightly disjointed. However, I have to applaud Hyundai for using brushed aluminum instead of ‘piano black’. It’s just a personal preference, but I really hate piano black, and I think there’s a much higher chance of it looking dated in a few years.
*Side note: I also appreciate that Hyundai has refrained from moving to an electronic parking brake.
The outside of the new Elantra is frankly my favorite feature. This is a bold design that actually injects some visual interest into an otherwise bland segment (excepting the Mazda3, which is also a very pretty car). I like the curvature of the new headlights, and with the optional LED equipment, both the headlights and the tail lights are actually quite good looking. I like the new Hyundai trapezoidal grille, even though I don’t really like “corporate grilles” in general. This one seems to be well executed. The Daytime Running Lights are well integrated into the deep cuts of each side of the front fascia. I don’t mind the shape of the exterior mirrors, even though they look a bit incongruous with the rest of the car. They are functional, and the shape supposedly reduces drag, which is a win in my book.
Last year, when I reviewed the Sonata Hybrid, my biggest gripe with the design was that there was too much chrome. There is a lot less chrome on the Elantra, but I still feel that there is too much. Chrome exterior door handles are a poor move, in my less-than-humble opinion. The badges, the window surrounds, the grille surrounds, etc. I just don’t care for it. Give me a black badge and body-colored door handles, and you’d have a much better looking car. This is another personally held belief that I understand not everyone agrees with, but I really don’t like directional wheels. There is just something about them that irks me. Relatively minor things in the long run, but if I were to buy one, I’d absolutely factor in the cost of new wheels, better tires, and paint/annodizing for the chrome trim.
How Does It Drive?
About like you’d expect, but maybe a bit better. The new car has an all-new suspension setup that really made it a halfway decent car to drive, when set up right. As soon as you get in the car, start it up, and drive away, you’re unlikely to be impressed. The throttle pedal is long and doesn’t really feel like it is connecting your foot’s actions to those of the car. There is a delayed response, which just made me push harder, and when the throttle catches up to what you’re doing with your foot, it zings the engine into the stratosphere. The steering is numb and disconnected. The shift points are early and bouncy. It feels like a lot of economy-minded cars. It certainly doesn’t feel like anything an enthusiast could put up with for even an hour.
All of that changes with the push of a button, though. If you push the button and put the car into “sport” mode, it starts feeling like a car should. The steering perceptibly sharpens, and response is improved a thousand-fold. The throttle response loses any hints of disconnected. Shifts are held until higher in the rev range, and come less often. Does it become a Miata or a 4C or an Elise? Absolutely not. However, it does become something that actually feels like the word “sport” should be ascribed to it. The suspension isn’t active, so it feels like it always does, but that’s not to say it handles poorly.
This is a chassis that is let down a bit by its tires. Equipped with Nexen all-season tires, the Elantra shows hints of understeer when pushed on a highway cloverleaf ramp. Being quite honest, tire technology has advanced so much in recent years that the Nexens weren’t really that bad. They felt a bit like a set of ‘high performance summer’ tires used to feel ten years ago. Remember back when 1 lateral G was something to shout from the mountain tops? The Elantra doesn’t hit that magic number, but you’d probably be surprised how close it can get.
Hyundai’s drive route for the day saw us driving through some pretty awesome roads just North East of San Diego. When I saw the route book and all of the curvy roads we had planned for the day, I remember scoffing, incredulous at the idea of a compact Korean tackling such roads. I’m not going to use the word “aplomb”, but it was certainly capable of exceeding my expectations. It bordered on almost ‘fun’ to drive. This isn’t a car that is going to live in the canyons, but it can make decent work of them, without laying down and giving up.
Driving the car for what it is intended to be used for by 99% of this car’s buyers, daily commuting, this would be an excellent choice. The seats are comfortable, the interior is quiet, there are good audio options, and appropriately surprising infotainment options. Economy cars used to be referred to as “penalty boxes” and that is no longer the case. This is a true transportation option, far better than walking or taking the bus (another joke that used to be made about eco cars).
I have to confess that I have not driven much of the competition (aside from the Sentra and the Mazda3), but from a content perspective, the Elantra seems to stack up pretty well. It starts at just over 17 grand, which doesn’t sound too bad, but when you consider that the car as-tested was $27,700 delivered, it adds up quickly. Oh, and there is no stick-shift option for the higher-up models. If you want to drive a stick Elantra, you’d better not want the nice seat options, or the nice sat-nav, or the nice audio. It’s a shame, but the reality is that the take rate on three-pedals is somewhere around 3% according to Hyundai folk. Who knows, maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I’d really have a hard think about going into hock to buy a full-tilt Limited with a stick.
The transmission felt great. The new auto, especially in sport mode, was relatively calm and did what you wanted it to. It was non-intrusive, and that’s about as good as an automatic can get, I think.
Styling is nice.
At 147 horsepower, it’s not exactly class-leading, and more is certainly available for that price point in other cars, but I never felt like it was lacking. It’s not a sport machine, but it’ll get out of its own way.
Between myself and my driving partner (Automobile’s Jonathon Klein), we were absolutely caning this car like the proverbial rented mule. The roads were great, and we were making the best of them. The best part of that, however, is that we averaged 33 miles per gallon over the hundred-fifty miles or so that we covered in the car. Hyundai says they’re hopeful for an EPA rating of 33 mpg combined. If we’d been driving like reasonable adults, we could have done better, methinks. Bodes well for real-world fuel mileage.
The 8″ screen in our test car was nice.
There’s a 1.4 liter turbo car coming under the “eco” nameplate that will gain a few MPGs.
There’s a 1.6 liter turbo car coming under the “sport” nameplate that will gain about 50 horsepower. (It will debut at SEMA).
As you saw in their Superb Owl commercial yesterday, you can start it with your smart watch. You know, if you care about that kind of thing.
Like the Sonata I drove before, the Elantra also does the engine decoupling thing on deceleration. Supposedly engine braking is hard on fuel economy, so they prevent that by neutral-ing the transmission when you let off of the throttle. It’s disconcerting the first few times you do it, but you get used to it.
Still too much chrome.
No burnouts. Even with traction control disabled.
The infotainment touch screen lacked slightly in sensitivity for my taste. It was a nice size, but it made it somewhat difficult to swipe through menus. They want to make the experience like using your phone or a tablet, but it’s still a little clunkier than that. Better than past exercises, though.
[Disclaimer: Hyundai wanted us check out their latest Elantra examples. They flew me to San Diego, booked me in a nice trendy hotel with an oceanfront view, and fed me fine Mexican cuisine. ]