Meet my new favorite in the compact class: the Elantra.
Yes, that's right. The Hyundai Elantra. Let me explain why.
First, there's the style. It just looks good. When Hyundai launched the Elantra several months back, I was quite impressed with the design, looking like a slightly scaled down version of the new Sonata. The way they conceived the lines, the details and the overall shape lend me to think that Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" design language is speaking volumes and, judging by the rise in demand for Hyundai Philippines' (HARI) passenger car models, communicating well with the market.
This may just be the base GL model, but it doesn't look spartan when put side by side with its contemporaries like the Altis or even the Lancer. Those headlights and taillights have to be the longest ones I have ever seen on any compact car, stretching well into the fenders and the quarter panels, respectively. I would, however, opt to make a quick visit to an aftermarket wheel shop because this concept-ish production car certainly deserves better shoes... especially when the stock tires have "flowers" on them (I kid you not).
Inside, it's the same story. Once again, the application of the design gives me the feeling that I'm in a more expensive car. I have to admit it's a little plasticky inside, especially with the center console using a 1-DIN stereo instead of the fully integrated one in the higher end variants (check back with us in 2 weeks as we post our review on the top of the line GLS version), but it's not overly so. The surfaces give a good feel of quality, and a closer scrutiny yields none of the niggles of old Elantras like the gaps in between panels, trim and accent panels.
For a base model, this is pretty decently kitted with the right features. The stereo, while just a single DIN JVC unit, does have full iPod integration (via USB) and plays via 4 speakers. All the power features have been covered with power windows, locks and mirrors, along with electric (motor driven) power steering. The A/C is manual (expected) but powerful and has a "max" setting to deal with our tropical weather. For safety, the Elantra GL has the ABS with brakeforce distribution and brake assist so you can easily keep it under control under heavy braking, along with a driver airbag should things go wrong... but we won't put that to the test.
For space, there's plenty of it. Elbow room is good for the front. Ditto for rear legroom. The glove box has that "slow" effect when it opens, and there's a big center armrest compartment too. The trunk is quite huge and fits a set of golf clubs with ease.
Firing up the engine and taking it for a spin, everything feels right. The steering wheel feels great on your fingertips, even if it's just made of urethane. Likewise for the numerous controls and switchgear. The manual shifter has none of the soggy feel of old Hyundais; just positive slots and shifts. Even the pedals are perfect for both placement and feel.
The engine may just be a 1.6, but at 130 horsepower, Hyundai's Gamma 1.6L has a higher output vis-a-vis displacement compared to any other 1600 engine in the local market so far. The peak horsepower may be achieved at a relatively high 6300 rpm, but given the low and midrange power and torque, it's easy to get going and even easier to be efficient.
At 60 km/h steady, the LCD display fuel economy reads at 5.0 liters per 100 kilometers, which translates to 20 kilometers to a liter. The key to this efficiency is the transmission: a 6-speed manual. Bump up the speed on the highway and the fuel eco meter reads at 18 km/l; still excellent given today's gas prices. There's even a fuel eco reminder that reminds you to shift up into a higher gear if the computer senses that you're lingering in, say, 3rd gear while going at 80 km/h or faster.
Out of economy mode and into the fun stuff, the Elantra GL does not disappoint. In fact, it surprises. Handling is very well balanced even with those "flowered" tires. The car is light on its feet and doesn't get skittish under heavy braking (when the rear unloads its weight on the front). On turn in the Elantra is quite responsive, and accelerating out of a corner once you clip that apex is good thanks to the ideal ratios provided by the 6-speed gearbox.
I only found two glitches with the Elantra. First is the relatively heavy self-centering of the steering. It's a trait of their MDPS (motor driven power steering), though I guess by now it's not an anomaly but more of how they engineered it to be. Once you get used to it, it's not a problem. Another is the ride when going over bad tarmac or rutted concrete. These kinds of roads don't seem to agree too much with the suspension as there's a noticeable increase in interior noise and vibration; a little bit more when compared to other cars. It's a minor glitch, but it does merit a bit of work in the suspension department when it comes to rougher-than-usual roads.
That said, why is it my new favorite? Count 'em: exterior looks, interior style, good comfort levels, plenty of space, efficient powertrain and a rewarding drive. The pricetag of just PhP 798,000 for this variant simply clinches it. I'm not sure how Hyundai Philippines finds the way to price their cars so competitively, given that their Korean-made cars don't fall under any particular free trade agreement like AFTA or JPEPA (last time I checked, anyway), but I can say for sure that someone in Hyundai is doing a very good job at it.
Hyundai didn't just run through the bases with the new Elantra. They covered all of them.. and then some.