DNA Drive: Hyundai Elantra
Ring a bell?
If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a surprise, because the last time Hyundai sold a car with that appellation in India was half a dozen years back.
That was the third generation of the sedan, and the Korean auto giant has had a product gap between the Verna and the Sonata ever since, and hadn’t bothered to fill it by carting in the fourth avatar sold abroad.
In a few weeks, all that would change as Hyundai goes head to head with rivals such as the Toyota Altis, Renault Fluence, Chevrolet Cruze, Skoda Laura and Volkswagen Jetta by launching the fifth-generation Elantra.
It’s a segment that sees white-hot competition, so Hyundai has its task cut out. Does the Elantra have the mojo? We put the car through rigorous paces in Udaipur:
Sourpusses may be prone to stating ‘think larger Verna, smaller Sonata”, but make no mistake, this is the hottest-looking Hyundai out there. The thing that strikes you first is the almost Italian flair from the sides, with a coupe-ish roofline that plunges into the C-pillar (there’s no quarter glass), affording it a sporty, low-slung mien. The ‘fluidic’ design grammar is all over in the swoops, scoops and bodylines. The fascia, unlike sibling Verna, actually ends up in a smiley. Sideways, it’s about a waistline that runs through an elongated, wraparound taillight. There are some nice touches on the tailgate too, such as an in-built lip spoiler. And of course, flowing rearview mirrors that can be heated to defog. At about 4.53 metres long, it’s nose and tail with competition like Laura and Jetta.
What stands out inside is the twin-cluster in a two-tone theme. The central consoles in a waterfall frame are split with blue backlighting. A multifunction display sandwiches the twin dials behind an adjustable steering, which itself looks premium in a leather-and-four-spoke design with strokes of faux aluminium – and loaded with controls. The quality of equipment is topnotch and plastics look rich with millimeter-perfect shutlines. Overall equipment is in luxury territory: the best variant has six airbags; then there’s ESP plus what Hyundai calls VSM or vehicle stability management, ABS, cooled front seats, dual air-conditioning, audio controls in the rear passenger seat etc. Hyundai would do well to distend the lip of the bottle holders on the front doors by an inch to fit in one-litre bottles – it fits a half-litre bottle now. A trip meter and software to throw up ‘distance to empty’ data would have been fabulously useful in the package. Another drawback is that with its plunging roofline, a six-footer would nearly hit the ceiling on the rear seat. Hyundai could solve this by recessing the seat southward a touch. Talking of rear seat, there’s ample legroom thanks to a wheelbase of 2.7 metres or 2700mm and decent thigh support.
The car is powered by a 1582 cc, four-pot, double overhead cam diesel plant that’s also found in the Verna, and an 1800 cc, also four-pot, petrol one. The diesel output, at 128 Pferdestarke/PS– or brake horse power – at 4000 rpm, and 260 Newton meter of torque at 2000-2700 rpm is more or less what the smaller sibling produces but the big difference is the Elantra feels much, much more planted. That gives great confidence at speeds in excess of 100 kmph. The petrol mill generates 147 bhp through variable valve technology. We took the base manual version for a 200 km spin on good and bad roads.
Switch on the engine and there’s the classical diesel clatter outside but on the inside, things are quite muted -- the noise, vibration and harshness or NVH levels are well controlled, and the machine comes through as quite refined.
There is a wee bit of lag no matter the variable geometry turbocharger, but the car more than makes up once it spools past 1800-2000 revs. Not bad, considering rivals like Toyota Altis and Renault Fluence offer good states of tune too these days. The shifts are short and slot very well. The steering weighs up beautifully at higher speeds, but is very feedback-less. Because of a decently wide power band, frequent downshifting isn’t needed and overtaking in cities would be a cinch.
The car comes with what’s a first here – Korean Nexen silica tyres (205/60R16) shod on 16-inch alloys. These offer better grip, especially on wet roads and cut down on rolling resistance. The flipside is that they tend to transmit the road roar quite a bit. The difference was stark between asphalt and cement highways when we tortured the mill.
The car has excellent straight line stability at high speeds, unlike the Verna, which has a tendency to wobble. The McPherson struts with coil springs on the front and coupled torsion beam axle in the rear do their job as well as those on the kings of suspension, the Renaults. They are soft, but not as much as the Verna so the ride quality is much, much improved.
Overall, the Elantra is a terrific modern car package, with many variants and trims on offer. What it needs is killer pricing, just above the Verna, so that the smaller sibling isn’t cannibalised. So anything between Rs1.5 lakh and Rs15 lakh will make rivals sweat profusely. With 60% localisation rising to 80% down the road, Hyundai can afford to shake things up by going for volume play.