2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring SE M/T Review
By Chris Haak
When is an Elantra not an Elantra? The Hyundai Elantra compact car has been sold in the US since 1992 and is currently on its fourth generation, and it’s not a car that is considered a class leader, nor one mentioned in the first few models that many car shoppers in is class are considering. The Elantra sedan also has styling that some have called questionable, with the car appearing to try too hard to be more than it is.
Against that backdrop, and in order to expand its North American model lineup further, Hyundai chose to slap the Elantra name to its Europe-sold i30 wagon. Although using the Elantra name may help a bit with name recognition, I’m not convinced that Hyundai is doing the Elantra Touring any favors with its name (nor is i30 a dynamite choice). I suppose it’s similar to Nissan calling the Armada the “Pathfinder Armada” in its first model year. But a car designed in Germany with European buyers’ tastes in mind – tastes that don’t necessarily equate “small” with “cheap” when it comes to cars, and who expect certain levels of quality and dynamics, pretty much pushed all of the right buttons for me in this class. During the week that I spent with the car, I was regularly impressed by a thoughtful touch that I was discovering for the first time.
The Elantra Touring is actually more closely related to the Europe-only Kia cee’d than to its non-Touring Elantra namesake. It does share the Elantra’s 2.0 liter four cylinder and transmission choices (a four-speed automatic or, as my test car featured, a five-speed manual), but no body panels at all. Actually, my first impression of the car was that it combined the 2003-2007 Honda Accord’s front end design with a profile reminiscent of the Toyota Matrix or Mazda3 five door – with a Volvo Wagon’s tall tail lamps. The car’s design doesn’t really take any risks, but I find it a handsome one, with tasteful amounts of chrome accents applied to the aluminum wheels, bumpers, and grille, and a pair of strong character lines – an upper one that travels the length of the car just below the windows, and a lower one that gives the doors some visual depth.
My friends often ask what car I’m driving at a particular time, since the answer is often different each time the question is asked. I usually give the answer with a two sentence review – for this car, I said that it was a pretty impressively-equipped car for about $20,00 and that I was pleasantly surprised by the car. When I had the car valet-parked one day, the valet had 101 questions about the car as he retrieved it for us. “How much did you pay for it?” “When did you get it?” “What do you think about it?” I then had to explain that the car belonged to Hyundai and that I was just reviewing it – but it was handy to be able to pull a copy of the window sticker from the glove box to show him exactly what I would have paid for the car if I had bought it myself.
Inside, the design and materials impress, at least for the car’s class. The first thing I noticed was the steering wheel, which is thick, leather-wrapped, and feels good in your hands. The wheel also has nice, large cruise control and redundant audio controls on the spokes. The center stack has a large, clear, blue-backlit radio display, and all secondary controls are very easy to understand and operate, and operate with something of a quality feel. As in a Honda or Toyota, all of the knobs and button have the same level of resistance and feel like they are part of the same car. The seats have a European-style coarse fabric that appears to be of a high-quality material that will hold up to years of use. The fact that they are the rare heated cloth seat species – found primarily in some Subarus – is just gravy.
My favorite part of the interior, however, was the fact that the dash panel actually is made of soft-touch material. GMC Yukon Denalis, priced at over $50,000, don’t have as much soft plastic on their dashboard as a $20,000 Elantra Touring does, and that impressed me. Among cars in its price class, I only recall the Mazda3 being equivalent in interior quality. Comparing the two, the Mazda3 had a more-sporty design and possibly better materials, while Hyundai went for chrome and more of a luxury look. Each car’s interior seems to fit its handling and exterior design well.
My test vehicle was barely broken in, with just over 700 miles on the odometer when it arrived at 100 Techshake Plaza. Its electric-blue paint (which Hyundai calls “Vivid Blue”) was eye catching and had no flaws, scuff, or dull spots. The car obviously smelled brand new inside (considering I got it on its third tank of gas, ever), and actually lacked the typical Korean car hydrocarbon scents emanating from the plastics. Both Genesis models (coupe and V6 sedan) that I’ve tested also lacked this, so perhaps Hyundai has eliminated the issue in its newer models. It was still present, however, in a new Kia Forte that I reviewed a few weeks ago.
The Elantra Touring kills the Mazda3 five-door when it comes to cargo-swallowing capacity. The Touring has 24.3 cubic feet behind the second row and a staggering 65.3 cubic feet with the second row folded flat into the floor. In fact, that maximum cargo capacity number is not much smaller than the Honda CR-V’s 72.9 cubic feet. Yet the CR-V weighs 400 pounds more, costs $4,000 more, and probably handles more poorly thanks to its tall crossover body.
Having a power moonroof and decent (172-watt) stereo with iPod connector and XM included generally left me with the impression that the Elantra was equipped less like a typical C-segment compact and almost more like a midsize car like the Chevy Malibu. Unfortunately for Hyundai, the Elantra Touring also has similar fuel economy numbers to Chevy’s four cylinder Malibu. Actually, the Malibu tops the Elantra Touring by 2 mpg on the highway (31 in the Hyundai vs. 33 in the Chevy). That means Hyundai can’t rest on its laurels and be content with a competent offering in this segment; it needs to continually improve as the company has been able to do over the past few years with successive generations of most of its vehicles.
Equipment levels were fairly impressive for the price class. The car included aluminum wheels with chrome accents, a power moonroof, XM satellite radio, CD player, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and a nice trip computer integrated between the speedometer and tachometer in the instrument cluster. Equipment-wise, I was pleasantly surprised when I first opened the door to find three pedals on the floor and a manual transaxle. Four speed automatics – the only choice available for those Elantra Touring buyers who want the car to handle shifting on its own – carry such a performance, economy, and refinement penalty, particularly with relatively weak-kneed four cylinder engines as the 138-horsepower, 136 lb-ft 2.0 liter under the the car’s stylish hood. Although I literally tried several times to inadvertently shift from fifth to a nonexistent sixth gear, the five speed manual did wonders for my enjoyment of the car. Obviously, it was always in the correct ratio – unless driver error occurred – and the giant dropoffs that a four speed has between one gear’s screaming and the next gear’s lugging along just aren’t so giant.
On the downside, the lack of a sixth gear means that the engine is humming along somewhat busily at highway speeds. This humming comes as a detriment to both highway fuel economy and the cabin’s peace and quiet. I like the clutch’s takeup – it doesn’t feel too heavy and is easily modulated, which would be perfect for someone just learning to drive a car with a manual transaxle. Shift action feels more or less on par with the Elantra Touring’s competitors, which is to say that it works smoothly enough if you don’t rush things. When the action becomes a bit more lively, some notchiness and imprecision in the gear selection apear.
It’s not easy to carve corners in a nearly-3000 pound, 138-horsepower car (manual transmission or no). With the Touring’s suspension tuning apparently a bit firmer than many other Hyundai offerings, the car didn’t embarrass itself, yet it was also was much harder to talk into any kind of shenanigans. The steering feels somewhat uncommunicative, and the suspension was softer than I generally prefer. Still, the suspension tuning is more or less in line with what one would expect in a lower-priced wagon with an abundance of chrome trim on the exterior.
Value has always been an integral part of Hyundai’s message, and the Elantra Touring does undercut a comparably-equipped Mazda3 by some $1,500 when adjusting for features using TrueDelta’s price comparison tool. Still, Hyundai has taken some knocks about the Touring’s price of entry compared to the regular Elantra. The company took that message to heart, and slashed the price of its entry-level model by $1,800 for the 2010 model year. I suspect that some of this reduction came at the expense of standard equipment (similar to the $10,000 Nissan Versa’s approach), but comparing a 2009 and 2010 model on TrueDelta show that the 2010 is a few hundred dollars cheaper when comparing to the 2009. My tester, a top-line SE model with a five-speed manual, clocked in with a base price of $19,715. The only two options on my tester were carpeted floor mats ($95) and an iPod connector cable ($35). Any Apple USB connector would work with the stereo, but the Hyundai unit is perhaps a little better at keeping itself plugged into its jack.
The Elantra Touring wasn’t my favorite car ever, but much of that is probably because it’s producing less than half of the 304 horsepower that my current chariot does. However, for those looking for an inexpensive, attractive small wagon, the list is pretty short. There’s the VW Jetta Sportwagen, Chevy HHR, the aging Chrysler PT Cruiser, Suzuki SX4, or any number of five-door hatchbacks that lack the cargo utility of a true wagon like the Elantra Touring. Throw in Hyundai’s long warranty coverage and reasonable pricing, and you have a solid contender in its segment that is certainly worthy of a test drive. I’ve mentioned this model to several friends already who were considering a cheap, nicely-equipped car.
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