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A Hyundai sedan that's big on glory but low on guts

The Elantra's got the price and the perks, but where's the punch?

Jeff Rundles //August 5, 2016//

A Hyundai sedan that's big on glory but low on guts

The Elantra's got the price and the perks, but where's the punch?

Jeff Rundles //August 5, 2016//


My experience with Hyundai over the years, at least the last 15, has been almost perfect: Hyundai, the Korean auto giant, makes wonderful cars.

This wasn’t always the case. The company only got into the car-making business less than 50 years ago, and didn’t enter the U.S. market, with the low-priced Excel, until 1986. At first the Excel was a hit and the company sold 168,882 in 1986 alone (a new-entrant record at the time), as buyers were lured by the idea of getting a Honda for a lot less money than a Honda.

But then the bottom sorta fell out of the sales platform because, well, let’s just say that the car repair market was flooded with Excels. It ruined the reputation of Hyundai here in the US and it took them until the early 2000s to get back in the relative good graces of the American car-buying public. They did it on a commitment to quality construction, and a famous 10-year warranty to back it up, but the truth is that they have always, even to this day, had to keep their prices below those of Toyota and Honda because of the initial reputation hit.

This has always been, and remains, a great boon to car buyers. I have found over the years that with a Hyundai you get more car – more engine, more features, more luxuries – for the money compared with the competition. In the last 15 years or so, I have rarely been disappointed by a Hyundai, any Hyundai, and I have never been disappointed or unimpressed with a price. Quality and value have been hallmarks of the line since the early hiccup.

This Elantra Limited I got to drive is among the most venerable of the line’s offerings, having been introduced worldwide in 1990, and Made in the USA – in Montgomery, Ala. – since 2005. It was completely redesigned in 2015 – its 6th generation – and made available to the American market this past February as a 2017 model (Hyundai is leading the 2017 parade; I will be driving the 2017 Santa Fe next week).

Everything about the Elantra is impressive when you first approach the car, and especially when you get inside. It is a beautiful mid-size sedan on the outside, and in this Limited Trim the inside comes across as a luxury car. There is very fine leather seating, a handsome (and easy-to-use) 7” touch screen for audio display, dual automatic climate control, and, of course, all the technological bells and whistles that define the modern car – Bluetooth, all of the hookups for phone and toys (Android and iPhone), and satellite radio (my fav!).  You can even hook up your smart phone or smart watch to unlock and remote stat the car, with Hyundai Blue Link Connected Car System.

Not to mention all the safety stuff: stability control, ABS braking, air bags around, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines for help in parking.

The car is uncommonly quiet for a vehicle in this size and price range – it just feels like a lot of car for the money. And speaking of money, the base price on the Limited Trim is $22,350 – and all of the stuff I mentioned is included; there were no add-ons at all. (The other two available trims, the SE and the Eco, carry base prices of $17,150 and $20,650, respectively.) You don’t see this very often, so competitively, this Elantra really stacks up to the competition in Honda, Toyota and Nissan, just to mention the obvious and often compared competitors.

And don’t forget the famous Hyundai warranty, also included: 10-years/100,000 miles on the powertrain, 5-year/50,000 miles on everything else, and a 7—year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation warranty. Plus 5 years of 24/7 roadside assistance featuring towing, trip interruption, flat tire, dead battery and no gas assistance, and help if you lock yourself out of the car.

Ah, but there’s a rub, as they say. As impressed as I was with the feel and look of the Elantra, the driving left just a little to be desired. All Elantras are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, sporting 147 horsepower, and this is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic (I still don’t quite know what that is), and three dial-up driving modes, Normal/Sport and Eco.  It is, to be kind, rather sluggish.

I took notes several times during the test drive, and I wrote down “underpowered,” and “kinda slow” and “sluggish” a couple of times. And when you punch it to get the needed acceleration for entering the highway, for instance, it kicks in with a lot of relish but very little mustard. Maybe I should have said ketchup, because it seemed on the highway that I was playing a game of “catch-up” all the time.

Now, I wouldn’t want this to be my only car if I had to do a lot of highway travelling, or especially trips up into the mountains. But, as a city car – wow! All the creature comforts, a beautiful ride, easy to park, great gas mileage – great: 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway. I was, however, disappointed with the power.

Some of the other things I liked were: a huge trunk for a car of this size, three golf bags easy; a readout in the instrument cluster for which setting the lights are on, like “Lights,” “Auto,” “Parking Lights”; a split screen when you start up showing the map, navigation and radio, or a whole screen huge map if you want; and, one of the best hands-free phone connections I have ever used.

As I said, everything was included in the Limited Trim price; they only added on $835 for dealer handling, for a bottom line of $23,185. A great car for that price, but oh, it would be more great if it had just a little more guts.