The year 2016 just might be the year of the compact car. After a lull in new releases, a flurry of new C-segment competitors are set to hit showrooms next year. Hyundai, keen to reclaim lost ground from Ford in the local sales rankings, is the latest to throw its hat into the ring with the all-new Elantra.
Eschewing the flowing forms of the previous model, the new Elantra follows the more restrained Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 aesthetic pioneered by the Sonata. This means a big and hexagonal grille, sleek LED-rimmed headlights, and smooth, austere lines in place of the ornate curves of the outgoing version. The menacing, shark-like nose is its best feature, giving the car a purposefully muscular look. Out back, attractive taillights sit under a new ducktail extension that, along with new underbody panels, helps the car achieve an impressive 0.27 drag coefficient.
The interior design likewise follows the Sonata, with premium European lines and much better plastic finishes than on the old car. An extra 25mm of width is evident in the extra elbow room, and while legroom remains unchanged, it's still on the large side of the class. There is much more trunk space, though, and a larger pass-through makes for more flexible cargo-loading.
While our launch unit features such niceties as power-adjustable cooled/heated leather seats, a sunroof and a touchscreen TCT display subtly canted toward the driver for better readability, final variant specifications have not been set in stone. We expect many of these features to make it to the top-of-the-line L variant, including the dynamic guideline-equipped rearview camera and nifty rear-seat air-conditioning vents.
The L variant launches with a new 148hp Nu 2.0 MPi engine, a big step up from the previous 1.8. The base E model features the familiar 1.6-liter Gamma engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while the mid-tier S model gets a six-speed gearbox. We aren't getting the direct-injection variants at launch, but that may eventually change with the imminent implementation of Euro 4 fuel standards next year. Still, as the 1.6 Gamma makes a healthy 128hp, we're not complaining much! The 1.6 we sampled revs smoothly and quietly, and performance is pleasingly punchy with the six-speed AT.
Hyundai claims this new chassis uses 53% high-tensile-strength steel, nearly double that of the old model, resulting in a 29.5% increase in torsional rigidity. Along with retuned dampers and springs (as well as what feels like more substantial suspension and subframe bushings), this results in a car that's more solid over bumps and ruts. While the old Elantra was soft and tended to wallow, this one possesses firmer body control, taking road imperfections in stride despite the rather large 17-inch wheels. The steering also seems a touch meatier than before, although this will be hard to quantify without a longer test drive.
What isn't hard to quantify is that this is a much quieter car than the one it replaces. Especially around the rear doors and wheel wells. Owners of the previous-gen model will be pleased to learn that even with the stereo cranked up, very little sound leaks through the closed rear doors. Those doors now close with a more solid thud to boot.
The old Elantra has garnered multiple awards over the past few years. This new model builds on that car's strengths and addresses many of its weaknesses, representing a quantum leap in refinement over the old car, thanks to Hyundai's newfound mastery of suspension tuning and NVH. Could we be looking at another runaway winner from Hyundai? Given that the ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement takes effect next year, the Elantra could just be the biggest bang for your buck in this segment when it finally arrives next year.
Photos by Mark Jesalva
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