Elantra - HOT new model from Hyundai

Hyundai is expecting big things from a brand-new Elantra sedan just launched in New Zealand - and, if the international experience is anything to go by, the company should be excited. Rob Maetzig reports.

South Korean marque Hyundai is on a roll in New Zealand.

Whereas so far this year the Kiwi new vehicle market has experienced 6 per cent growth, Hyundai has enjoyed a 22 per cent surge in vehicle sales.

And that's been without the help of a decent compact sedan in the Hyundai lineup. While the likes of the i30 hatch and ix35 and Santa Fe SUVs have been major contributors to the total of 2449 passenger car sales recorded to the end of May, over the same period only 25 of the HD series Elantras have sold.

That's obviously because the car has been on runout to make way for the brand-new MD series Elantra that was introduced in other parts of the world last year and which has since been going great guns.

But now the new model has arrived here, and Hyundai New Zealand has immediately declared that, with the MD, it is taking aim at leadership of the compact sedan segment inside 12 months.

That's a big call, because the segment has some pretty good offerings - not the least the fellow South Korean-sourced (but Australian-built) Holden Cruze, which itself has just been sufficiently updated to take it from being a good car to a very good car.

But the new Hyundai does impress as an appealing car. And while the $35,990 to $41,990 prices for the three-model Elantra range for New Zealand do seem a little high when compared to the Cruze equivalents, they are lineball with the likes of Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla sedans and the Mitsubishi Lancer, and yet carry levels of specification that make them superior product. That advantage is understandable, considering the MD series Elantra is brand-new.

Arrival of the new Elantra has got Hyundai New Zealand fizzing at the prospect of additional sales this year - and with good reason.

It has instantly become the marque's top-selling model worldwide with 750,000 sales so far, and Hyundai is now rapidly ramping up its production facilities to allow it to make a million of the cars in a year.

"It's been a huge success in North America - in fact, it's the top-selling passenger car in Canada - so we're very excited to get it to our market," said HNZ chief operating officer Tom Ruddenklau at a media conference in Auckland last week.

"It'll provide incremental volume for us in a segment of the new-car market that is experiencing major growth anyway."

So far this year, to the end of May, the Cruze has been the most popular vehicle with 500 sales, followed by the Corolla with 200 sales, said Ruddenklau.

"If we even get a quarter of the global sales growth that has been experienced overseas with the Elantra, it will be a significant incremental car."

This new Elantra is a distinctive-looking sedan with bodyshell lines that come close to mirroring those of the larger i45, which itself was penned using Hyundai's so-called "wind craft" design language. As such the lines are sharp, highlighted by a pronounced crease that runs along the body sides and incorporates the front and rear door handles.

Inside, there's relatively heavy use of pseudo-alloy trim right through the frontal area, and a major design feature is a coke bottle-shaped centre console.

Initial impressions are that it's nice.

Powering all three vehicles initially available in New Zealand is a brand-new 1.8-litre all- aluminium four-cylinder engine designated by Hyundai as Nu - as in the 13th letter of the Greek alphabet - which can produce up to 110 kilowatts of power and 176 Newton metres of torque.

The engine is matched to a six- speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, which is 12 kg lighter than the five-speeder that was aboard the previous- generation Elantra, and has 60 fewer moving parts.

Suspension comprises a latest version of the traditional MacPherson strut front-multi link rear setup, and the power steering is electric. The new sedan also boasts a full suite of electronic handling aids, including what is known as Vehicle Stability Management, which co-ordinates all the aids in a big effort to maintain safe control of the car.

It all certainly combines to make this new Hyundai a secure handling car, as was proved during a drive programme over several hundred kilometres during last week's media event. My only criticism was not the ride or handling but the tyres, which had pronounced roar on our coarse chip seal.

This is most pronounced with the top-spec Elite and Elite Limited models which have 17-inch wheels and tyres. It's not as bad with the base model, which has 16-inch tyres, although even then it became quite intrusive at times.

This base model of the new Elantra range has cloth seats, six- speaker audio with controls on the steering wheel, manual air conditioning, and trip computer.

Next up is the Elite, which gets full leather upholstery, electric adjustment of the driver's seat, proximity key with an engine stop/start button, upgraded audio, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, rain-sensing wipers, reversing sensors, automatic lights, and a luggage net in the boot. The Elite Limited has all of that plus a sunroof.

So it's an appealing selection of Elantras from Hyundai, and six- speed manual versions are also available to special order. It'll be interesting to watch if the market deems the car good enough to catapult it to No 1 in the segment.

HYUNDAI ELANTRA POWER PLANT: 1.8-litre DOHC 16-valve four cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing, 110 kW at 6500 rpm, 176 Nm at 4700 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed automatic transmission with manual over-ride. MacPherson strut front suspension, independent multi-link rear setup with coil springs. Electric power steering, full suite of electronic handling aids including Vehicle Stability Management.

HOW BIG: Length 4530mm, width 1775mm, height 1435mm, wheelbase 2700mm.

HOW MUCH: Standard model $35,990, Elite $39,990, Elite Limited $41,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Sharp bodyshell lines, good-looking and well specified interior, new engine is economical at an average 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres.

WHAT'S NOT: Pronounced tyre roar at times, particularly with bigger-tyred Elite and Limited models.

OUR VERDICT: The most important thing about this new Elantra is that it again makes Hyundai competitive in the increasingly important compact sedan segment of New Zealand's new vehicle market.

Taranaki Daily News