Thursday, July 14, 2016



I have been writing car reviews for going on 15 years now, which is not necessarily a significant milestone.

I mention it only because last week I was driving a Hyundai Elantra and got to thinking that my stint as an automotive journalist pretty much corresponds to the South Korean automaker’s surge of success in the U.S.

At one time Hyundai, as well as its Korean counterpart Kia, seemed to be headed out of the U.S. market because of a reputation for putting out vehicles that were among the cheapest to buy, which spurred early sales success in the 1980s, but shoddy when it came to quality.

Nobody was more aware of this reputation than the Hyundai people themselves. Once at an event where the new 2002 Sonata was being previewed I heard a company PR rep from California make the comment that a lot of people were confusing Hyundai’s slant-H logo for Honda’s, and that was a good thing for Hyundai.

But rather than retreat, Hyundai got serious. The company began offering a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty to give prospective buyers assurance of quality and then started making cars that lived up to it. Or maybe it was the other way around. Same result.

Since that event I attended in 2001, Hyundai has gone upscale with such products as the Genesis coupe and sedan and the Equus sedan taking on luxury entrants from Europe and Japan, and the company has enjoyed success in its overall lineup as well. The company announced earlier this July that it had enjoyed its best first six months in U.S. sales ever with 374,061 vehicles sold.

According to the website, that puts Hyundai at No. 7 in the U.S. market behind Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Honda, and Jeep and ahead of Kia, Subaru, and Dodge among the top 10 for the year.

That Elantra I mentioned earlier?

Though it is the company’s best-seller, it really didn’t do its part in the numbers increase so far. Elantra sales for the first six months were down from 128,698 for the first half of 2015 to 96,306 for the first six months of this year and were off over 4,000 for June alone compared to June 2015.

But that likely will change as the year goes on. The Elantra has been redesigned for 2017, and the changes correct some of the shortcomings of the previous generation.

It’s a more comfortable riding car, with nice room front and back (42.2 inches of legroom up front, 35.7 in the back), and trunk space, while not the most of its class,  is still an adequate 14.4 cubic feet. That’s more room for stuff than what you get in a Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, and Mazda3 but not quite as much as that offered in a Honda Civic sedan.

My test vehicle for the week was the top-of-the-line Limited trim that offered both a Tech Package and an Ultimate Package of options that helped boost the total MSRP to $27,710. The Tech Package includes a navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen, a premium sound system, and power sun roof.

The Ultmate Package, which requires that you buy the Tech Package, throws in HID headlights, automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, Smart cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.

If you can live without all that (but why would you?), the base MSRP for the Elantra Limited is $22,350 plus the $835 destination and delivery charge.

For that, you get as standard features that include 17-inch alloy wheels, SiriusXM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Hyundai’s BlueLink connectivity, dual A/C, steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, leather seats, a power adjustable driver’s seat (manual for the passenger), and more.

For the record, the base SE version of the Elantra starts at under $18,000 and in between there’s an Eco trim that starts at under $21,500 including the destination and delivery charges.

The Elantra Eco is equipped with a new 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes up for an unimpressive 128 horsepower with 156 pound-feet or torque, but our Elantra Limited came with a 2.0-liter four-banger with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.

A six-speed manual is standard on SE trim, but the Limited gets only a six-speed automatic transmission. You can select gears manually, but with no paddle shifters, it’s kind of an exercise in futility. The Eco gets a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

With power numbers like those, you’re not going to get much in the way of performance out of the Elantra, but fuel economy on the Limited is rated at 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32 combined, which is what I got from it for the week.

What I liked about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra: The styling, both inside and out, is really eye-catching. The array of technological features offered in the packages are very user-friendly and match what you find on many luxury vehicles today.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra: A little more punch would be appreciated, especially when you’re trying to get across busy intersections or blending into highway traffic.

Would I buy this car? I would if there was a bit more in the way of performance. As for esthetics and technology, it’s hard to beat for its class.

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