Udaipur and the Elantra’s fluidic design concept are familiar territory. Strangely though, bumps and Hyundai’s newfound chassis finesse aren’t. The straights of NH-76 look deceivingly flat across the horizon, but hide bumps that are a true test of a car’s chassis tuning. If it were the Verna, the rear would have lost grip first, followed by a twitch of the front end and by the time it would regain composure, much of it down to driver bravery, you would find yourself in the next lane. But the Elantra simply unloaded its springs after encountering said nasty bump, twitched ever so slightly and settled down to prepare itself for the next rogue concrete patch. Has Hyundai finally understood chassis composure?
It seems it has. The Hyundai quality centre in Chennai is listening — to us hacks and you the customer. This explains the Elantra’s better dynamics. Incidentally, they’ve attended to the Verna too and in the last few months the cars rolling out of Irungattukottai are better in a straight line. Indeed, Hyundai is sorting out the last vestiges of its problems and gunning for perfection.
The new Elantra, then. It’s not perfect. Just like its predecessor in India, the third-gen model that entered our market in 2004 and vanished by 2007 when the fourth generation debuted, but never hit our shores. Yet, the new Elantra is better in more ways than one. It looks better, striking yet balanced. There is a sense of newness to the package when viewed in isolation yet, somehow, the familarity can’t be missed, like the pinched bonnet lines and the raised waistline with a kink on the C-pillar and the stretched tail-lamps. You can’t help but feel that the front half is too much Verna, the latter a Sonata. But of the three, it’s still the better looker.
Not that you will find much to worry about once you step in. Pleasing and well finished, the dashboard is made of high quality stuff that generally isn’t found wanting. Loaded is another operative word here. From a whole gamut of airbags to ESP and ABS, the Elantra has enough by way of creature comforts to keep you occupied for a significant part of your journey; cruise control, bluetooth, audio controls at the rear, cooled front seats, reversing camera to name a few. What’s truly important to know here is that its wheelbase of 2700 mm rivals that of the Renault Fluence, which already holds the record of being the longest in its class. That does translate to good leg room, head room and knee room for passengers at the rear, this despite the sloping roof. The seats are wide and provide enough support, so long journeys should leave little to worry about. I found the seats in the front much to my liking and my 5 foot 7-inch frame only mildly protested about the lack of some more bolstering.
For India, Hyundai will offer two engine options as well as the choice of either a manual or automatic transmission for both. The smaller of the two motors is a 1.6-litre diesel engine, something we are familiar with from the Verna. It produces an identical 126 bhp of peak power and 26.5 kg of peak torque. A new 1.8-litre, variable valve tech equipped, 147 bhp petrol engine is the other option, that makes a healthy 18.1 kg of peak torque. Both engines boast of hydraulic lash adjusters to improve refinement, though neither automatic variant comes with paddle shifters.
We managed to spend some time behind the wheel of the diesel variant and what seemed lacking on paper didn’t necessarily feel so in reality. The six-speed automatic does sap power somewhat, but it shifts quickly enough and given the relatively lag-free nature of the motor, it has some strong numbers to back it up. Strapping on our testing equipment revealed that the diesel auto can hit 100 kmph in under 12 seconds and go on to a top speed in excess of 180 kmph. That may not be the best of numbers, but do remember it finds itself nicely sandwiched between the lower powered Fluence and Toyota Corolla Altis and the grunty VW Jetta and Chevrolet Cruze. It does have the legs to keep you in three-digit speeds all day long in the most stress-free manner possible. The 1.6-litre motor has always been a paradigm of refinement and it doesn’t disappoint here either. Apart from a distant clatter, it feels much more like its petrol cousins. It’s only when you halt at a stop and get out of the car while keeping the engine running that you find it rather loud on the outside.
And as mentioned before, it’s the dynamics that seem to have gone a step up. On Udaipur’s arrow-shot straight, barricaded empty highway stretches, it felt pretty much at home, munching the miles at triple digit speeds without threatening to reset the occupants’ organs. There is a sense of the suspension feeling a bit more settled and the chassis a wee bit more planted, though I still feel that the VW Jetta or Skoda Laura are still the class benchmark. Yet, the ride is supple enough and the long wheelbase really does help in letting the car track true. There isn’t much by way of steering feel nor will this car put a big smile on your face if you decide to drive up a hill, but it does everything competently enough. That may be what most customers in this segment want, since these cars are primarily chauffeur driven.
Not just that, customers may also like the fact that there’s enough room for four to five people, lots of features, frugal yet peppy engines and Hyundai’s bulletproof warranty. But will it be enough to turn around the fortunes of the segment that’s been on a decline in the last few years? Will Hyundai’s re-entry into the segment re-ignite it or will just become another bit player? We wish we had the answers, but it seems you, the customer, and the marketplace will decide. That would happen next week when Hyundai rolls up its sleeves and curtains and price positions the car sensibly. To expect a Rs 12 lakh tag on the base variant wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, nor would a figure of Rs 16 lakh or thereabouts to round off the proceedings. Indeed, Hyundai will flood the market with several trims and is quite gung-ho about its second chance at it, but competition is intense and every single extra unit sold is worth its weight in gold.
The writer was invted by Hyundai to test drive the Elantra