The family in the apartment above mine squabbles quite frequently, but as I arrived home with the Elantra Touring, it turns out they were arguing as to who manufactured this slick wagon. Kudos to mother dearest, who didn’t think something so shapely could be a Hyundai but threw the possibility out anyway.
I’ve been impressed with a number of Hyundai’s offerings of late, but perhaps none so much as this Elantra Touring. Unlike the Elantra sedan, which shares a nameplate but little else with this European-designed five-door, the Touring comes off as a well-sorted, mature vehicle. Hyundai seems intent on comparing it to the likes of the similarly-priced Ford Focus, but there’s no comparison when it comes to the space inside. I’m reminded more of the departed Mazda 6 wagon than I am of most compacts.
The downside? You’ve really got to work the B&M shifter to keep the 2.0-liter I-4 in its power band, and the suspension is softer than what you’d find in a Mazda 3. Still, this isn’t sold as a sport wagon–the largest nameplate on the car does read “Touring,” after all, and it excels in this regard. The Elantra is smooth over some of Michigan’s worst road surfaces and, apart from the buzzy I-4 occasionally voicing itself through the firewall, is generally quiet.
On a Bluetooth note: the system Hyundai offers works well (and possibly built by the same folks who developed Chrysler’s uConnect), but it isn’t integrated into the radio controls. This isn’t a problem, as long as you remember to shut off the stereo before trying to place a call…
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
The Elantra Touring is one of the most pleasantly surprising vehicles I’ve driven in quite some time. Perhaps most surprising is the wagon’s interior space, particularly in the back seats. When the lease on my wife’s Kia Sportage comes up next summer, the Elantra Touring is definitely going to be near the top of our short list.
This spacious test vehicle has lots of desirable features such as a sunroof, Bluetooth, heated seats, and an iPod connector, but the price barely crests $20,000. The five-speed manual isn’t Honda-slick, but it is greatly improved from past Hyundai/Kia efforts, and it’s hugely advantageous in getting the most performance (and fuel economy) out of the uninspiring 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
As Evan noted, the Elantra Touring’s handling does err on the side of touring, but this Hyundai still rides, handles, and steers quite nicely for what it is. In fact, I think this car handles better than any other Hyundai I’ve driven, save perhaps the tiny Accent coupe.
On the negative side: I’m not quite sold on the strange exterior styling (although it does speak to this car’s European roots), and I was shocked that the rear washer fluid is deposited Niagara Falls-style.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
After I pulled into my driveway and parked the Hyundai Elantra Touring, the first thing I did was walk over to my husband’s 2003 Elantra GT and climb inside for the sake of comparison. It’s amazing what a change six years have wrought. For starters, the materials in the interior, while not opulent, are of a much higher quality. The gauges are modern and easy to read, and the HVAC and entertainment system controls are less clunky than the older model’s. On the road, the first thing you’ll notice is that, while the engine doesn’t produce any more power than it did in the Elantra of six years ago, it is mated to a transmission that has much shorter throws and engages gears more positively, the steering is more direct, and braking performance is improved. Plus, while the hatchback body style is handy for carrying bulky objects, the wagon is even more practical. To top it all off, the base price is still well under $20,000, and don’t forget that 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
It’s been gratifying to watch Hyundai’s progress in the U.S. market. In less than twenty-five years, the company has gone from selling the Excel (I have a friend who bought one that burnt to the ground less than three years after he purchased it) to producing this very impressive Elantra wagon and the top-of-the-line Genesis. The story of Hyundai and the U.S. market would be a great case study for business schools and for future car-company executives to take note of.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Everyone in the media is universally swooning over the Genesis coupe and sedan, but this unassuming little wagon is, by far, my favorite Hyundai. It’s immediately evident the Elantra Touring has European roots–the suspension is soft, but it still feels solid in a turn and, for once, Hyundai hasn’t over-dampened the car. By the time I made it to the highway, I almost thought I was in a Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen.
There are, however, three minor problems with this car. Unless you’re puttering around town, the engine is seriously lacking in power. Part of this may be due to the available ratios with the five-speed manual, but I’d like a little more power in a car this size if I were routinely hauling several people or a wagon’s worth of cargo. The B&M shifter is pretty good, but Rusty is correct that it’s still not as good as it could be. My only other gripe is slightly odd styling, but that’s always going to be a subjective score anyway. One aspect of the exterior sure to garner attention are the stunning wheels. It seems as if Hyundai was known for steel wheels and hubcaps only months ago and now there are beautiful alloy wheels from the factory!
Inside the cabin there are some decidedly cheap materials, but none are offensive enough to diminish my enthusiasm for this car. The iPod interface is first-rate; the XM radio displays the artist and title of a song while scrolling through channels; and all the controls are easy to use. Cloth seats are supportive and the manual adjustments work well.
Yes, the Elantra Touring is basic, bare-bones transportation, but it doesn’t feel like a penalty box. Enthusiasts will appreciate its European roots, and everyone will love the price. Product planners at competing automakers should take notice of this car and pay serious attention to Hyundai.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I’m a fan of the VW Jetta, thanks mostly to the time I’ve spent behind the wheel of our Four Seasons TDI. The only area in which the Elantra Touring really falls down in a direct comparison is shift feel. Where the Jetta has a smooth, effortless manual gearbox, the Elantra’s comes off as a bit cheap and notchy. If I were looking at buying one of these vehicles, I can’t say that one complaint would override the appeal of a ten-year warranty.
And I’m going to second the compliment on the Elantra’s wheels. We’re in no shortage of high-impact rolling stock in the press fleet, but these are gorgeous rims. It’s just another sign that Hyundai is sweating the small stuff.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Surprise, surprise, indeed. When our German-car-loving West coast editor, Jason Cammisa, called me a couple of months ago to sing the praises of the Hyundai Elantra Touring, I about fell out of my chair. But he liked it so much, he wrote a review in our June 2009 issue.
I only drove the Elantra around Ann Arbor one day at lunch, but I was mightily impressed. It’s got a handsome exterior, with nice wheels, and the interior is well-finished. Not opulent, of course, but not reeking of cheapness. Nothing about this vehicle reeks of cheapness, in fact. All of the secondary controls are pleasing to your fingertips, and as others have noted, the car in general exudes an air of European-style tuning and quality.
We pretty much know what to expect from most cars these days, even before we drive them, based on the past efforts of their manufacturer. It’s nice to be surprised, pleasantly, when a car comes along that confounds our expectations.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
What a surprising car. It reminds me of how shocked I was when I first drove the Suzuki SX4 Crossover. A feeling, as Joe noted, that doesn’t happen too often these days. It’s roomy, versatile, and handsome, if a bit generic. The interior materials in the Elantra are a mixed bag though, with fit and finish ranging from so-so (seat fabric) to excellent (dash layout, displays and controls). The blue lighting on the gauges and radio display is nice and the ability to see artist and song title for each satellite radio station before making a selection is a great feature, one that I’ve seen on very few vehicles in any class.
Power doesn’t come hard or fast in any gear, but if you really keep the manual moving you can squeeze out adequate power. The shift action is firm and smooth, but it becomes notchy if the clutch is not fully depressed when changing gears. Pedal placement is good but they seem especially deep in the footwell, so I was happy to see that the steering wheel adjusted for both rake and reach since I was too close to the wheel once I had adjusted my seat.
Overall, this car is a decent drive and a fairly good value, but if I were looking to buy a mid-size wagon, a Jetta Sportwagen would be my choice. A similarly equipped Jetta SE model (one step up from the base S model) is only about $1500 more than the Elantra Touring. Bluetooth is not offered but the Jetta brings best-in-class interior fit and finish, more comfortable, partially electronic seats for both driver and passenger, a smoother-shifting manual, and a much more responsive engine with a reduction of only 2 mpg for both city and highway fuel economy. Of course, there is no denying that this Elantra Touring, like the Genesis, is an impressive effort and an example of how far Hyundai has come. It’s yet another warning to automakers around the globe to watch their backs.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Base price (with destination): $18,495
Price as tested: $20,445
Premium Sport Package $1500 (17″ alloys with P215/45R17 tires; power sunroof; heated front seats)
Carpeted floor mats $95
iPod cable $30
23 / 31 / 26 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.0L 4-cyl
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 137 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Weight: 2937 lb
17-in aluminum wheels
P215/45R17 all-season tires