When it entered the market with the Pony in 1984, the Korean manufacturer found success providing a less-expensive alternative to the Japanese vehicles dominating the low end of the market.
In the last three decades, it has come a long way, with improvements in fuel economy, reliability and, in recent years, style. With the 2017, the sixth generation of the Elantra, Hyundai has given its best-selling compact car (slotted between the Accent and the Sonata) a little shove over the top, with features previously only found in near-luxury vehicles.
You can still buy a plain-Jane Elantra L Manual for $15,999, but for the first time, you can also opt for a fully loaded Ultimate model for $28,799, which is what I tested.
In Canada, the Elantra sedan is available in seven trim models. Unlike with some other manufacturers, there are no option packages or even individual options. The only choice is in colour, three with the base car and up to seven at the top end.
I mention the trim options because the model line south of the border is completely different, so if you are reading an American review, it can get confusing.
One of the big differences between the two countries is what is available under the hood. In Canada, there is only one engine choice, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 147 horsepower. If you want a six-speed manual transmission, the only model offering that is the base L; every other model is equipped with a six-speed automatic with manual mode.
The Elantra’s 147 hp is smack in the middle of its segment, with the Toyota Corolla at the bottom and the Mazda3 at the top, boasting 37 more horses and better than 50 more pound feet of torque from a larger 2.5-litre engine.
The Elantra’s fuel economy is mid-pack as well, with the new Honda Civic sipping less fuel than the rest.
The compact car wears a new set of clothes, with a design that makes it a slimmed-down version of the Sonata. My tester came with LED daytime running lights and High Intensity Discharge headlights that turn in sync with the steering wheel, better illuminating a corner.
Hyundai added the new Ultimate package to the top end of the line this year. The Limited, last year’s top trim, already includes nice-to-have features such as leather seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, navigation, eight-inch touch screen and rear parking sensors.
To that list, the Ultimate adds the most sophisticated driver aids available — autonomous full emergency braking at speeds under 80 km/h when sensing vehicles and under 64 km/h when sensing pedestrians.
It has adaptive cruise control, which will maintain a certain distance from a vehicle ahead, regardless of speed. It will also work in stop-and-go traffic, which I believe is a first for this segment and even rare among cars costing tens of thousands more.
The Ultimate also has lane-departure warning and lane-keeping, where it will engage and provide corrective input (in other words, steer your car) when it senses the vehicle drifting out of its lane.
The self-driving car may be a few years away, but the driver aids in this Hyundai shows the road the industry is heading down. The impressive fact is that such aids are standard in a sub-$30,000 vehicle.
While the overall car is more refined, the interior still has some hard plastic surfaces, despite its up-market aspirations. To its credit, it does come with features not commonly found in similarly priced Japanese or North American competitors, such as a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a hands-free trunk and front-door-handle approach lights.
Couples who share a vehicle will also appreciate the dual memory settings. Hyundai also pairs rear parking sensors with the rear camera, giving drivers both an audible and visual aid.
The rear seatbacks fold 60/40 to access the 407-litre (14 cubic-foot) trunk. The back-seat passengers get a few more millimetres of legroom, giving them as much room as in a mid-sized sedan a generation or so ago.
The Elantra even sounds better, thanks to thicker glass and the fact that every gap between the engine and passenger cabin is plugged with extra foam. Equipping the car with an eight-speaker audio system (with a subwoofer in the trunk) doesn’t hurt, either.
For those who have audio libraries on their phones, the Elantra is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That means the audio system responds to a whole range of voice commands for hands-free driving.
The driving public has obviously taken note of the new Hyundai Elantra. Last month, it easily outsold its nearest competitors, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze. It’s too early to say if it can keep up the momentum for the rest of the year, but don’t be surprised if it does. After all, Hyundai did shake up the market more than 30 years ago. With this new and improved car, it has a chance to do it again.