There’s a fine line that divides my feelings for the all-new Elantra, which swing from sheer delight to mild disappointment, depending on how and where I drive it. The day this automatic sedan entered our long-term fleet, it made a fantastic first impression. And it only got better the more I drove it in and around the city. It feels completely at home in the thick of Mumbai traffic and I honestly can’t think of a better executive sedan for city duties.
But on the customary first trip to Mahabaleshwar, which is a nice shakedown for any long-termer, the pendulum kept swinging across that fine line which borders the Elantra’s comfort zone. Drive it briskly without asking too much of it and the Elantra will richly reward you with a smooth and effortless ride, but push it hard on a twisty road or on the highway and it quickly feels out of its depth. Maybe expectations were set too high after the astonishing ease with which the Elantra slipped into heavy traffic. The crackerjack throttle response of the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol motor that’s further sharpened by the equally responsive six-speed auto ’box is what makes the Elantra a rush-hour hero. There’s no lag or delay, and the tiniest flex of the right foot gets the Elantra lunging forward like a scalded cat. It’s this instant and linear power delivery that’s one of the best bits of the car, which apart from making light work of stop-go traffic, gives the driver a fantastic sense of control.
The more I drove the Elantra the more it endeared itself to me with its utter user-friendliness. It’s not just the brilliant engine-gearbox combo, but the well-weighted steering, the progressive brakes and good outside visibility that all add up to make the Elantra easier to drive than even many hatchbacks.
The ride too has a nice soft edge to it, which quietly smoothens out Mumbai’s pockmarked roads. It’s a good thing that Hyundai has resisted the temptation to offer look-enhancing larger alloys with low-pro tyres and has instead stuck to 205/60 R16 rubber. The tall sidewalls provide crucial fortification against potholes, sharp edges and deep ruts.
The Elantra’s cabin too, is a happy place to be in and a cool feature is well, the cooled seats. They work really well and even on the lowest of the three settings, you can feel a waft of chilled air gently caressing your back and thighs. Yes, it sounds a bit decadent, but in peak summer this feature would be a real boon, especially with black leather seats which become as hot as a stove when soaked for hours in the sun.
The infotainment system too, is pretty comprehensive and works quite intuitively. But the icons to select ‘Home’ and ‘Back’ functions are a bit too small and that means taking my eye off the road to aim a finger at them. The LCD display between the dials has quite a few functions too, but it’s the trip computer that I end up playing with the most. I discovered the average fuel consumption meter is pretty accurate and closely matches the pump figures when tanking up. This leads me to the fuel efficiency of the Elantra, which has proved to be surprisingly frugal both in the city and on the highway. A city figure of 8.1kpl is decent by class standards, but it’s the 12.7kpl achieved with foot-to-the floor driving on the highway that impressed me more.
Worried about long queues at the toll plazas on NH4, I decided to take the less-travelled NH17 route to Mahabaleshwar, which has no tolls at all. It’s a shorter route as well and the last 40km that snakes up the ghats to the hill station from Poladpur is a delectable mix of hairpins, curves and corners you can straight–line. Trouble is that for most of the year, the road surface on the ghat is patchy in parts, which makes it best suited to a high-riding SUV . However, the poor surfaces didn’t seem to faze the Elantra which skipped over the broken tarmac without much protest.
The Elantra’s focus on overall comfort is pretty clear, but it’s blunted the overall dynamics of the car, which doesn’t lend itself to charging up a mountain road. The nose-heavy Elantra understeers quite easily and the soft setup makes transitioning from corner to corner a bit sloppy.
The gearbox, though nice and alert with part throttle inputs and at city speeds, feels a bit recalcitrant when driven with a heavy right foot. Even in Sport mode, the gearbox doesn’t downshift instantly and neither does it hang onto a gear when you want it to. Leaving the gearbox to its own devices had it upshifting in the middle of corners; that’s not something you want it to do when you’re powering through a tight hairpin. I found it best to take control and move the not-too-stubby lever across the gate to Manual mode. That’s when I seriously missed having paddle shifters because tipping the lever back and forth felt so old school.
The steering too, though the best I’ve experienced on a Hyundai, lacks that ultimate precision to allow you to deftly place the car exactly where you want it.
Another weakness that came to the fore was the engine’s rather flat mid-range. So, you really need to rev it hard to get the most out of it.
The Elantra’s taut chassis no doubt gives it impressive body control, but at speeds – even on the mildly uneven sections of NH4 (the return route from Mahabaleshwar) – there’s a fair bit of pitching, especially at the rear.
The drive to Mahabaleshwar illustrated the fact that the Elantra is not a car that is comfortable being driven at VMax and dialing the tempo down a notch or two is the best way to enjoy this executive sedan, which actually feels happiest in urban surroundings.
Hyundai Elantra SX (O) AT
Price Rs 21.85 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Economy 7.87kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs None