Cars: Hyundai’s fascinating and fun car

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 2, 2017.

The Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI comes equipped with keyless entry and push start.

The rear view of the Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GD.

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THE last Hyundai I tested was the Ioniq earlier this year and I had a first-rate experience with the car. Let us just say it left me gushing.

Hyundai has certainly taken a huge leap forward in terms of technology, quality and design in their cars. Believe me, I was one of the detractors of Korean cars and it was the Ioniq that changed my views about Korean cars and more so, the Hyundai brand.

The transformation of Hyundai and Kia (they belong to the same group) cars started with the hiring of Peter Schreyer — the ex- Audi designer — in 2006, who was largely responsible for designing the iconic Audi TT and is now one of the three presidents of Hyundai-Kia Motors, as well as the chief designer for both the brands.

So, with a somewhat heightened expectation after the having been charmed by the Ioniq, I took off in anticipation of how this new Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI would surprise me — well, it almost took my breath away.


The exterior

This latest iteration of the Elantra cuts a familiar silhouette as with its predecessor and the styling is built upon Hyundai’s design concept of Fluidic sculpture 2.0, which emphasises flowing and curvy aesthetic and modern appeal.

I personally like the “face” of the car and the front grill, lights and bumper combination looks sleek, modern and premium. It certainly sets the agenda for Hyundai to continue moving forward in its design.

The only oddity is that this Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI which I tested is a blazing yellow colour paired with red on black leather seats. I would imagine it to be strikingly handsome if the exterior were red, black or white.

The Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI comes equipped with keyless entry and push start. It also has a built-in feature where the car sort of greets you when you are near the car (with the key in your pocket) by having the folded mirrors popping up and the door handle lights coming on.

There is also another neat trick where if you stand behind the boot for three seconds, you can hear the car beeping three times and the boot opens up. It is very useful when your hands are full and when you need to open the boot but a bit of an odd scenario when you actually do not want the boot to open when you are standing behind the car.


The interior

The interior is very much meant to be an old school boy racers interior with modern frills. The speedo/rev meters remind me of the old Subaru STIs with the analogue dials with red needle speedo/revolutions per minute (rpm) dials, and the six o’clock dials start position reinforce the sporty touch.

The Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI’s interior was not something that impressed when I first sat in it. It seemed outdated at first impression but it sort of slowly grew on me. As I settled into the car and began to see it from the car designer’s point of view, it seemed that the designer wanted a bit of a retro look in the cabin, yet they tried their best to accommodate the modern gadgetry in similar segment competitors.

The black and red leather sports seats, the old-fashioned internal door panels and trims, with faux carbon fibre strip across the door panels and the centre console, sporty front seats, racy dials and so on; all these point to a retro feel and it suddenly made sense.

Eureka! Modern design on the outside but a bit of old school racing touches in the cabin. It is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but for me, it is something that is evocative of my adolescent days. Nostalgic indeed.

Next to the gear lever, there is a switch to select three drive modes, Normal, Eco and Sports, and each mode will trigger different throttle, steering and transmission responses. Seventeen-inch sports rim with 225/45 Hankook tyres, seven-inch TFT touchscreen with Apple car play/Andorid Auto, reverse camera, blind sport detection, passive cruise control and a tyre pressure monitoring system via the speedometer display panel is par for the course with this car.

For me, the only downside in the cabin is that the plastics used could be have been of a higher quality and finishing.


Driving it

The Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI’s engine churns out 203PS of power and 265 Nm of torque from 1500rpm to 4500rpm. This engine is paired with an automated seven-speed dry dual clutch gearbox. In the mainstream C-segment class; this is by far one of the most powerful engines that you can find in the local market. The engine is extremely lively and revs easily.

The fun starts the moment you pull the car out to the main road. There is no turbo lag and power delivery is very smooth. There is no roller-coaster seat hugging type of feeling when you floor the pedal, not because of a lack of power, but simply because power comes as early as 1500rpm and is delivered smoothly throughout the power curve.

Gear changes are snappy and spontaneous with nicely located paddle shifters behind the steering wheel which will come in handy whenever the situation calls for it. Before I even knew it, I am already on the verge of breaching the highway speed limits.

This car delivers a zero to 100kph sprint in seven plus seconds, which is a remarkable and respectable time for a 1.6 litre car. This car will outrun many Japanese and even continental D-segments models with bigger engine displacements.

Note that I am comparing a C-segment compact sedan with larger and more expensive cars in the D-segments.

I took this car for a drive on the Karak highway all the way to Kuantan and back. The suspension, front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links type, is set up beautifully to tackle the winding roads. It is tenacious and spunky in entering and exiting the corners, holds the line well and the chassis rigidity is commendable. I honestly never expected the handling of a Korean C-segment to be able to assume such a regal control over twisty roads.

On the straight, the cabin exhibits exemplary insulation with noise, vibration and harshness at very low levels. Even if the suspension is on the stiffer side, it is able to soak up uneven roads and potholes without the typical jarring sensation and good ride comfort is evident throughout the journey.

I was truly fascinated by the driving experience delivered by the car.


To sum it up

The Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI is a sports model that is easy and comfortable to drive. In a sense this car is like an understatement — for some unruffled, laid-back driving. But a raw and lively personality beckons under the bonnet where it takes off when push comes to shove ... once the accelerator is prodded the sports mode is activated.

It is no thoroughbred sports car but the characteristics of the Hyundai Elantra Sports 1.6 T-GDI mean it is more than capable of handling a sporty driving style, while on the flip side it remains a practical daily car with decent fuel economy.

The Hyundai Elantra sports 1.6 T-GDI retails for RM131,488 excluding insurance and comes with a five year/300,000km warranty, three year/50,000km free service and 24/7 roadside assist.

Richard Teng([email protected]) is a reformed boy racer who grew up down south. His motoring philosophy is “power is nothing without control”. He spent his younger years studying and repairing 4x4s and off-road motorcycles, and was an avid fan of heavily souped-up racing cars.