With cars, size isn’t everything. When hatchbacks are thoughtfully designed, they’ll hold a lot more than their small footprints would suggest. That’s the case with Hyundai’s newest compact version, the 2009 Elantra Touring.
This isn’t just an Elantra sedan with a liftgate, as was the case with the Elantra Hatchback, last seen for 2006. It’s a model known as the i30 in Europe, Australia and Asia, and while it shares the Elantra’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it has a different platform. European models are built in the Czech Republic, while ours come from Korea.
Four trim lines range from $14,995 to $21,195, with an extra $1,200 on each to switch from five-speed manual to four-speed automatic.
At 138 horsepower, the Touring isn’t the most powerful in the segment, but this isn’t really a category for brute strength. It feels lively enough, even when climbing hills, and gets loud only when punched hard to get around highway traffic.
Handling is much better than expected, with nicely-weighted steering, minimal body lean in corners, small steering wheel, and smooth return from sharp curves. The ride is firm, but while you feel bumps on bad roads, the suspension doesn’t crash over them.
The i30 comes in two wheelbase lengths, but our Touring exclusively uses the larger 2,700-mm one, which is longer than any of the challengers Hyundai is targeting — and a long wheelbase helps with a smoother ride.
The base L trim line comes with power windows and locks, but you must move up to the Preferred Package, at $2,250 more, to get A/C, keyless entry, heated seats, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and active front head restraints, which help prevent whiplash. What’s missing on all models is electronic stability control. It’s standard or optional elsewhere, including the U.S., but not offered here because it would have pushed the price too high, Hyundai Canada says.
This is where I’m supposed to scold about how important this feature is, and I’d like to, given our oft-slippery Canadian roads and the fact that entry-level buyers are often young, inexperienced drivers. But the reality is that even inexpensive cars represent a lot of money, and with automakers trying to meet what buyers will pay, Hyundai isn’t the only one. Among competitors, ESC is standard only on the pricier Pontiac Vibe and Subaru Impreza; it’s optional on VW Rabbit and Saturn Astra, elective only on higher trim levels of Toyota Matrix and Dodge Caliber, and unavailable on the 2009 Mazda3, Kia Spectra5 and Nissan Versa.
Legroom is considerable both front and rear, and Hyundai says its cargo volume is the class leader: 689 litres with the rear seats up, and 1,848 with them folded. Low-slung “shingle-style” rear head restraints don’t need to be removed to fold the seats, and they aid rearward visibility, along with generous rear quarter windows that make shoulder-checks easier than with many hatchbacks.
In this crowded segment, Hyundai hasn’t quite brought a gun to the knife-fight, but it’s got a very sharp blade. Intelligently sized, nice to drive and well-finished, it should be more than enough for many buyers’ needs.
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Type: Compact hatchback
Engine: 2.4L four-cylinder
• Small but spacious
• Affordable pricing