Throwback Review: Wanting to Be Everything to Everyone

A Victory & Reseda "Throwback Review" of the 2007 Hyundai Elantra

At the 2007 New York Auto Show, Hyundai's rolled out its latest global attempt at a prestige-class automobile. To coincide with its debut, Hyundai Motors America began a new marketing campaign comparing its models to other prestige brands. For example, to compare a Sonata V6 to a BMW is a stretch. If it works to bring consumers wanting a BMW without paying Bavarian prices into Hyundai showrooms, maybe the guys in Fountain Valley are the smartest people in the room.

With a new 2007 Hyundai Elantra GLS at my disposal, I hoped to test this theory. Yet, I also wonder what cars would an Elantra compare to upmarket. If I find that it fails to compare with anything other than a Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 or Honda Civic, then whom am I fooling?

After a few miles in the Elantra, I began to compute Hyundai's new marketing strategy in my head. How does this compare to a Volvo C30, S40, MINI Cooper, Audi A3, Volkswagen Rabbit or Jetta? Does it need to be compared to these vehicles for the sake of its eminent move further upscale? Rather, does it matter at all since the Elantra is designed for the middle-of-the-road consumer looking for a compact sedan to commute in?

Frankly, the Elantra was good, but it fell short of some expectations. To describe every aspect of the car, the word "almost" came to mind. It looks good, but it doesn’t turn heads. Maybe I prefer a car that drives anonymously. If that is the case, the Elantra does sport a roomy cabin, a huge trunk and adds a few convenient touches for practical purposes. The rear headroom and flaky gas filler door detract from a better-than-decent package.

To compensate for its shortcomings was my first exposure to XM satellite radio. If you choose to have one equipped in your Elantra, you get XM for three months without charge. If you like it, go ahead and subscribe to the service. For those of us who live in places where terrestrial radio falls short of expectations, XM is a decent choice. However, for the programming, my choice would be Sirius with OutQ, CBC Radio One and CBC Radio 3 among the listings. Yet, XM offers you exclusive coverage of Major League Baseball. See my quandary over these two satellite offerings? If I really wanted a Hyundai and selected to add satellite radio with my car, my only choice will be XM. I'll live without Larry Flick and Jeremy Hovies…maybe.

Ok, I'll admit it's the XM Comedy channel (XM 150) that sucked me in! It made my drive a LOL time!

Speaking of the drive, this is where the "almost" comes into play. In almost every aspect of the Elantra's driving experience, there seems to be a lithe feeling to it. Granted it is not a Buick, however I prefer my cars to have a "thunk solid" quality to it. The 2.0 liter motor is a willing one, but you have to nudge it a bit to get there. Braking is decent, but the steering seems too light for what it’s supposed to do. As for the ride and handling package, the Elantra's lithe experience comes into play. It rides well, but maybe a bit too nice. Luckily, I did not lose control of the car. This is a good sign that Hyundai can make a middle-of-the-road compact sedan.

Even better is the fuel economy. In the past, you can count on the Koreans to lack the efficiency of its Japanese rivals. This is no longer the case. The Elantra turned a 27.6 MPG loop, which is pretty darn good for the mix of driving it endured from my right foot.

To buy a first year new model is a risk. What recall notices or quality glitches will I encounter when I step into one? Right off, the Elantra is a quality vehicle. Not exactly sterling, but the Elantra is simply well built and finished. One caveat before you buy one: if you have tall people in your life and they have to sit in back, skip this car. If it’s just you, your boo and your baby (interpret either one as you wish), this is your best middle-of-the-road choice. Enthusiasts looking for a compact sedan, keep moving until you find a Mazda dealer.

It concerns me that Hyundai wants to be everything to everybody. Given the path it forged from crappy Excels of twenty years ago to the quality products of today, buyers still want middle-of-the-road and affordable transportation. For every Veracruz, Azera and Genesis your local Hyundai dealer sells in a day, 5 Elantras will be waiting in the delivery port for their new owners. Then again, 7 more Alabama-built Sonatas will be waiting there as well.

So, Hyundai, do me a favor and wait until you get the Genesis before you compare yourselves to the premium brands. Concentrate your efforts towards whittling away at Toyota and Honda before you go after the more fabulous fish in the pond. Your Elantra owners will thank you.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle was rented by Randy Stern

All photos by Randy Stern

PRE-OWNED VEHICLE INFORMATION: Per a search on several car shopping sites, V&R found there were several 2007 Hyundai Elantras available between $1,900 and $9,600. Mileage and condition varies, but most were found with over 90,000 miles on the odometer, the highest being over 261,000 miles. Always have any vehicle inspected before purchase.

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