2004 Elantra New Car Test Drive
The Hyundai Elantra is handsome, comfortable, versatile, and fun to drive. It would be a decent car if it cost thousands more. For under $14,000, it's a genuine bargain. Elantra comes with one of the most powerful standard engines in the subcompact class, and is among the quickest. It handles as well as many of its competitors and has the sporty feel we like in a smaller car.
The interior is nicely finished and more comfortable than many subcompacts, including the big name brands. Standard equipment surpasses that offered on cars costing thousands more, and includes side airbags. Measured by build quality, Elantra meets or beats most of its competitors. We believe it will exceed most buyers' expectations. It's no surprise the Elantra is Hyundai's best-selling car in North America with annual sales of about 120,000.
Elantra is available as both a sedan and hatchback, the latter combining the practical advantages of a small wagon with the sleeker look of a sedan. The hatchback is hard to beat for its functionality and looks, but most American buyers prefer sedans. So Hyundai now offers the high-trim Elantra GT as a sedan or a hatchback.
Concerned about reliability? Hyundai's warranty is one of the best available. The basic warranty lasts five years or 60,000 miles for the original owner, with free roadside assistance throughout. The engine and transmission are warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and Hyundai protects Elantra from rust-through for five years or 100,000 miles.
For 2004, Elantra has been updated with several interior improvements and mildly different styling. Frankly, you'll have to look carefully to spot the sheet metal changes, but that's fine. The Elantra is an impressive buy either way.
Hyundai Elantra is offered in two trim levels and two body styles. The base Elantra GLS comes only as a four-door sedan; the better-equipped GT is available as a five-door hatchback and a sedan.
All models share the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 138 horsepower, making Elantra one of the most powerful cars in its class. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. An automatic transmission is optional ($800) for either model.
The GLS sedan ($13,299) comes with an impressive array of standard features, including air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks and a center console with armrest. For 2004, remote keyless entry and an alarm are standard on all Elantras. The security system allows the trunk or hatch to be unlocked with the key without disarming the alarm.
Safety features are anything but economy grade: front-passenger side-impact airbags come standard and there are three-point harnesses at all five seating positions. Packaged with traction control, antilock brakes (ABS) are an option on all models ($525).
The Elantra GT ($14,849) substantially expands the GLS sedan's standard-equipment list. Fashioned in the spirit of a European sports sedan, the GT comes with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension, five-spoke aluminum wheels, and fog lamps. Four-wheel disc brakes replace the disc/drum combination on the GLS. Leather seating and a trip computer that projects range are standard, too (try finding those on any other car in this price range), as are cruise control and a rear-glass wiper and washer. Even the shift knob and steering wheel are leather-wrapped, and the instrument lights glow purple (Dude!).
The GT's stereo has been upgraded for 2004. Supplied by Kenwood, this CD/MP3 player blasts 200 watts of music through six speakers and features a removable faceplate that displays in multiple colors. It also comes with a grip-style remote control (presumably intended for passengers in the back seat, and not the driver).
These prices represent an increase of $800 for the GLS and $700 for the GT compared to 2003. That's substantial, but given new standard features and the level of accommodations, the increases don't substantially alter Elantra's price/value equation.
Both GT body styles list for the same price. Hyundai says it added the sedan in response to customer requests, but we prefer the more daring styling and increased carrying capacity of the hatchback. With its big hatch opening and split folding rear seat, the five-door is remarkably versatile for a car its size.
Other options are limited, and packaged largely in what Hyundai calls accessory groups. Cruise control is available as a stand-alone on the GLS ($200). Group 3 ($550) includes cruise and an electronically tuned stereo/CD upgrade, while Group 4 ($1,075) adds ABS and traction control to these items. Group 5 ($1,225) includes cruise, the stereo upgrade and a power moonroof, and Group 6 ($1,775) delivers the works: cruise control, CD, moonroof, ABS and traction control.
The only options available on the GT are ABS/traction control and the moonroof ($700). Port-installed accessories include woodgrain trim ($225), mud guards ($60), a cargo net ($38) and a cargo tray for the hatchback ($70). The GLS can be fitted with a rear spoiler ($375) and carpeted floor mats ($78), which come standard with the GT.