2004 Hyundai Elantra GLS

To all established car makers, Watch OUT, Hyundai is catching up quicker than you can imagine!

Background
This compact sedan was acquired as a rental vehicle with ~1,500 miles on the odometer at time of pick up. It stayed with us for three days. We drove approximately ~1,750 miles. We ripped the Elantra wide open on US101 from San Francisco to Mazda’s annual SevenStock event in Irvine, spent some time stuck in the “lovely” Los Angeles traffic. We then traveled from Irvine to Death Valley National Park to endure the 120 degree tire shearing heat at -200 feet elevation. On our return trip, we took the US395 stretch from Lone Pine to Lee Vining’s very own – Mono Lake. We sailed through the twisty + 8000 ft elevation on US120 passing Yosemite to come back to the Bay. The entire trip in the Elantra was with 3 average size adults. We averaged about 31 mpg.

 Introduction
Hyundai replaced its second generation Elantra in 2001. The Elantra, we drove here is the third generation, face-lifted in late 2003 as a 2004 model. This particular one was built in Ulsan, South Korea. The GLS is the base model of the Elantra line up. It has Hyundai’s Beta 2.0L 16 valves DOHC I-4 engine with continuous variable valve timing – Hyundai calls it CVVT; not sure on how much this Beta engine is derived from the previous Mitsubishi engines that Hyundai once relied on in the past. The engine is transversely mounted in the engine bay driving the front wheels via a 4 speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The transmission has Hyundai Intelligent Vehicle Electronic Control (HIVEC), a logic system to minimize persistent up and downshifts on grades. The engine pumps out 138hp@6000rpm, and 136Ib-ft of torque@4000 rpm. Traction is provided by a set of P195/60R15 tires, wrapped around by a set of Michelin Energy MXV4 Plus. The chassis is supported by independent MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar in the front corners. The rear is supported by independent multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar. Stopping power is generated by ventilated front disc/rear drum brakes.

 Impression
Initially we were quite satisfied with what it has to offer for its price tag, however, the more time we spent driving this 2004 Elantra, the more we felt like we are driving a Japanese car of the mid 1990’s. A particular model that came to mind is a ’96 Geo Prizm LSi, a.k.a. Toyota Corolla. It is not a bad thing, considering Japanese compact size cars always being a tough competitive segment, and the compact size car segment has been dominated by Japanese makers, especially Corollas and Civics for years if not a decade. They are perfectly comfortable for pure commute and grocery shopping. However, this is a 2004 model, shouldn’t this Elantra drives like a car built in the recent years? Perhaps, Korean cars are still couple of years behind the main stream Japanese cars.
First thing that one might wish for is a sportier or maybe a slightly stiffer suspension with larger stabilizer bars. The suspensions are tuned more for a relax style driver. If you do not corner the car too hard, the ride behaves with good manner where the suspensions willingly absorb and dampen the body motion from the bumps and any unevenness on the pavement nicely. Only occasionally, the ride misbehaves over on some larger bumps. The front suspensions set up also offer good steering response and feedback from the road – very Japanese like. But if you push the car harder at freeway on-ramp or and at higher speed corner, would provoke excessive body roll, and the steering input and feedback becomes dull and inaccurate with a hint of mild understeer. It becomes a challenge to drive it fast through the mountain passes with a steady cornering line. Hopefully the standard “Sport Tune Suspension” on the Elantra GT, and GLS 5-door will be a better selection for those of us who like stiffer rides.Braking is progressive and linear. Even though, it uses drums in the rear and without ABS, but its brake feel and operation leave us no question or complaint about its braking ability. We have yet experienced any fading at a prolong decline. The braking feels better than Corolla and Civic. The Elantra’s brake pedal travel, and operation effort offers a familiar experience to the Nissans that we usually drive, and we are use to that solid feel with the precise amount of feedback between the pedal and the car.The Beta engine in this Elantra is reasonably smooth and quiet at cruise speed, but it is a little loud and slightly harsh when we punch the throttle to accelerate to freeway speed or passing. The stiff engine block, eight crankshaft counterweights, and hydraulic engine mounts offer smooth engine operation at cruising speed. This Beta engine pumps out adequate power to propel its 2700Ibs curb weight. This adequate power is contributed by its longer stoke than bore engine configuration which gives healthy dose for torque at mid engine speed. The higher rpm performance benefited from Hyundai’s CVVT. With the four valves per cylinder and distributorless ignition system, the Elantra is zippy enough to pass through traffic. However, like most small displacement 4 cylinders, there is not that much power under 2000rpm. This also applies to the 2.0L iron block, aluminum head Elantra.Mated to a transmission with short gear ratios, the engine does not spend too much time under 2000 rpm. We found the transmission is capable of providing smooth kickdown and upshift actions willingly. Hyundai has done a very good job on the drivetrain, the combination of a willingly transmission and zippy engine proven to be the good recipe especially for a car in this price rangeThe features in this GLS line up provide tolerable comfort for the 21st century. The air conditioning is very good. It kept the cabin cool efficiently in the heat soaking Death Valley. There has no complaint of insufficient room in the front seats. But the seating were lack of lateral support. We have no problem in finding our desired driving position, the seat and steering adjustment allows fine adjustment. The distance between the driver to the pedals, steering wheel, and center console buttons are all within reach. This Elantra also provides very good visibility throughout the vehicle without any noticeable blind spots. Our tolerance went short with the sound quality the AM/FM/Tape player. The speakers’ sounded like they are dated back to the late 1980s. It does not even equip with a standard CD player. Who will still listen to cassette tapes? Aren’t tapes already obsolete a decade ago? It is a disappointment to us to drive a brand new 2004 vehicle without a CD player. Another disappointment comes in the appearance of the smallish digital clock, located on the center console’s ventilation vents. It looks more like the first digital clock I got two decades ago and it looks to be about the same size as well. Even though the GLS is the base model but why don’t Hyundai just eliminate the homely clock, and replace the AM/FM/Tape player with a CD receiver with a built-in clock? Add some slightly better speakers, and raise the price tag by $100. I think most if not all of the customer would definitely willing to pay the $100 for the CD player and better speakers. I would!

Workmanship is quite good. Hyundai has come a long way on quality control and selection of materials throughout the passenger compartment. Road and wind noises are also nicely controlled majority of the time. Occasionally, road noise is a little loud when traveling on coarse surface. Gauge cluster are very legible, regardless of day or night; but the style is just a little too plain. Switchgears are very self explanatory – extremely user friendly and simple to use. Since this Elantra is a sedan. It offers the functionality of most of the compact size sedan in the market. The Elantra is capable of swallowing 13 cubic feet of cargo in its trunk. The cargo capacity can be increased with the 60/40 split backseat folded down.
Overall Impression Rating Scale
Performance & Acceleration: 7
Comment: Freeway entry, passing, and merging at ease. Good performer in its price group.
 Engine: 7
Comment: As good as the 2.0L engines from Japan. Good amount of torque. A bit unrefined at higher RPM.

Handling & Cornering: 5.5
Comment: A lot of body roll, soft suspension setup. Unpredictable, and harder to control when push hard into a corner.

Brake Feel: 8
Comment: Progressive, linear braking. Good pedal feedback and effort.

Ride Characteristic: 7.5
Comment: Suspension provides sufficient support for typical commute usage, and un-rushed driving style.

Interior Comfort: 9
Comment: No complaints from driver or passengers. Well done.

Workmanship: 8
Comment: J.D. Power and Associate Initial Quality Study ranked second, tie with Honda. A well built vehicle especially in its price segment.

Functionality: 8
Comments: Very user friendly, typical sedan like.

Technology: 6.5
Comments: No fancy electronics, but equipped with currently mass used technologies in the market.

Afterthoughts:
This is a very well done sedan for its $15,000 price tag. It is not technologically advanced, but practical and dependable enough for commuters to transport themselves from point A to point B. With the best warranty package you can find in America, there is not much to worry about mechanically. However, most car enthusiasts tend to develop bonds to their vehicles but this is not the case for Hyundai. To me, a Hyundai is not a vehicle that you really need to care about shopping cart scratches in the parking lot, bird droppings on the paint, nor rock chips on the hood. It is just a car that does the job, and doesn’t ask much for return, and doesn’t really need to establish emotional attachment from its owner. It should be a vehicle that someone will drive until it quits, and never regard about how badly it was being treated. Lack of characteristic and boring can be the current image of Hyundai to most of us. Hyundai currently is the most improving vehicle manufacture, not only in quality but number of car sales as well. Hopefully, Hyundai can also improve on its brand image and create a produce that can develop a bond for its owners. If I am in the market for a base model commuter/beater however, I would highly consider buying the Elantra instead of the over-priced, over-populated, but under-performed Civic and Corolla. Or should I get a used late 1990 Geo Prizm for $11,000 less? END