FLOGGING SMURFETTE’S CAMP BUS
By Casey Williams
I’ve driven several Hyundai Elantra sedans as rental cars, and they are great with their comfortable rides, resilient handling, and easy cruising powertrains. When the Elantra Touring arrived, I imagined more of what I already knew, with a longer body. Then, the drive. Something seemed very familiar, but yet strange.
Painted Vivid Blue, our test Elantra shone like Smurfette’s camp bus. Except for subtle chrome at the top of the grille and on the alloy wheels, most of the car’s beauty comes from sweeping body lines that flow from headlamps that lead into the front fenders, through an arching roofline, and end in tall wrap-around tail lamps. The rear is longer than a hatchback, but not as long as a traditional station wagon, making it both sporty and roomy. The shape looks as much Volvo or Volkswagen as Hyundai, making you want to jump in and go.
And you can. With the rear seats folded, my partner and I loaded in a weekend’s worth of tents, coolers, food, hiking gear, laptop computer bags, iPODs, and enough clothes to survive two seasons. Our camping buddies loaded their Toyota pickup with less gear and had to leave it exposed during the two-hour drive to our campsites. Getting supplies home from Super Big Box Mart should also be a cinch.
Riding inside is as enjoyable for people as cargo. Padded door and dash materials are as much German as Korean. From the netted and canvas seats with electric heat to the leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome door handles, and soft plastic textures, the car feels high quality. Even the shift knob felt custom made to please. Our car was loaded to the roof rack with power windows, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, moonroof, XM Satellite Radio, power seats, auto down driver’s window, integrated steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, and Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. IPODs can be connected directly to the car’s controls with a USB port.
Going down the highway, or carving up back roads, it felt like there was considerably more than the claimed 138 horsepower the 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine supposedly generates. The engine felt smooth and powerful enough to have a turbocharger attached, but breathes normally. Our test car came with the standard five-speed manual transmission and B&M Racing Sport Shifter. My partner, who notoriously kills manual trans. cars in intersections, couldn’t have driven the Elantra with more grace. Fuel economy ratings of 23/31-MPG city/hwy. took pity on my furlough-depleted wallet.
It’s not just the powertrain Hyundai engineers fawned over. Move the steering wheel even a little off dead center and the car reacts immediately. I swerved to avoid a small mammal and nearly hit the shoulder of the road. Hauling down the highway, the steering gives great feedback from the 17” chrome alloy wheels shod with low-profile tires. A fully independent suspension system is athletic while reserving enough travel to absorb rough pavement with barely more than a hushed rumble. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, Electronic Stability Control, and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (compensates for pull when braking hard) keep the car on its desired trajectory.
Even after several long drives, something about the Elantra Touring felt both familiar and strange. There was a hint of Volkswagen, but that wasn’t it. It didn’t really feel like other Hyundais either. Then, it hit me. It drives very much like the excellent new Mazda3, a benchmark for quality and fun in sporty compact cars. Hyundais have been good rides for a long time, but this is one to covet.
If you’re in the family way, you’ll be happy to know the Elantra Touring is safe. A well-designed body structure and a full array of airbags help the car achieve five stars, for drivers and passengers in frontal crashes, according to government ratings. Front and rear seats rate four stars in side crashes; rollovers are rated four stars.
With the Elantra Touring, Hyundai delivered far more car than I expected. They’ve not only taken a station wagon and made it cool, but also made it drive as well as the top compacts available. Being Hyundai, there’s also incredible value. With standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain and 5-year/80,000 overall warranty, our Elantra Touring came to $20,445. Smurfette will not find a more cool camping bus.
2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Five-passenger, FWD Wagon.
Powertrain: 138-HP 2.0-litre I4,
5-speed manual trans.
Economy (MPG): 23/31 city/hwy.
Must-have features: Sport, Space.
Manufacturing: Ulsan, S. Korea.
Base price: $17,800
As tested: $20,445
Hyundai is not a gay-friendly company.
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