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Second-Hand: Hyundai Elantra

Many who have actually had a Hyundai Elantra experience, even second-hand, have been largely satisfied.

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“I regret buying this car,” blogged an Elantra driver. “`The colour is nice’ was the only compliment this car ever got from other people.”

Poor, hapless Hyundai owners.

While the South Korean conglomerate has ridden a rapid escalator to respectability in the new-car market, a used Hyundai still gets parked in the third row on dealers’ lots, a neglected wallflower in a sea of overachieving econoboxes and sporty poseurs.

Shame really, as many who have actually had an Elantra experience, even second-hand, have been largely satisfied.

The Elantra was introduced in 1992 as a front-drive four-door sedan with an uncanny resemblance to a Toyota Corolla. Hyundai’s entry in the hotly contested compact segment offered all the right stuff: a sweet DOHC 1.6 L engine, well-appointed cabin and carefully engineered price.

Indicative of its maker, the Elantra made great leaps with each new iteration. The third-generation 2001 model demonstrated much-improved levels of mechanical refinement, space and styling.

So why the inferiority complex?

CONFIGURATION

The 2001 Elantra arrived only as a four-door sedan. Curiously, the five-door wagon had been given a pink slip and was escorted out of the building without an explanation.

The sedan’s wheelbase grew by 6 cm and its height by 3 cm to better accommodate growing North Americans. The Elantra featured a six-way adjustable driver’s seat and even the seatbelt anchor points could be altered to enhance comfort.

While the interior design didn’t break any new ground, it was well equipped and friendly. The large gauges were easy to read, and the ventilation system consisted of three big rotary switches – a timeless design that defies improvement.

Elantras came in two trim levels in Canada: GL and VE (Very Excellent?), while American buyers got only a full-zoot GLS.

A DOHC 2.0 L four-cylinder remained the only engine – a carryover from the previous generation – though it was thoroughly renovated.

Now subframe-mounted, with a ribbed iron block and eight-counterweight crank, the “Beta” engine spun more smoothly, making 140 hp and 133 lb.-ft of torque. An intake resonator and a muffler with a bypass valve that only opened at higher revs further quelled engine clatter.

There were other refinements, too: shock absorbers were upgraded from hydraulic to gas-filled and wheel diameters grew to 15 inches from 14.

Elantra buyers could choose between a five-speed manual gearbox and four-speed automatic with a “fuzzy-logic” controller to minimize persistent up- and downshifts.

To make up for the wagon’s dismissal Hyundai introduced a GT five-door hatchback for 2002. GTs featured a sport suspension, alloy wheels and four-wheel disc brakes – but no more power under the hood.

The Elantra got a new grille, taillights, cockpit controls and console for 2004 as part of its mid-cycle freshening. The engine received continuously variable intake-valve timing.

The fourth-generation model arrived just in the nick of time for 2007; after six years the third-gen Elantra had been getting long in the tooth.

ON THE ROAD

Careful massaging of this econo-car’s bits yielded a surprisingly satisfying drive.

Acceleration was better than the segment average: 0 to 96 km/h came up in 8.5 seconds with the five-speed stick (add about a second for the autobox) – and this despite the car’s comparatively heavy curb weight.

The mass proved itself useful, however, as the platform was solid with relatively few creaks and rattles that come with age.

The Elantra sedan generated 0.75 g of lateral grip, again slightly better than the econobox class average. Braking was typical, requiring a longish 62 metres to stop from a speed of 112 km/h.

While many owners liked the Hyundai’s soft, comfy ride, others found it a little floaty and less rewarding to drive than, say, a Honda Civic or Ford Escort. But not by much.

“Five-speed fun, but handles like a big fat kid juking on a layup,” read one blog. Discuss amongst yourselves.

In a major-magazine comparo of 10 economy cars, a 2002 Elantra ranked second overall, right behind the Mazda Protegé and ahead of the Corolla – good company by any measure.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

“I saved $4,000 to $5,000 in comparison to a (used) Civic or Corolla,” reader Ian Duffield happily recounted. “The Elantras are stealth cars – no one knows they are very well built.”

No question the 2001-06 Elantra has earned some strong endorsements from owners. Still, there are some reliability issues used-car shoppers should be aware of.

Early (2001) models exhibited some electrical problems, including faulty headlamps, power windows, CD players and other accessories. There have also been reports of short-lived fuel pumps and cracked exhaust manifolds.

The automatic transmission is known for its “shift flare” (engine racing between shifts), which can be corrected by reprogramming the transmission control module.

Newer years have been better, but there’s a concern about broken clutches on five-speed models. Numerous owners have reported clutches lasting only 50,000 to 80,000 km – one-third the normal life expectancy.

“At 42,000 km, my clutch failed. The clutch didn’t slip or show any signs that it was about to break,” reported one driver.

Hyundai’s five-year warranty would not cover this “wear item” – which often involved other transmission components – infuriating owners.

Another issue is paint delamination, especially on black cars; paint has only a three-year warranty.

Despite these weaknesses, the Elantra has served most owners well.

It’s definitely worth a look, especially at the depreciated prices Hyundais get on the used-car market – for now.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Buick Rendezvous, Volvo S60 and Toyota Corolla. Email: [email protected].

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