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1995 Hyundai Elantra

All new!

Two of the most alluring words in car talk, all right.

But sometimes you have to wonder: is new necessarily better?

Technology rich products like today’s vehicles are demanding to design and build. Getting them right can take time occasionally, a lot of time.

Automakers, of course, try to make us ignore lingering reservations about the durability of their latest pricey creations by giving them flashy new sheet metal and “now” interiors.

As for those much touted, high tech breakthroughs under the tin, we’re assured they’ve been thoroughly debugged in the lab and in a gazillion kilometres of track and real world testing.

Trust us, the manufacturer purrs it’s all been taken care of.

Usually, they’re right (and those new looks can be mighty tempting). But embarrassing cases in which new stuff falls short of its billing suggest that buying a tried and true design may not be such a bad strategy.

These thoughts motored to mind during a week spent with a 1995 Hyundai Elantra GLS, a sporty compact sedan that debuted way back in model year 1992.

Since an all new those words again! 1996 Elantra is slated to arrive in February, the outgoing model hardly rates a second glance, conventional wisdom says.

But, whoa there, the ’95 is worth checking out, particularly if spending minimum money for maximum value is your key concern.

My white copy, with burgundy cloth interior, had the tightly honed feel of a machine put together by people high up on the learning curve.

Even though this South Korean built front driver has been on Metro streets since August, 1991, it still has a clean, contemporary look. Its modestly aerolines even manage to be distinctive no small feat nowadays.

The Elantra, available only as a four-door, is offered in two trim levels base GL and spiffy GLS.

The lowball version with five-speed manual box has a 1.6 litre, four cylinder engine rated at 113 horsepower. Opting for a four speed automatic transmission automatically elevates you to a 1.8 L four rated at 124 h.p.

Both sideways mounted power plants sport double overhead camshaft and 16 valve credentials. And both have twin counter rotating balance shafts to smooth out vibrations.

The GLS gets the bigger engine with either transmission. My five-speed tester exhibited ample go, particularly when wound close to its 7000 r.p.m. red line. Engine noise is present but not unpleasant.

The transmission shifted willingly enough, but the third gear slot felt like it was mere millimetres to the right of first, and the shifter’s spring loading was weak. As a result, the two three shift wasn’t the precise, unhesitating snap it should be.

Independent suspension all around and stabilizer bars front and rear help deliver a composed ride. Nicely weighted rack and pinion power steering takes the sting out of tight corners.

The GLS model comes with gas-pressurized shock absorbers and 60-series Michelin performance tires to further polish vehicle dynamics.

Those gas shocks, incidentally, were part of a 1994 model year revamp aimed at boosting the Elantra’s chances in the super tough compact sedan segment. Improvements included touched up styling, plus revised suspension geometry for flatter cornering and a shorter turning radius for better maneuverability.

That’s the sort of fine tuning over time that you just can’t buy with a freshly minted design.

The GLS cabin offers satisfactory room and comfort. The intricate dashboard wouldn’t look out of place in a considerably more expensive car.

One nice touch: the daytime running lights activate the taillights and instrument lights; handy as dusk approaches or when

you suddenly find yourself in an underpass.

The GLS comes with standard power windows, but power locks and power side mirrors are optional; the tester lacked both.

The manual mirrors you’ll probably be able to live with, since both have interior adjuster knobs to spare you the indignity of having to roll down the window and push on the mirror face.

But no power locks? Only if you’re big on self-denial. To get them, you have to take a $450 package that also has power mirrors and cruise control.

Base Elantra prices start at $12,295; you can get into a GLS from $14,195. Dealers are in a let’s talk mood to clear the decks for the ’96s.

My GLS had a standard driver’s side air bag and optional air conditioning but no anti-lock brakes. A five-year/100,000 km major component warranty is standard.

(ABS, including rear disc brakes, is offered as part of a $1,445 package. If you’re under cash pressure, I’d consider doing without anti-lock, unless you’re fond of racing in the rain. You’ve probably already driven plenty of klicks without it, and who knows what service/repair costs may loom down the line.)

The car’s price as tested: $15,445. That’s a lot of auto for the argent. Unless you’re determined to be a slave to novelty, it could be the way to go.

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