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1998 Hyundai Elantra

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Dimples, dimples everywhere on this Hyundai Elantra, a car that eschews the faux-sporty or, at the other end of the spectrum, faux-serious styling trends that populate the compact class.

My purple test Elantra was gorgeous and carried no excess adornment. It is refreshing and friendly without resorting to cuteness.

It's all due to the dimples, which are all over the place, from the indentations around the nose's air intakes to the subtle crease along the car's side.

Together, they help tighten up the car's looks and keep it from looking like a jellybean. Inside, they surround the air vents, the climate controls and the hand-brake. The instrument needles are swept around by dimpled discs. Heck, even the key has dimples in it, for a better grip.

Despite all its curves (there isn't a flat surface on the car except for the floor) the Elantra is very nicely made, especially taking into consideration previous South Korean cars' reputation for shoddy build quality.

Granted, the materials that are being worked with here sometimes aren't up to the same level as the car's competitors. The Elantra's trunk shuts with a tinny kaching, and the interior plastics are hard, shiny and sound hollow.

The seats, though firm and comfortable, are thin enough that you can get kneed through them from behind.

But overall, Hyundai's designers have done a good job; the interior looks great and feels airy.

My only complaints concern the radio and climate controls, both of which are mounted way too low to operate while driving, and the light plastic dashboard surface throws big reflections onto the windshield at night.

The Elantra is powered by a 1.8 L, 130 hp engine that's more powerful than most of its major competitors', save for Chrysler's Neon twins. Coupled to my GLS tester's standard four-speed automatic, it hauled the car around town easily, though the transmission's tall fourth gear left it gasping for breath during highway-speed passing manoeuvres.

Switching off the overdrive helped, but the car groaned rather than zinged its way past tractor-trailers. (A five-speed manual is standard on GL and SE models, and is likely a better choice, if you're willing to live without power windows and central locking.)

The Elantra's brakes are front discs and rear drums; optional four-channel ABS upgrades the rears to ventilated discs. In either case, they're attached to a pleasantly firm pedal.

The steering feels a bit heavy, and the ride is firm, filtering out all but the biggest bumps, which, unfortunately, crash right through the car. Together, they give the car a driving sensation that's more European than silky-smooth Japanese.

Starting at $14,295 for a base GL sedan, the Elantra undercuts most of its major competitors and is better-equipped to boot.

The SE begins at $15,295, and the GLS at $17,545. Rare in this class, the Elantra is also available as a wagon for a $1,000 premium.

While how the car will hold up over the years is still up in the air — judging by the car's build quality, it's likely to acquit Hyundai's previously shoddy reputation — in its price range, it's certainly the best-looking, most interestingly detailed car you can buy.



PRICING INFORMATION

Elantra GLS sedan:

$17,545

Metallic paint: $125

Delivery charge: $360

Price as tested: $18,030



Short Turn is an occasional column describing quick

impressions of new vehicles supplied by the manufacturer.

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