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1999 Hyundai Elantra

For sheer real-world usefulness, it's hard to beat a compact station wagon.

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

For sheer real-world usefulness, it's hard to beat a compact station wagon.

And when that wagon packs curbside appeal and convincing performance, you've got a vehicle to which attention must be paid.

Such was the case with a 1999 metallic-silver Hyundai Elantra GLS wagon that I checked out.

It was outfitted with a four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission with a Power setting — handy for those highway times when speed is of the essence.

The interior was done in a tasteful gray cloth.

For '99, the front-wheel-drive Elantra line — sedan and wagon — gets a beefed-up engine from the South Korean company's Tiburon sports coupe.

This 16-valve, twin-cam 2.0 L four rated at 136 hp, four down from the Tib likes to rev, and that's great. Who says it's illegal to have some fun in a station wagon?

Elantras of 1998 vintage had a 130-horse, 1.8 L four.

All four wheels are independently sprung to keep your rubber on the road. Up front are MacPherson struts — i.e., a coil spring and shock absorber in one compact unit at each wheel.

Out back are more coils, plus a multi-link suspension whose flexible arms massage wheel location. Stabilizer bars fore and aft are also on the job, cutting body roll.

It all adds up to superior ride and handling for this class of car.

The second-generation Elantra, along with a wagon, arrived in model year 1996. The sedan debuted for '92.

The little hauler has undergone a facelift this year.

The smooth result, to my eye, is one of the nicest-looking wagons around.

Hyundai has worked to reduce wind and engine noise for '99, but further efforts in this direction would be wise.

Elantra wagons come in two flavours: base GL and upscale GLS.

My GLS appeared well screwed together and carried ample equipment, including dual airbags; power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise; and a locking gas cap. I gladly accepted the absence of a sunroof for the extra headroom.

The instrument panel is easy to use, but strains for flamboyance. The designers would have been smarter to emulate the exterior's low-key appeal.

The four-spoke steering wheel on my copy had a manual tilt adjustment that proved balky at times.

Seats are unusually comfortable; even the rear bench offers good lumbar support. That and back windows that go almost all the way down made the rear a pleasant perch for me.

You also get good rear head- and toe-room, but knee-room is a little tight if you're behind a six-footer.

With the 60/40 split rear bench folded flat, cargo capacity is 1784 L, which Hyundai says is tops among compact wagons.

The cargo area is relatively close to the ground, making for easy loading, but I couldn't stand fully upright under the hatch.

Elantra wagon prices start at $15,595, plus tax, for a base GL with a five-speed manual gearbox. Adding a $950 four-speed

automatic boosts the sticker to $16,545.

A GL Value Package (automatic; air; power windows, locks and mirrors) is yours for $1900. Metallic or mica paint is an extra $125. An $875 ABS package, which my car didn't have, is also available.

The loaded GLS, which comes only with an automatic, lists at $18,845.

Loonie-pinching consumers should approve of this line on Hyundai's Elantra price sheet: "Dealer may sell at prices below those suggested without fear of recrimination from Hyundai Auto Canada."

Warranty coverage: three-year/60,000 km bumper-to-bumper and five-year/100,000 km powertrain protection. You're covered against rust through for five years. You also get three years or 60,000 km of roadside assistance.

Time with the '99 Elantra makes you realize how far Hyundai Motor Co. has come. It was only founded in 1967, yet today its vehicles are finding growing acceptance in markets around the world.

Even picky Car and Driver magazine, in a review this month of the Tiburon FX, pronounces the coupe a "viable competitor" and declares Hyundai "a company officially exonerated from doghouse status."

The South Korean firm, incidentally, has scrapped plans to sell its new minivan, codenamed the FO, in North America, admitting it's too small and underpowered for here. The van goes on sale in South Korea this fall.

Instead, Hyundai plans to bring in the Kia Carnival van in early 2000. In production for about a year, the Carnival will be renamed the Sedona for our market. It reportedly will have a 3.5 L Hyundai V6.

Hyundai took over financially ailing Kia Motors Corp. last October and is keeping the Kia brand.

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