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2004 Hyundai Elantra

  • Driver

First introduced in 1992, the Elantra received its third-generation styling in 2001. It's a little too soon for a complete makeover, so for 2004 there are various cosmetic and powertrain changes to Hyundai's midlevel offering.

The company advertises Elantra as "more car for less money," and it's hit the mark again with this latest version. Offered in three trim levels, prices range from $15,625 for the four-door GL, to a high of $22,225 for the five-door GT hatchback with premium package.

Although the car's appearance retains the same general shape, the 2004 gets a new grille, bumpers, hood, front and rear lighting, and trunk. Inside, there's a new instrument panel and gauges, new control buttons, a cover over the rear child seat anchor, and most notably, a central power lock button and 12volt power outlet.

The big difference is under the hood, where you find a 2.0-litre, 16-valve, dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. It's based on the previous 2.0-litre, but this one features Continuously Variable Valve Timing.

Previously found on high-end engines, CVVT is making its way down the ranks. It adjusts the timing of engine valve opening and closing, resulting in better fuel economy, lower emissions, improved throttle response and more power.

While it doesn't make a huge jump the 2004 is rated at 138 hp at 6000 rpm, versus the 2003's 135 horses the car's status improves to Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) from Low Emission (LEV). Fuel rating also drops to 8.9 L/100 km for the five-speed sedan and 8.7 L/100 km for the five-speed GT, down from last year's 9.6 L/100 km for both.

But the proof is behind the wheel, and so a group of us were sent out to test the Elantra's mettle on rural roads north and east of the city. We ended up on a number of washboard roads, and I was pleasantly surprised at how tight the car felt – very firm, with no rattles.

The manual transmission's long throws and clutch won't have performance drivers raving about it – my sports-minded co-driver didn't care for it – but Elantra's target is mostly practical family-sedan customers.

What can I say? I'm that audience, and I was quite taken with it. It's smooth and easy to drive. The automatic produces equal pep off the line, but you wish for a bit more power when ascending long hills.

Elantra has posted record sales for four months this year, and it's not hard to see why: It's a strong, tight little car that does what it's supposed to do, offers a roomy, comfortable ride, and does it for decent dollars.

If the CVVT, the emission ratings and the convenient cup holders don't grab you, the price tag probably will.

Jil McIntosh can be reached at rabbit @ hotstar.net.

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