First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL Sport. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring

Brentwood Bay, British Columbia – With Canada’s weakening economy forcing many motorists to make more frugal, sensible vehicle purchases, compact hatchbacks are likely to become more popular in 2009. For about the same price as a sedan, a compact hatchback will haul bigger, bulkier cargo loads while offering similar performance, comfort and fuel economy.

Popular hatches include the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Mazda3 Sport, Saturn Astra, Dodge Caliber, and Volkswagen Rabbit. To this list, we can now add the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring, a new four-door compact hatchback priced in the $15K-$23K price range (plus a $1,345 Destination charge).

The Elantra Touring is not based on the current Elantra sedan – it’s actually a different, European-designed model called the I30. Sold in Europe, Asia and now North America, I30s are built in South Korea and the Czech Republic – Canadian cars are imported from Korea.

The Elantra Touring is slightly longer and wider than a Toyota Matrix but not quite as tall. Hyundai says it has the most passenger and cargo space in its class: 2852 litres and 719 litres respectively (compared to the Matrix’ 2724 and 428 litres). Thanks to its long wheelbase, the company claims the Touring has a substantial 30 cm more front legroom and 23 cm more rear legroom than the Matrix. Indeed, I found headroom and legroom surprisingly spacious for four adults, even with the optional sunroof installed.

First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL. Click image to enlarge

The Touring does have the same 138-horsepower 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve CVVT four-cylinder engine as the Elantra sedan, and standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. Published fuel economy numbers (L/100 km) are 8.9/6.4 City/Hwy with manual transmission and 8.7/6.5 City/Hwy with the automatic. That’s not as economical as the class-leading Matrix and Pontiac Vibe (1.8-litre), or the Saturn Astra (1.8-litre) but it is comparable with the Mazda3 (2.0-litre), Kia Spectra5 (2.0-litre) and better than the Suzuki SX-4 (2.0-litre) and VW Rabbit (2.5-litre).

2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring models, which go on sale this month, will come in three trim levels: L, GL and GL with Sport Package. Pricing is aggressive: base models are priced about a thousand dollars less than base Matrix models.

Base Elantra Touring L models ($14,995 man/$16,195 auto) will include the 138-hp 2.0-litre engine, 15-inch tires and steel wheels, two front airbags, AM/FM/CD audio with four speakers and auxiliary input, power windows with driver’s automatic down, power door locks, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, and rear wiper and washer.

But if you want side airbags, air conditioning and anti-lock brakes, you’ll need to order the L with the Preferred Package ($17,245 man/$18,445 auto). This adds air conditioning, side and curtain airbags, active front head restraints, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force differential, keyless entry and alarm, and heated front seats.

First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL (top) and GL Sport. Click image to enlarge

The Elantra Touring GL ($18,795 man/$19,995 auto) adds front fog lights, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, height and lumbar adjusters on the driver’s seat, cruise control, trip computer with average fuel economy readout, centre storage bin and armrest, two tweeters, power heated mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer, rear cargo privacy cover, and 12-volt outlet in the cargo area.

The GL with Sport Package ($21,195 man/$22,395 auto) gets 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, rear spoiler, sunshade band on the windshield, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power sunroof, premium 172-watt stereo with six speakers and USB and iPod jacks, audio controls on the steering wheel, outside temperature display, and a cooling vent in the glovebox.

All Elantra Touring models have 60/40 folding rear seatbacks which fold down easily without having to remove the head restraints, even when the front seats are in their most rearward position. When folded, the seatbacks don’t lie perfectly flat – but almost. Total cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is 1848 litres, the most in its class says Hyundai. The Elantra Touring’s cargo floor length with the rear seats up is 91 cm, and with the seats down it’s 170 cm. The right front passenger seatback does not fold flat, though.

First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL Sport. Click image to enlarge

I liked the fact that the trunk floor, walls and rear seatbacks are covered in a scratch-proof fabric liner. There’s also a standard sliding cargo area privacy cover on GL and GL Sport models.
The seats are covered in an attractive textured cloth with contrasting seat inserts while the dash and door materials have a classy, quality look and feel to them. The overall dash layout is simple and attractive, especially in Sport models with their larger radio display screen with blue backlighting and leather wrapped steering wheel. Storage cubbies are numerous, including one on the dashtop and one in the middle of the centre stack, but the centre storage bin between the front seats is quite small.

I spent about five hours driving and riding in a sporty red GL model with Sport Package and a grey GL model. The car’s standard 2.0 litre DOHC 16-valve engine with continuously variable valve timing isn’t a powerhouse: it makes 138 hp at 6000 rpm, and 136 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm. But then again, neither are most of the engines available in this class and price range. You can get a larger 2.5-litre engine in the new 2010 Mazda3 Sport, but you’ll pay more.

Both my test cars were equipped with the optional four-speed automatic transmission which performed so smoothly, I hardly noticed the shifts. The transmission can be shifted manually from 4th to 3rd by tapping the lever sideways. I found this useful when holding the engine in a lower gear for hill climbs, but otherwise, I didn’t find any need for it.

Where the new Elantra Touring stands out is in the handling department, particularly the Sport model with its low-profile 17-inch tires. I drove it on a variety of roads, including narrow, winding pot-holed roads and smooth, wide-open freeways. When cornering, there’s very little body lean, and it transitions from one corner to another with virtually no drama.

First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring hyundai first drives
2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL Sport. Click image to enlarge

The suspension is a bit firm over rough roads, but that’s the price you pay for its sporty handling. Compared to the Elantra sedan it has a 24 per cent stiffer front spring rate, a 39 percent stiffer rear spring rate, and a larger front and rear stabilizer bars. The car’s fully independent suspension includes front MacPherson struts with coil springs and rear multi-links.

Its engine-speed sensitive rack and pinion steering is quick and responsive, the turning circle is tight, and braking is sharp and quick. As I noted earlier, four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all trim levels, but ABS is not available on base L models.

Driver’s visibility is good: the “shingle-style” rear head restraints can be lowered so as not to hinder the driver’s rear visibility; and the third side windows are handy when lane-changing. And there’s a useful rear wiper and washer.

Surprisingly, electronic stability control is not available on any trim level. It is available in the U.S. model, so you’d have to wonder why this important safety feature is not offered here.

Like all Hyundai models, the Elantra Touring includes Hyundai’s excellent 5- year/100,000 km warranty that includes 5-year/100,000 km powertrain coverage and 3-year/unlimited km 24-hour roadside assistance.

With a competitive price, above-average interior room and quality, and sporty handling, the Elantra Touring is a tempting alternative for frugal buyers who want something a little sportier than the average hatchback.

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