By Jeremy Cato
It arrived as a 1992 model and the Hyundai Elantra proved a credible rival to popular family runabouts such as the Honda Civic, Ford Escort, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla.
At the same time, the Elantra filled a gap in Hyundai’s own product lineup, the one between the entry-level Excel and the mid-size Sonata.
Today, anyone who is interested in buying a small used sedan — either as a starter model or a second car — will find a fair number of used Elantras kicking about. Interestingly, these older Hyundai’s have held up quite well, although a number of transmission issues are worth attention when evaluating a used model.
Fact is, used first-generation Elantras (1992-95) may not have the first-rate workmanship of, say, a Corolla, but they’ve proven to be pretty sturdy cars with plenty of cabin room, decent fuel economy and reasonable if not spectacular power.
What you will notice when you test an older Elantra back-to-back against, say a Corolla, is wind noise, overall ride quality and the general refinement of the Corolla. That said, the Elantra of this era had only one recall of any real significance and I was (pleasantly) surprised at the limited number of technical service bulletins – a reality that speaks well on the servicing side. Transmission bulletins being the notable exception. Prices, as you might expect, are very reasonable.
From an exterior styling point of view, the Elantra has a clean if somewhat conservative wedge shape which looks pretty much at home in its market segment from this era. The Elantra’s bumpers are nicely integrated into the body and are tied together by a straight beltline that runs the full length of the car. Hyundai stylists have also penned in flush door handles and full wheel covers. Altogether, it’s as attractive as most of its competitors of the early ’90s.
The 1992-95 Elantra rides on the same 2,500 mm (98.4 inch) wheelbase as the Ford Escort and Honda Civic of that time, which means the interior is as roomy, if not roomier, as any of its main competitors. Six-footers can sit in the back seat without being tortured and headroom all around is good. The controls are generally well laid out, although some gauges are a bit too low for good visibility. Speaking of visibility, outward in all directions it’s pretty good in these older Elantras. And there’s a big trunk in back.
All Elantras came from the factory with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, dual remote-controlled mirrors, tinted glass, electric rear window defroster and a brake system consisting of power-assisted ventilated discs in front, power-assisted drums in the rear. Other optional goodies available to buyers included power windows, tachometer, tilt steering, AM/FM stereo cassette, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, and P185/60R14 performance profile tires.
Power came from either a 1.6-litre four-banger (105-113 hp) or a 1.8-litre four-cylinder (124 hp) that arrived for 1993. Much better performance comes from the 1.8-litre, especially if the transmission is a four-speed automatic. The five-speed manual is definitely the choice if you demand something resembling spirited acceleration.
However, expect to find a fairly floaty ride in an older Elantra, regardless of engine. The suspension was not ideally tuned to absorb bumps and don’t be surprised by a fair degree of body lean in corners. Steering should be pretty sharp, though, and the brakes will do the job. On the safety front, anti-lock braking became available in 1994, as did a driver’s side airbag.
Hyundai launched a new version of the Elantra in 1995 and there was another re-do for 2001. But it was that original 1992-95 Elantra that staked out the ground for later models to follow.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.