2004 Hyundai Elantra VE
2004 Hyundai Elantra VE; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

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In the mid- to late-1980s, Hyundai was less a car manufacturer than it was a reseller of remodeled versions of other cars. The company’s earliest offerings borrowed heavily from Mitsubishi designs, and it was these cars that cemented the poor reputation that dogged Hyundai for years to follow. It wasn’t until 1996 that Hyundai would introduce its first in-house designed and engineered car, the second-generation Elantra.

And while that car represented one of Hyundai’s first steps in its quality control campaign, some of the Korean manufacturer’s best work yet to come was still on the drawing board, in the form of the third-generation Elantra, which debuted in 2001.

Bigger both in physical dimensions and visual heft, the new Elantra showed the Japanese manufacturers, who had for so long brushed Hyundai off as nothing more than a low-priced pest, that they now had some serious competition. In fact, in a 2002 comparison test conducted by an American car magazine, an Elantra finished ahead of both Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic – a stunning result and some of the first proof that Hyundai knew how to put together a great small car.

2002 Hyundai Elantra GT
2002 Hyundai Elantra SE
2002 Hyundai Elantra GT; photo by Grant Yoxon (top). 2006 Hyundai Elantra SE; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

For 2001, the Elantra was offered in basic GL and well-equipped VE forms. In 2002, the GT five-door hatch was added to the lineup. The Elantra got a minor facelift in 2004. In 2005, a lower-priced version of the hatch and a fully-loaded sedan model were introduced. 2006 was the last year for the third-gen car, as a vastly-improved fourth iteration was introduced for 2007.

Power in all Elantras came from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder (136 to 140 horsepower, depending on model year). A five-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed automatic was the option throughout the model’s run. Fuel consumption was a little higher than its competitors of the time, ranging from 8.8 L/100 km city and 6.4 L/100 km highway for cars with manual transmissions, and 9.6 L/100 km city and 6.7 L/100 km highway for those with the optional four-speed automatic.

While this third-generation Elantra was a big step forward in durability for Hyundai, it nonetheless has its share of common trouble spots.

Transmission issues are relatively common, though mostly minor, linked to troubles with electronic sensors that govern its operation. One of the most common issues is a problematic speed sensor that causes the transmission to go into “limp-in” mode, in which it locks into third gear. Less common, but more serious, is a tendency for Hyundai automatics from these model years to overheat, which accelerates the kind of wear that causes a mechanical failure.

This thread at ElantraXD.com suggests that installing an aftermarket/auxiliary transmission fluid cooler will help.

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