Review: Hyundai Elantra Premium – the overlooked gem

  • Class-leading interior design and comfort
  • Sedate but competent, matured drive
  • Unique design that’ll definitely stand out from the crowd
  • As tested: RM158,888

Driving is fun, and for some people, it might just be the best dang thing to ever exist in their lives. Car enthusiasts like you and me can spend an entire night blabbing on and on about how a particular car feels through the bends or under acceleration, but the (somewhat saddening) reality is that – most people just don’t care.

The majority of car buyers in Malaysia aren’t looking for “fun” cars, otherwise hot hatches and sports cars will be selling by the truck loads. For most, a car just needs to be safe and comfortable enough to get them from point A to point B without fuss; the “fun” factor is just a nice-to-have – if they can even feel it.

And that’s where cars like the all-new Hyundai Elantra come in. Because for everything that matters to regular car buyers, the Elantra just pretty much nails it.

The first time we ever saw the Elantra in person, we were stunned. And the same thing happened again and again pretty much every time we looked at it from the outside throughout our weekend with it.

Luc Donckerwolke’s “Sensuous Sportiness” design language that debuted with the Hyundai Elantra was – to say the least – divisive at launch. But we genuinely believe that it’s a design that works better in person, and anecdotal evidences among our peers seem to agree with that.

Sharp edges, geometric shapes, and massive grilles – these aren’t groundbreaking new design paradigms in the automotive scene. But it’s just the way that they’re all put together on the Elantra that makes it really stand out, without being overtly jarring (like the Tesla Cybertruck, which just looks like a low-poly game object).

Hyundai took a lot of flak for the angular, jewel-like lines on the Elantra’s sides – at least when photos of the car were first unveiled online. But in person, it’s a rather subtle effect that brings out an intricate light play on the side, further adding to the car’s sophisticated character.

The best angle of the car, however, is definitely its rump. The sharp edges motif is once again seen here on the boot lid, but taken to the extreme to form an integrated spoiler. The effect is further accentuated with the full-width “H-tail Lamp”, and the dark chrome elements on the bumper is just the cherry on top.

It’s brash, yes, or even a little “otherworldly”. But give it time, and we’re sure you’ll grow to like it, too – I mean, there’s a reason it won the Good Design award earlier this year. At the very least, it’ll definitely stand out from the growing crowd of boring silver SUVs.

No matter how you feel about the Hyundai Elantra’s exterior, though, all is forgotten as soon as you open the driver’s door and step inside the cabin. In fact, the Elantra’s cabin might have one of the best interior designs of any C-segment sedans out there, period.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, you’ll immediately notice how you’re separated from your front passenger, with clever use of colours and design elements to make the driver feel just that little bit more special.

It’s not just the design, either – the overall quality feels great, with no rattles or loose panels anywhere to be seen or felt. And the white leather intertwined with grey woven fabric? Well, that’s just proper premium-grade stuff, elevating the classiness of the entire interior to a whole other level. Nice.

If there’s one thing here to pick on, though, it’s the massive bezels that surround the displays on the dashboard. The glossy black plastic picks up fingerprints way too easily, and just doesn’t gel well with the rest of the classy white interior. The displays themselves also come with a matte finish, which further accentuates the (small) size of the screens.

And while we’re on the topic of displays, the graphics for the central infotainment display looks like it was designed a decade ago – a jarring contrast from the otherwise modern interior. At least, you can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to hide it for the most part, but it’s still a rough oversight in our books.

The Hyundai Elantra in other countries does come with an option for a dual 10.25-inch display unit that’s covered by a single pane of glass (and feature newer software). HSDM should have definitely optioned that onto our local model, as it looks miles better than what we have here. Shame.

Are we a little harsh on something that’s probably inconsequential to most people? Perhaps, but these tiny pain points just stick out like a sore thumb when the rest of the car is so capable of delivering one of the most zen-like experiences you can get from a car.

That includes its drive, too. The SmartStream 1.6-litre inline-four engine’s 123 hp and 154 Nm may not sound at all impressive on paper (or when compared to its nearest rivals), but it’s the way it delivers power in such a smooth and calm demeanour that truly makes it a perfect match for the car.

It’s not a car that constantly asks you to drive it hard; rather, the Elantra wants you to gently prod on the accelerator, and it’ll reward you with waves of serenity throughout your journey, even if you’re stuck in the notorious traffic jam of Kuala Lumpur roads. The ventilated seats certainly help with that.

Highways are where the Hyundai Elantra shines. The engine has no problem keeping up with the national speed limit, or even occasionally exceeding it if you need to overtake. Pair the quiet cabin with a supple suspension set-up, and every long-distance journey will breeze by in an instant – especially when the smart cruise control system takes over most of the driving.

So with all these praise, you should just rush out and buy one, then? Well, that’s if you can look past its asking price of RM158,888. At that figure, there are quite a few other options that buyers can explore, and the Elantra’s spec sheet certainly doesn’t make it any easier (on a first impression, at least) – not to mention the brand snobbery that’s so prevalent in the Malaysian car buying crowd.

After spending a weekend with the Hyundai Elantra, we have no qualms with forking out that dough for a car that’s so well-rounded for our everyday commuting needs – but then again, we’re no regular car buyers. The good news, then, is that there’s a cheaper Executive variant that omits several creature comforts, but still retains the same good looks.

Hyundai Elantra G1.6 Premium specifications:

Engine1,598 cc; naturally-aspirated inline-four, petrol
TransmissionHyundai Smartstream IVT
Max horsepower123 hp @ 6,300 rpm
Max torque154 Nm @ 4,500 rpm
0-100 km/h; Top speed10.4 seconds; 196 km/h
Price (OTR, w/o insurance, inclusive of SST exemptions)RM158,888



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