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By Anita And Paul Lienert
The Detroit News
May 5, 1999
A reader from Ithaca, N.Y., says she gets a kick out of reading our reviews of $90,000-plus dream rides like the BMW 750iL. But she also asks if we could critique more affordable vehicles. We're happy to say we recently spent a couple of weeks
in one of the best values in the small-car market - the 1999 Hyundai Elantra GLS. Even with options such as cruise control, a CD player and rear spoiler, the Korean-made compact only cost $14,744. That's several thousand less than a comparably equipped
Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. In the past, we usually slammed Korean offerings with low one-star ratings. But we both agree, the Elantra is a solid, three-star offering that's vastly improved over its predecessors. He: I walked around the
front of the 1999 Elantra and thought I was looking at a small Pontiac. And that's no rap against this little Korean car. We've watched the Elantra evolve over the years, from a rather hum-drum econobox into a zippy and stylish compact that's as good as
most of its American-brand competitors. For less than $15,000, you get a more powerful engine and more features, in a car whose build quality seems vastly improved over earlier examples. She: OK, so they're finally getting the product right. Now
comes another big hurdle. And that's making Hyundai into an accepted brand name in this country. The lack of that acceptance so far, especially by the finicky youth market, may be the biggest problem with the Elantra. And don't kid yourself, entry-level
buyers want and will pay for brand names, the experts say, whether they're buying cigarettes or clothing. He: Let's start with that new powertrain. She: Don't want to get into any of that retail revolution stuff, right? He: I'm
really a rebel at heart. I guess that's why I like the Elantra's new twin-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes 140 horsepower, which blows most of the competition into the weeds. I didn't even mind the optional four-speed transmission, which is
one of the smoothest automatics that Hyundai has produced. The transition when shifting from reverse to drive, however, is still pretty brutal. She: Here's why we agonized over giving the redesigned Elantra three stars instead of four. The old
model had plenty of wind, engine and road noise in the cabin. This one is improved, but there was still an annoying buzzing sound coming out of the dashboard at highway speeds. Anti-lock brakes are optional and you have to pay more than $1,800 to get them
as part of an options package. Side air bags are not available at all, like they are on some Asian competitors. The seat fabric is finally up to American standards, but the seats only offered average comfort and the driver's seat controls felt
like an automotive Rubik's Cube - confusing. Hyundai is so close, but doesn't merit four stars just yet. He: I give the company high marks on styling, engine performance and content. There are little things that
still bother me. The turning circle is still huge for a car this small, making it a little difficult to park in a tight space. The brakes feel a little grabby in panic stops. And even with the driver's seat cranked all the way down, I would still have
liked another inch of headroom. Other than that, I don't have much to complain about. She: We can reassure buyers that the Elantra is getting better. And Hyundai backs that up by offering a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty for five years or
60,000 miles - better than the warranties offered by Lexus and Mercedes. Plus it offers a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. But some buyers still may not be convinced. He: What will convince a lot of people is the bottom line. It's tough
to find this much car for this little money. I doubt that you could find anything in this price range on a Honda or Toyota lot. Even Saturn dealers will be hard-pressed to match the Elantra's features on a dollar-to-dollar basis. Now Hyundai h
to back it up with real customer service if it truly wants to compete with the big boys. She: And the big girls. 1999 Hyundai Elantra GLS Anita's rating: above average Paul's rating: above average Type: Front-engine,
front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: Base, $13,499; as tested; $14,744 (including $435 destination charge) Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 140 hp at 6,000 rpm; 133 lb-ft torque at 4,800 rpm EPA fuel economy: 22 city/31
highway 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.): $1,266 Where built: Ulsan, South Korea What we liked: Super value for under $15,000; one of the
most powerful engines in the class; roomy; lots of standard features on GLS; five-year, 60,000-mile warranty is better than the ones offered by Lexus or Mercedes; finally, fabric and upholstery that doesn't look like it came from the Third World
(Anita). What we didn't like: Driver's seat is complicated to operate; traction control not offered (Anita); anti-lock brakes are part of an $1,875 options package; no side air bags (Anita); automatic transmission is extra $750 (Anita); buzzing
sound in instrument panel noted at speeds over 70 mph; clunky transition from reverse to forward with automatic transmission.