Versus the competiton:
Editor’s note: This review was written in March 2009 about the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2010, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
New for 2009, the Elantra Touring is a four-door hatchback (the Elantra’s first hatch since 2006) that’s treated as a separate model. It might seem strange to separate it, but there are more differences between the two than just the substitution of a hatch for a trunk. Backseat passengers get more headroom and legroom, and the wheelbase is longer despite the Touring’s 1-inch-shorter exterior length. (See them compared side by side.)
The name “Touring,” on the other hand, is a strange approach. It has meant many things over the years, starting in the 1920s when it represented a larger car — one with four or five seats and, typically, a removable roof. Nowadays it usually represents a trim level, as it does on the competing Mazda3, which comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. As Mazda’s usage suggests, “touring” often describes the opposite of sport: A car geared more for comfort than for excitement. Whether that was Hyundai’s intent with the Touring name or not, it’s produced a competent touring car, one with both the versatility and the comportment of a good daily driver.
There’s only one option package available, the $1,500 Premium Sport Package, and it includes 17-inch wheels, heated front seats and a moonroof. (Touring and Sport all at once? I think I just pulled an eye muscle.)
The Elantra Touring looks more like a wagon than do many of today’s hatchbacks. This differs from the previous Elantra hatch — which resembled a Saab 9-3 — and from the Mazda3 hatchback, a close competitor. The Hyundai might not look as slick, but the squared-off rear end provides far more cargo space than you get in the 2009 Mazda3. (Full specifications aren’t available yet for the redesigned 2010 Mazda3, but it hasn’t grown significantly.)
| 2009 Compact Hatchbacks
| Hyundai Elantra Touring
|| 24.3 / 65.3
|| 23 / 31
| Dodge Caliber
|| 18.5 / 48.0
|| 24 / 30
| Mazda 3 hatchback
|| 17.1 / 43.8
|| 22 / 29
| Subaru Impreza
|| 19.0 / 44.4
|| 20 / 27
| Suzuki SX4
|| 16.0 / 54.0
|| 22 / 29
Hatchbacks always have more cargo volume than sedan versions of the same model, but there are clear differences among models, as the table shows. The Elantra Touring’s base and maximum cargo volumes are greater than the others’, including the Mazda3, which is longer from bumper to bumper.
A manual transmission is almost no one’s first choice for stop-and-go traffic, but you could do far worse than the Elantra Touring. If you insist, Hyundai provides an optional four-speed automatic, but for a five-speed stick my test car was uncannily easy to drive — even in the late-winter gridlock that comes with ill-timed pothole repairs and lane closures. I thank the seat, the clutch and the gearing.
I’m not wild about the seat’s cushions, and a couple of our reviewers found them woefully unsupportive. I also think that the cloth upholstery, while looking pretty good, is rough to the touch. Comfort isn’t only about cushions; I like the driver’s seat geometry a lot, which includes its height off the floor and its legroom. Identical legroom measurements in different cars can translate to completely different geometries — low to the floor with one’s legs straight out in front, or up high with heels dangling. The Elantra Touring’s seat is high enough that my knees weren’t raised much, and the standard height adjustment let me tune it to suit. I found myself stepping down on the clutch pedal more in this car than in some, where you’re pushing radically forward. Everyone’s different, but for me this setup, combined with a very light and forgiving clutch, made repeated stop-and-go clutching almost effortless. The weight of my leg helped to push down, and the pedal doesn’t require a lot of finesse, so I didn’t get fatigued.
The gear ratios are also conducive to creeping along without taking the car out of gear. Second gear is nice and low, so I was able to modulate speed with the accelerator and stay in motion. So long as I was between 5 and 10 mph (we call this rush hour in Chicago), the engine didn’t struggle and I didn’t have to change gears. At $800 and an estimated loss of only 1 mpg in highway driving, the automatic isn’t a bad deal, but if you’re someone who prefers a manual yet is hesitant to get one for commuting, this is one to consider.
If you’re looking for super sportiness, you won’t be quite as impressed, even if you get the Premium Sport Package, which my test car had. Though light, the clutch pedal doesn’t give much feedback, and the stick is tall of height and long of throw; it does the job, and that’s about all. In terms of handling, the Touring once again evokes touring. Body roll is prominent in aggressive cornering, and the steering is a bit numb and very lazy about returning to center after a turn. Most drivers wouldn’t think twice about these things, and the steering could actually be a plus in commuting because it doesn’t require constant correction on curves. If you’re looking for truly sporty, handling-oriented driving, though, the Elantra Touring doesn’t come close to the Mazda3.
The 138-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder won’t set your heart ablaze, either, but it was more than adequate when teamed with the five-speed automatic. A sixth speed wouldn’t hurt, but the ones you get are well-chosen.
Just so I don’t scare anyone off, I’ll emphasize that the Elantra Touring’s roadholding is quite good, and it has the expected degree of understeer and no more. It feels safe and controllable, though body roll is more than I’d expect with the car’s ride quality. It’s not too firm for daily use, but it’s not so mushy as to disconnect you from the road. You know when there are disruptions in the pavement, but there’s not too much drama. Anyone concerned about smoothness might try the standard 16-inch wheels instead.
The cabin has been stretched compared to the Elantra sedan — if you consider stretching to include a narrowing around the middle. Hip and shoulder room has come down anywhere from a few tenths of an inch in the front seats to more than an inch in the back. More important, though, the front seat’s headroom and legroom are unaffected, and the backseat gains almost 2 inches in headroom and 1.4 inches in legroom over the sedan. Even with its narrowing, the Elantra Touring is roomier in all dimensions than the competing hatchbacks mentioned earlier.
America used to be biased against hatchbacks, but that seems to be changing now that SUVs have broken us in. I think shoppers will welcome another four-door hatch like the Elantra Touring, especially because of its generous passenger space and wagonlike cargo capacity. It doesn’t have the most affordable starting price, but it is a characteristically well-equipped Hyundai with plenty of power features and standard safety items, including antilock brakes, electronic stability control with traction control and active head restraints. (See all safety features here.)
The unfortunate unknown at this point is whether the Touring will share crash-test results with the Elantra Sedan. It’s similar, but we can’t assume anything until we hear from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, our preferred source for this data. Though the sedan rates Good (the highest score) for frontal impact and Acceptable for rear impact, the side rating is Marginal, even though side-impact and side curtain airbags are standard equipment. Of the models rated in IIHS’ Small Cars class, 11 score Good in the side impact, three score Acceptable, four rate Marginal and two are rated Poor. The Touring could rate better than the sedan — or even worse — but we won’t know until IIHS gives us the word.