Some car companies get no respect. Neither do their cars. Ditto certain types of car.

Say hello to the Hyundai Elantra Wagon.

I'll wait while you stop laughing, lose interest or debate on whether to turn the page. After all, there must be something interesting here, right?

Maybe it's stretching a point, but this little Hyundai has two things going for it. One: a low sticker price and two: stand-apart styling.

Hyundai makes buying the wagon (and the sedan) an easy experience because there's one trim level. Air-conditioning, power windows, power door locks, AM/FM/cassette stereo/tilt steering wheel, remote trunk release, 6-way adjustable driver's seat and Michelin tires are all standard. Not bad, right?

Other niceties include 32 cubic feet of storage with the rear seat in use and 63 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. Also, there is a center console, carpeting, overhead map lights, rear wiper/washer and a $200 price cut. Not bad, right?

The engine is the largest in the class — a 2-liter double-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine good for 140 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque. It will move this car quite quickly for an econo-scooter. Sounds good?

Well, this car looks good on paper. But like the all-you-can eat-buffet for $6.99, it's not the quantity, it's the quality.

This car is small. At just over 174 inches, its standard sub-compact fare, yet has decent room inside. But it's low, very low, so low in fact you lean your elbows on the roof. The engine does have good power, but it constantly reminds you of how hard it's working. The engine conspires with wind, road and tire noise to drown out the radio. It may be just as well because the radio is very tinny and you'll insist on replacing it.

Handling is typical small car, with understeer safely coming on along with the expected body lean.

It didn't even prove to be very fuel efficient, yielding just 19 mpg in mixed driving. Worse, there are no markings on the gas gauge between full and empty, so how much fuel is left is a guessing game.

Dual air bags are standard up front. Four-wheel anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes are standard as well.

Sure this car gets little respect, despite styling that's shapely and stands apart from the jelly bean school of design. Of course, the horn won't engender any respect lost to the car's badge or small size, as it honks with the wimpiest sound known to the automotive world. SUV owners will look down at this vehicle and mistake it for a hood ornament.

No matter how good the car, an owner must still endure some people's behavior when they find out you own a Hyundai. They'll either mistake you for crazy or a charity case. Either way, pity isn't something one enjoys from owning a car.

Do not be fooled by the low prices here. The Hyundai test vehicle bottomed out just over $15,000. At that price, the Ford Focus wagon is a much better buy and a lot more fun to drive, even if it lacks a few amenities at the same price.

Yet Hyundai is constantly improving, as the new Sonata shows that. So, even if this Elantra fails to warm your heart, the next one just might.

>> 2000 Hyundai Elantra Wagon

Vehicle type: Sub-compact 4-door wagon
Engines: 2-liter inline DOHC four-cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 100.4 inches
Length: 174 inches
Curb weight: 2,747 pounds
Cargo volume: 32.3 cubic feet
Tires: P195/60 HR14
Base price, test model: $12,499
As tested: Not available
EPA rating: 21 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Test mileage: 19 mpg
Fuel type: RegularBR> >>