Hyundai, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2008 Hyundai Elantra – Road Test

Like clockwork Hyundai introduces a new Elantra every four years. With each new model the appearance changes significantly, as do quality levels and size. The fourth-generation Elantra is no different – it’s bigger than not only the previous generation, but also bigger inside than all of its competition. According to Hyundai its interior space is bigger than the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla and even the Acura TL. It’s so roomy the EPA has classified it as a mid-sized car – think Camry, Accord etc. with the price-point of a compact.

When I booked the Elantra for a road test I was only interested in the manual transmission, however I was convinced to test the automatic for a week as well. During previous automatic versus manual comparison runs I’ve found the vehicles to be substantially different vehicles, so with that said, this week’s Road Test is another two for one review. Where the cars differ I’ll make note of it in BOLD letters.

First Impressions
The Hyundai’s of past were sometimes known for being a little quirky looking, however, over the past couple of years they’ve melded into a more conventional look – bland and inoffensive. If it works for Honda and Toyota – why not Hyundai too? The Elantra is definitely one vehicle you’ll lose in the parking lot of your local Wal-Mart – especially if it’s gold or silver – talk about blending in with the scenery!

MANUAL: Opening the door I noticed the interior was very light and beige. While pleasant to look at, I’m not a big fan of beige for the simple fact that it’ll show every little piece of dirt on the carpet and seats. The material itself was clingy and more like a velour than the tougher materials being used in other vehicles these days. However, I must note that this is really nothing to be concerned about – my past experiences with Hyundai have proven them to stand up very well in this respect (my dad is currently on his 5th Hyundai). In the AUTOMATIC, the interior is grey – and leather – I was not expecting that! Leather in a compact car? Who does that? Apparently only Hyundai, as leather is currently not available in the Corolla or the Civic – among others. But wait, there’s more – it gets better – there’s a lot more that the Elantra offers that the competition doesn’t.

Climbing behind the thick leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel, I glance around the interior. Until now I’d only bothered to look at the Elantra in pictures and I hadn’t been too impressed by the dash layout. To my surprise, in reality it’s actually much different and better looking – the pictures don’t do it justice. The tilt and telescopic steering wheel is the perfect size and surprisingly there are audio and cruise controls incorporated on the spokes. As an added bonus they are illuminated at night – I’ve driven many a vehicle costing many thou$ands of dollars more than the Elantra that didn’t even offer this feature!

The seat is nicely contoured and height-adjustable. After adjusting it to get comfortable enough to drive off, I started thinking right away that while it was comfortable, it could use a little more lower-back support. Searching for the lumbar adjustment came up empty, so I started to worry that this might be a painful week ahead. As it turned out I was partly right. For normal everyday driving the seats are plenty comfortable, but for extended journeys of an hour or more, the lack of lumbar support is a problem and the seat cushions start to feel very flat and unsupportive. We had to make a couple of longer trips while we had both of the Elantra’s and the leather seat was only slightly better than the cloth option. The seats aren’t back-breaking, but they are bum-numbing – something to consider with any car I purchase.

Firing up the 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine, I noticed it was very muted. The rack and pinion steering is very nicely weighted and is perfect for parking lots and city driving. Driving around the city, the Elantra felt peppy, and obviously the manual transmission felt more responsive. The automatic option was very good, more than adequate and had no trouble keeping up with traffic – or should I say leaving it behind, after all I was driving!

AUTOMATIC: The leather-wrapped shifter for the 4-speed transmission is perfectly placed and sits just where your hand falls naturally. The automatic transmission is step-gated making it very similar to much higher-priced vehicles. Entering the freeway I floor the throttle and the transmission drops down a gear, the revs rise along with a considerable amount of noise – and after a split-second, the Elantra picks up speed. For a four-banger the response is acceptable, but it’ll never be mistaken for a sports car – but that’s alright because it isn’t. The Elantra is far more responsive and satisfying than a few other 4-cylinder Japanese vehicles (that shall remain anonymous) that I’ve driven lately. There’s no fear of being hit from behind while you wait for the Elantra to get up to speed, it’s better than average at getting up to freeway speeds. The transmission shifts were very smooth when I just left it in full automatic mode, however, the engine/noise levels, as well as performance, changed considerably when I took matters into my own hands and chose the gears myself. I found it very noisy (high revs) and hard to get into just the right gear when climbing steep hills – it was either too loud or too sluggish. My best advice: just leave it to do its own thing – it’s quieter and more efficient too.

As is typical with automatics, sometimes you move the gas pedal just a little bit too far and the transmission kicks down when you didn’t need or want it to. When this happened in the Elantra I was surprised by the loud raspy sound of the engine as it downshifted, but once the transmission shifted back up a gear all was quiet again. I never noticed the same sound while driving the manual as I was the one controlling the revs. It may have stood out more because I drove the manual before the automatic but that’s the only thing that jumped out to differentiate the two cars.

On the other hand the MANUAL was terrific. As expected, the manual means you can use the car to its fullest potential and you get to trade the noise level and power for the fun of actually participating in driving – instead of just sitting there and waiting for your speed to rise. Again, it’s just the nature of the beast – a manual is easier to modulate the speed/noise levels to what you find acceptable. The manual set up is outstanding – Toyota and Honda better watch out – the Etlantra’s clutch/transmission are just as good. The clutch is smooth and very easy to modulate, while the gears are silky smooth.

Once you’ve reached highway cruising speed, the noise level settles to a manageable decibel level where you don’t even have to raise your voice to hold a conversation. It was quiet enough that we could hear the faintest of squeaks coming from the glove box. Even going over 90 mph there wasn’t any discernable difference from 60 mph, so Hyundai have certainly done a great job of controlling and eliminating the road and wind noise problem that used to be a very common among budget-conscious 4-cylinder cars of just a few years ago.

On hills and steep inclines, the Elantra feels responsive without any of those annoying “hitting-a-brick-wall” feelings so common in many budget-priced compacts. The Elantra is a good highway vehicle but an even better city vehicle. At 80 mph it is relaxed and fairly quiet, but I found the power steering – that was perfect for parking lot maneuvers – was quite the opposite at higher speeds. It felt over-boosted and very light on the highway, like the feeling you get if you’ve put too much luggage in the trunk and the front end is lifting off the ground. If you’ve ever done that, it’s a horrible experience. To be fair though, after a couple of days I had gotten used to it and it wasn’t an issue.

Other than the fact you have to row your own gears, there is virtually nothing to distinguish the automatic from the manual version of the Elantra. In many cases I’ve experienced two completely different cars when comparing just the transmissions, but this is not the case with the Elantra. That could be considered good or bad depending on your particular viewpoint. The manual was designated a “Sport” model, but there wasn’t anything to actually prove to me it was sporty – it was all just cosmetics such as the rear wing and an aluminum footrest pedal. It’s not like the tires were different or even the suspension. Other than these few minor features they are basically the same car but with slightly different comforts.

The Elantra has a well thought out amount of storage space. While the owners’ manual completely fills the glove box, there are decent-sized map pockets with bottle holders in the front doors in addition to the cup holders between the front seats. There’s an armrest for the front occupants that houses a 2-stage storage area and additional storage area under the radio for CD’s, a good-sized covered area below the climate controls, and another covered storage compartment on top of the dashboard. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a holder for your sunglasses in the ceiling – usually little niceties like this get eliminated with the presence of a moonroof – not so in the Elantra!

The audio system is pretty good for a budget-conscious vehicle, but not outstanding. That was until I got to drive without my wife. Once free of here complaints about my selection of music, I got to turn the volume up and found that the stereo system was actually quite good! It is a single-disc AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit that is matched to 6 speakers. The unit itself is simple and easy to use.

The climate control on the Elantra is easy to use at just a glance, and even the automatic climate control is uncomplicated – a refreshing change from so many of the higher-end vehicles that offer automatic climate control that is for the most part simply frustrating. With the standard climate controls you get large round dials, but as per-the-norm with automatic versions – you get buttons instead. While I would normally gripe about the added buttons, the Elantra’s are easy to use and they make the centre console look very up-market.

Below the climate controls are two power outlets, but no auxiliary input for the audio system. Another pleasant surprise – the power window buttons are also illuminated at night – too often simple features like this are eliminated and make a car feel cheap and annoying – even though they may costs a lot more than the Elantra.

Hyundai have targeted the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla and hit a bull’s-eye with the Elantra. In my opinion they didn’t just equal them, they went one better in so many cases. For example the wheelbase was extended 1” over the previous model, the width and height increase 2” and 2.2” respectively, and while it doesn’t sound like much, this translates into more leg and headroom and much easier entry and exit over the previous model – not to mention over the Civic and Corolla. Trunk space has also increased to a very generous 14.2 cu-ft – 18% larger than the Civic and 5% more spacious than the Corolla. Leather is available on the Elantra, but not even an optional extra on the Civic.

Rear seating is generous providing the front occupants are not basketball players. With my short legs keeping the driver’s seat closer to the dashboard, there was a ton of legroom in back, but when I slid the seat back there was a distinct lack of knee room. Foot space under the front seat is exceptional and hip, shoulder and headroom are very good. There is a tunnel on the floor between the seats, but it’s not intrusive enough to be a problem for someone relegated to the middle seat. There is more than enough room for two and a reasonable amount of space for three passengers back there. For two there is a folding armrest with incorporated cup holders and the seats fold 60/40 for when more cargo space is a priority.

The 2008 Hyundai Elantra comes in three version in the U.S. and five in Canada. I’d recommend going to the Hyundai websites to figure out which price and configuration fits your requirements and budget. The U.S. models are considerably different from the Canadian versions tested here – even with respect to standard features. Many items standard in Canada are stand-alone options in the U.S.

For more details and options visit:  or

Even the base model Elantra is full of safety features including active front seat head restraints, heated mirrors, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force-limiters. In the U.S. 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and Brake Assist as well as side seat air bags and side curtain airbags come standard – unfortunately you have to step up a couple of models to get those features in Canada. The up-side is that many of these items are not even available with the competition.

The warranty is a comprehensive Bumper-To-Bumper 5 years/36,000 miles [100,000 kms] that includes a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is included for three years.
Towing capacity is a maximum of 1,500 lbs.

The Conclusion
I liked the Elantra a lot more in the manual transmission than the automatic – that goes without saying. The seats are comfortable for everyday driving and overall it’s very quiet. Without a doubt it is very competitively priced and has plenty of standard features that the competition charges considerably more for – if they have them available. It’s a big(ger) car in a small-car package with standard features and a price that beats the competition hands-down. In Canada, skip the base vehicles and move up to the as-tested vehicles (Sport/GLS) – the small increase in price is more than worth the extra safety features alone.

Pricing for the 2008 Hyundai Elantra

As tested: Limited/GLS (automatic) $19,195 [$23,095 Cdn]. Elantra SE/GL Sport (manual) $17,045 [$20,595 Cdn]
Base price for the Elantra starts at: $13,395 [$15,595 Cdn].
Destination & Delivery- $600 U.S. / $1,345 Canada

Fuel Consumption: [Regular]
The 4-speed automatic is rated at 28.3 mpg City [8.3 L/100 kms] and 39 mpg Highway [6.0 L/100 kms]
The 5-speed manual is rated at 28 mpg City [8.4 L/100 kms] and 39 mpg Highway [6.0 L/100 kms]
I averaged 25.3 mpg [9.3 L/100km] with the manual, and 27.4 mpg [8.6 L/100km] with the automatic.

Excellent build quality
Very quiet at virtually all speeds
Many features included that some of the competition don’t even offer
AUTOMATIC: better than other similar-priced cars.

Two of the five Canadian models don’t have ABS as an option – never mind standard. Yet all the U.S. models include it as standard equipment.
Suspension is not sporty enough

Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
“I’m glad the driver isn’t any taller!” “Getting in and out is good and the seat is very comfortable”

Immediate Competition:
Dodge Avenger, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta

By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 2.0-liter, 16-valve, DOHC 4-cylinder engine with CVVT; 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto transmission
Horsepower: 138 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 136 @ 4,600 rpm
0-60 mph: MANUAL: 8.9 seconds / AUTO: 10.25 seconds

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
8 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

7 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
10 – Transmission (Auto: 8)
7 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy

136 Total / 150

Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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