2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring: Another Really Competent Hyundai
- June 9, 2009
- Hyundai, New Model Introductions, On The Road: Driving Impressions
- Posted by Ed Kim
- 2 Comments
Wanna know why the Elantra Touring looks absolutely nothing like the sedan that it shares its name with?
This wagon addition to the Elantra lineup was really sort of a last minute add to Hyundai’s US product portfolio. You might recall that the previous Elantra was available as a SAAB-esque hatchback, and the one before that was available as a station wagon. However, because Hyundai’s Korean management knew that Americans seemed to overwhelmingly prefer sedans over hatchbacks or wagons, they made the decision pretty early on to offer the current Elantra as a sedan only.
Meanwhile, Hyundai was hard at work developing a family of compact cars for the European market called i30. Sharing most oily bits with the Elantra under the skin, it was to feature its own unique styling and was designed in hatchback bodystyles only.
Well into the development of the Elantra sedan, Hyundai realized that hatchbacks were undergoing something of a resurgence in America. Young drivers no longer saw them as cheap and undesirable, probably because SUVs had legitimized the idea of a tailgate instead of a trunk. Sales of the prior Elantra hatchback gained momentum. All of sudden, Hyundai realized that they needed an Elantra hatchback for America. But this late into the car’s development, there was no time to develop one.
The solution was to take the European i30 wagon and redub it Elantra Touring. As such, it shares no sheetmetal with the sedan and in fact possesses a completely different design language. While this could confuse buyers, this scenario was preferable to losing potential sales to the likes of Mazda3, Toyota Matrix, and the like.
So, what’s this European take on the Elantra like? In a word, incredibly competent. It’s quiet, handles pretty enthusiastically, has a really spacious interior for its size, and has a really big cargo hold. The materials are very pleasing to the eye and to the touch (definitely a cut above the hard grained plastic that has become more or less standard in the segment), and the car even features standard full iPod connectivity that operates intuitively via the audio head unit.
Is it an object of desire, like the recently introduced Genesis Coupe? Well, no. Ultimately, this is one of those cars that you can’t help but greatly respect due to its sheer competence, but there’s little about the car’s styling to stir up any kind of emotion. It’s pleasing enough to look at, but ultimately it’s pretty anonymous. So, why doesn’t it have racier styling like many of its competitors?
I think it comes down to the fact that in the US, hatchbacks tend to appeal to a youthful, enthusiastic, style-conscious mindset. Hence, expressive hatchbacks like Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI, or MINI Cooper are very successful. But the Elantra Touring was designed for mainstream middle-aged European families; its presence in the US market is really an afterthought. So, we’re left with a great compact family car that does everything a good family car is supposed to do, but without the styling to captivate Americans who are willing to consider a hatchback.
However, with cars like Genesis Coupe signaling a newfound commitment to excitement at Hyundai, I’d be willing to bet the next one is a lot more exciting!