Photograph by Steve Jin

Hyundai’s reputation for building fun, sporty compact cars hasn’t always had the history or pedigree compared to cars like the Golf GTI, Focus and Fiesta ST, Civic Si and Subaru WRX. These have been the pioneers of affordable sport compacts and have led their respective segments for years and have some of the most ardent fan bases in the community. Even coming with more powerful and hardcore variants like the STI, Golf R and Focus RS. However, if you haven’t noticed lately, things have been changing a lot over at the Korean brand and they are just getting started.

Photography by Roderick Eime

The Original

Known in its home market as the Avante, the Elantra has always been one of Hyundai’s bread and butter cars next to vehicles like the Sonata and Tucson. Introduced in 1990, the Elantra was Hyundai’s first entry into the compact car segment and slotted right above the subcompact Excel (more on that in another article). Powering the little compact car was a Mitsubishi derived 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine that produced 113 horsepower and would run to 60 MPH in about 9.5 seconds which was pretty decent for that time. It wouldn’t be until the second generation in 1995 where Hyundai would switch to an in-house designed engine. Styling was rather sedate for the second generation and would mostly go unnoticed as a rather uneventful model.

It wasn’t until, arguably, the third generation that the Elantra would attempt to become sporty by offering a GT trim along with a liftback body style in some markets. Engine sized had increased from 1.8 liters from the 2nd generation to 2.0 liters in the 3rd generation. With increased engine size came increased horsepower and the XD generation made 140 horsepower and combined with a 5-speed manual managed a 0-60 time of 9.1 seconds. The 4th generation Elantra introduced in 2006 was a return to the basics of the original Elantra. The 4th generation Elantra rode on Hyundai-Kia’s new J5 platform that also underpinned the Kia Cee’d in Europe. Hyundai added a new Limited trim and renamed the “GT” trim to “SE” that could be had with larger wheels and also a 5-speed manual. The American market kept the 2.0 liter 4-cylinder as the only engine option for all trim levels. Styling was bland and boring, a typical Hyundai trait, but things were about to change. Hyundai was about to get brave.

Photograph by Alonso Sun

Time to Be Brave

Unveiled at the Busan Motor Show in April of 2010, the fifth generation Avante/Elantra sported radical styling changes and featured elements from its bigger sibling, the Sonata. Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language was adopted to help the Elantra improve its image of a boring commuter car that the previous generation gained a reputation for. Hyundai was getting serious about pulling out all the stops for the new Elantra. Gone completely was the sporty trim levels and can be had in GLS or Limited trims. Hyundai also touted the new Elantra fuel efficiency and claimed a 40 MPG highway rating. Although Hyundai would come under scrutiny after a lawsuit from owners claimed that Hyundai lied about the Elantra’s high mileage rating. Hyundai responded by paying millions in damages and revised the Elantra’s fuel mileage from 40 MPG to 34 MPG highway.

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