• First drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra [Review]

    February 1, 2016

    Hyundai started off the decade with a bang, executing a lineup overhaul that has taken it from the value front-runner to a genuinely competitive mainstream automaker.

    Now that we’re more than halfway through, the cars that were new four or five years ago are due for overhauls. We’ve already seen the Sonata‘s major refresh, and now it’s time to see what Hyundai has in store for the midsizer’s smaller sibling. Can Hyundai pull another rabbit out of its hat with the latest Elantra? We went to sunny San Diego, California to find out.

    What was old
    The 2017 Hyundai Elantra is not new from the ground up, but it does represent a fairly significant refresh for the Korean compact. Underneath, it’s still rides on essentially the same chassis. Up front, you get a MacPherson strut suspension; out back, you get a torsion beam. SE models start with front disc and rear drum brakes, with Eco and Limited models sporting discs all around.

    New again
    In its most basic form, the 2017 Elantra is equipped with a two-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. This engine is available both with a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic. Bumping up to the Limited means you lose the manual option. Gone is the 1.8L base engine of the previous model.

    Like its siblings, the Elantra has gained an Eco model. The Eco sports a 1.4L, turbocharged GDI engine making 128 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. This engine is available exclusively with Hyundai’s seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox.

    The SE has been rated at 29 mpg city, 38 highway and 33 combined when matched to the automatic. Manual transmission models are rated at 26 mpg city, 36 highway and 31 combined. Limited models (automatic only, but fitted with larger wheels/tires), split the difference at 28 mpg city, 37 highway and 32 combined. The Eco model won’t be available until Q2, so the numbers aren’t in just yet, but Hyundai is banking on 35 mpg combined.

    Hyundai also gave the unibody and suspension thorough once-overs. New bracing, additional high-strength steel and more widespread used of structural adhesives result in a more rigid body without any reduction in weight. The electric power steering assist was also retuned for more direct and responsive feel, and the rear suspension was updated (though not to the V-Beam found in other twist-beam products).

    And a new look
    The updated Elantra is longer (by an inch), wider (by a little less) and wears a suit more like that of the refreshed Sonata’s than the car it replaces. This isn’t a case where you’ll have to squint and turn your head sideways to figure out which generation you’re looking at. The fundamentals may be almost identical, but there’s no mistaking one for the other from the outside. The look is distinctly new.

    The new look starts at the front, where the Elantra inherits the Genesis-inspired hexagonal grille now appearing on most Hyundais. Limited models also get LED fog lamps, giving the Elantra an aggressive front-end look.

    In profile, the Elantra ditches the old car’s swoopier aesthetic in exchange for a more angular look. Looking at it side-on, it cuts a figure that is a blend of the Audi A3 and Ford Focus sedans. It’s not particularly unique, but it certainly looks good.

    Only in the rear does the Elantra look particularly similar to its predecessor. The Limited’s LED tails are a dead give-away, but lower-trim cars may be tougher to identify at a glance.

    More tech and interior goodies
    Hyundai’s overhaul extended to the interior too, which gets not only a new look but some new feature content. Most notably, the seats have been revised, and for the better. They’re more supportive and comfortable, and despite the presence of sunroofs in all of our testers, provided ample adjustment and forehead clearance. Another neat (and segment-exclusive) feature available on higher trims is a hands-free smart trunk. Dual USB charging and available seat memory are also new.

    To our eyes, the only disappointing interior feature was the door cards, which even in our range-topping Limited/Ultimate Package testers, were formed from hard plastic. Only the armrest section of the door panel interior is covered in soft-touch. It’s a minor issue, but in a car so otherwise rich in niceties, it’s a noteworthy omission.

    Elsewhere, you’ll find a few firsts for the Elantra (and some for the segment). The base display has been updated to a 7″ unit with an 8″ option for Nav-equipped cars. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are also now both fully supported and the infotainment system now rides on Hyundai’s next-gen Blue Link platform, and an eight-speaker Infinity audio system is available to back up all that attractive glass.

    Hyundai also took this opportunity to upgrade the Elantra’s suite of advanced safety features. Lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist are all available, along with a rearview camera featuring dynamic guidelines.

    Getting on the road
    So far, everything we’ve talked about likely meshes neatly with your existing impression of Hyundai as a brand brings value to the table above all else. While the company’s early-decade introductions were visually splashy and offered lots of features which were previously unheard of for their respective segments, they rarely offered the driving experience enthusiasts were looking for.

    Thankfully, as these platforms have matured, so too have their chassis. Like the Sonata, the new Elantra is the beneficiary of years of feedback from customers and members of the automotive media. The result is a car that is far less hateful to toss around than its earliest iterations.

    Our drive route with the 2017 Elantra took us from I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Mexico to almost-but-not-quite Julian, with detours through several of Southern California’s fine canyons and reservations, capped off with a somewhat impromptu blast down Lyons Valley Road. We found the Elantra to be competent and capable, if never truly outright fun to drive.

    If this seems like faint praise, consider for a moment that the Elantra once counted the outgoing base-model Nissan Sentra amongst its dynamic betters.

    The steering in particular is vastly improved. While feedback is still lacking, the wheel is far more trustworthy than it was previously. It was easy to catch the car washing out when being hustled up tighter uphill sections, the understeer coming on predictably and reliably. Lift would prompt the appropriate correction, inspiring confidence and encouraging us to push the Elantra harder than we’ve felt comfortable in the past.

    Speaking of uphill hustling, the Elantra’s weakest spot may now be its powertrain. While the 2.0L does a more than adequate job of moving the little sedan’s ~2,900lb mass around in most normal situations, it took quite a bit of winding out to get it out of tighter corners. Fortunately, for those of us who care about such things, Hyundai is working on a meaner Elantra–a “Sport” model with an independent rear suspension and somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 horsepower.

    Oh, and it’s going to come with a manual.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    In the meantime, the Elantra is no longer something to be dreaded. Like the new Prius, it offers a better-than-adequate driving experience in a package that didn’t previously hold that claim, and for that, we’re comfortable recommending it to those who want to get their hands on good tech at a great value.

    2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited base price: $22,350; Tech package, $2,500; Ultimate package, $1,900; carpeted floor mats, $125; delivery, $835
    As-tested price: $27,710

    Exterior photos by Byron Hurd.

  • First 2017 Acura NSX auctioned for $1.2 million

    February 1, 2016

    The first Acura NSX to roll out of the factory has sold for $1.2 million at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.

    When it goes on sale later this year, the supercar will have a price tag starting at $156,000, but the annual bid-fest often sees wealthy collectors paying immense prices for cars they deem collectible.

    The red car on stage in Arizona was a pre-production model. The actual first production 2017 Acura NSX has yet to be built, because it will be a custom order from the winning bidder. The highest paddle waver will get to choose his own interior and exterior colors, options and trim level. The car will then be built at a new manufacturing facility in Ohio built specifically to construct the NSX. He will also have the honor of owning ViN 001.

    Despite the 2012 SuperBowl commercial, the winning bidder was neither Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno. It was Rick Hendrick of NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, who also owns an Acura dealership franchise. This sale set a new record of VIN 001 cars auctioned at Barrett-Jackson. Hendrick owns a collection of such cars, mostly late-model Corvettes and Camaros.

    Proceeds from the auction will go to two charities, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Camp Southern Ground. The latter is a passion project for musician Zac Brown and serves special needs children.

    Live image by Brian Williams.

  • Hyundai to launch four star-studded spots, new slogan during SuperBowl

    February 1, 2016

    Hyundai will use next weekend’s SuperBowl as the kick-off to their new marketing and branding initiative. It has launched three teasers for four commercials to debut during the most-watched sporting event in the US.

    Hyundai is seeking to make clearer its brand identity. The new slogan: “We Make Things Better.”

    While the message may seem cryptic, Hyundai hopes to hone it during the SuperBowl a week from today. The football championship game will serve as the launchpad for Hyundai’s new marketing direction. The roll-out of the new motto will be subtle, rather than announced at full volume.

    “We decided it was better, instead of hitting them over the head with [the slogan], to not sell them too much on a particular concept or idea,” marketing head Dave Evans told Automotive News. “We want to find the middle road where we’re warming them up with the story first.”

    The ads will use star power and humor to change the public’s perception of Hyundai. Comedians Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart will be starring in some of them. The automaker also took over the title of official vehicle sponsor of the National Football League from GMC last year, a grab that cost $50 million a year according to ESPN. Now it’s using the NFL’s SuperBowl platform to reach 150 million viewers.

    Hyundai also revamped its marketing team and poached Evans from a rival automaker last year. It was Evans who came up with the feel-good slogan, and it feels familiar, that’s may be because Evans was from Subaru. Watch the teasers for the SuperBowl ads below.

  • Volkswagen preparing track-ready GTI Clubsport?

    February 1, 2016

    Volkswagen could launch an even more powerful version of the GTI Clubsport, a new report coming out of England finds.

    Inspired by the Porsche 911 GT3 Clubsport, the yet-unnamed model will be aimed primarily at buyers who want to hit the track. It will be based on the GTI Clubsport that was launched at last year’s Frankfurt Auto Show to celebrate the GTI’s 40th anniversary, but it will gain an evolution of the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine tuned to deliver 295 horsepower — 30 more than the car it’s based on — and 280 lb-ft. of torque. British magazine Autocar reports that Volkswagen is testing both a six-speed manual transmission and six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

    Not content with simply adding more power, Volkswagen has removed the Clubsport’s rear bench and tossed out a good deal of the sound-deadening material in order to shed weight. When all is said and done, the track-ready version of the Clubsport reaches 62 mph from a stop in less than 5.7 seconds.

    Volkswagen executives are split on whether or not to build the car because they’re worried about how an all-out performance car will be received in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal. Autocar has learned that the car will be shown to the public as a concept at the annual Wörthersee show in May to see how fans react to it. If it’s built, production will likely be limited to less than 100 examples.

  • Next BMW X3 to get 500-hp M-tuned model?

    February 1, 2016

    The next generation of the BMW X3 could spawn a M-tuned model, a German newspaper reports.

    Called X3 M, the hot-rodded crossover will allegedly use a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six engine tuned to deliver approximately 500 horsepower. All-wheel drive and an automatic transmission will come standard, and BMW most likely won’t offer a purist-friendly manual gearbox for cost and demand reasons. Performance specifications aren’t available yet.

    At the other end of the spectrum, the next X3 will also be offered with gasoline- and diesel-burning four- and six-cylinder engines borrowed from the BMW parts bin. Germany’s Focus reports that buyers concerned about fuel economy will be able to order the X3 with a revised version of the gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain that powers the X5 xDrive 40e.

    If the rumor is accurate, the first-ever BMW X3 M will be introduced at a major auto show in 2018, about a year after the non-M-tuned model, and it will go on sale in time for the 2019 model year. When it lands, it will have to fend off competition from Audi’s rumored RS Q5 and Mercedes-AMG’s hotly-anticipated version of the GLC crossover.

    Note: Current BMW X3 pictured.