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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review Of 2009 Hyundai Elantra GLS

Having been the proud owner of the 2009 Hyundai Elantra GLS for the past week or so after managing to trade in my clunker van for cash, I thought I would write up a quick review of the new car. Given that my other car is also now a Hyundai Elantra (a 2003 model), I am also going to compare this car with the model that came out 6 years back.

I did not want to write the review until I had gotten hold of an owner's manual. When I drove home in the new car, I did not notice until I had gotten home that I had not been given an owner's manual. I tried getting one at the Hyundai dealer near me, but once the salesman there found out that I had not bought the car there, he said he could not give me a manual (at least I know where my maintenance dollars are not going). So, I drove out to the dealer from whom I had bought the car on Thursday morning before work and got one from them. It is a thick document, and the package comes with a separate warranty information booklet, a quick-reference guide, and consumer information booklet with legal information about each state's consumer protection laws. The manual does not come in a leather binding, but in a plastic bag with a snap closure!

I managed to read the manual over the next couple of evenings and familiarized myself with the car's systems.

To get the basics out of the way, the car's features are listed below:

The last 5 (before the 4 warranty terms) were optional add-ons that come as part of the Popular Equipment Package which I upgraded to at a cost of about $1,600. The base car comes with a 5-speed manual transmission which I upgraded to automatic transmission for about $1,000. If you pay up another $900 or so, you can upgrade to a 6-CD changer, a sun-roof, Electronic Stability Control, heated seats, a trip computer, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, etc.

The car boasts the government's highest frontal crash rating of 5 stars, and rates 4 stars in side-crash and rollover safety. The EPA-estimated city mileage is 25 mpg and highway mileage is 33 mpg, giving it a combined fuel economy of 28 mpg. Among mid-size cars that puts it in the middle of the range of 11 to 46 mpg. It has a global warming score of 8 (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being cleanest) and a smog score of 5 (also on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the cleanest).

Having driven it for the past 5 days, I can say that the car is as zippy as the older 2003 Hyundai Elantra was when I first bought that. It accelerates well even when the air-conditioner is on and it is loaded down with my entire family. The handling is sure-footed with a very responsive steering system, and good brakes. The turning circle radius is quite small, enabling U-turns even at tight intersections. The car traveled 160 miles with the gas gauge going from three-quarters to one-quarter (I got the car with the tank filled up to three-quarters). I will know about its true fuel economy only after I fill it with gas a few times and figure out how many miles it travels between fill-ups and how many gallons it takes for each fill-up.

The air-conditioner is not super-powerful, but once it gets going, it works quite well at lowering the interior temperature of the car to something comfortable quite quickly even when the outside temperature and humidity are both very high. Because the interior of the car is mostly a light tan, it does not get very hot even when left sitting in the sun for long periods of time. The lights are adequate for night driving and the car comes with fog lights which can enhance visibility in the dark, especially when there is fog or mist in the air.

The interior is quite roomy, even in the back seat. Even with the driver's seat pushed back as far as it will go (I have long legs, so I always push my seat all the way back on practically every vehicle I have driven), the backseat passenger has enough room to sit reasonably comfortably. Especially if the backseat is going to be occupied by children, there is no problem at all. The front seats have a height adjustment that allows one to raise or lower the seat cushion according to one's comfort (this is a manual adjustment, not electronic one. Also, it does not just raise and lower the front edge of the seat cushion, but the entire seat).

The back seat has a center arm-rest that can be pulled down from the center seat back-cushion. This arm-rest has a couple of cup-holders for rear-seat passengers. The front center console has a couple of cup and bottle-holders also. The doors also have some storage space for maps, etc. The glove compartment is just large enough to hold essentials like the owner's manual, registration, insurance papers, etc. Between the two front seats are a couple of storage nooks for storing sun-glasses and other small items. The car comes with a 12-volt outlet in addition to a separate cigarette lighter. There is also a small ash-tray in the center console.

Rear-seat arm-rest with cup-holders

Front-seat center console with cup and bottle-holders and small storage area

The key-fob that comes with the car has separate buttons to open the doors (one click for just the driver's door, another click within 4 seconds to open all doors), trunk (click and hold for a second) and to lock all doors. On the reverse side of the fob is a panic button that activates the car's alarm system to produce a loud noise. The 2003 Elantra has a simpler key-fob with no button to open the trunk or raise an alarm.

The fuel door is opened from inside the car by pulling up a small lever near the driver's seat. The trunk can also be opened from inside the car by pressing a button on the driver's side door (the 2003 model had a trunk-release lever next to the gas door lever). The trunk has an emergency release lever inside so that a person trapped inside can open the trunk without external assistance. This lever is supposed to glow in the dark. The trunk is quite roomy and there are no external objects protruding into it, taking away from its storage space (the Honda Civic I owned a long time back had the bottoms of the rear speakers protruding into the trunk. This not only caused problems when trying to load luggage in the trunk, it also lead to the speakers getting severely damaged. I had to drive that car for the last 2 years of its life with the fader set to power only the front speakers because of the damage to the rear speakers. Can you say stupid design?).

The automatic transmission gearshift is one of those new-fangled ones with unnecessary kinks and turns that seems to appeal to some people. I have no idea what utility it gives over the straight shift path that the 2003 Elantra had. The parking brake lever is right next to the transmission shift lever, in the center console of the front seat. A side-by-side look at the automatic transmission gearshifts of the 2009 and 2003 Elantras is below:

2009 Elantra gear-shift (left) and 2003 Elantra gear-shift (right)

The audio system is bigger than on the 2003 Elantra because of the addition of XM to the radio system. The satellite radio also results in the placement of the antenna on the roof of the car in the form of a small fin instead of a regular antenna that sticks out vertically at the back of the car.
Satellite radio antenna on the roof of the car

The audio system also has a pleasant blue glow that illuminates all the controls. The digital clock on top of the radio also glows blue. The radio has rudimentary equalizer controls, 6 AM presets, 12 FM presets and 18 XM presets. The car comes with XM radio activated for 3 months for free. The customer has to call XM radio to get the subscription extended beyond the 3 months (and pay for the privilege at that time). The audio system has a bunch of controls for navigating MP3 CD's, several more controls for navigating the menus of the XM radio system, etc. I have not played with these controls because I neither have MP3 CD's nor do I listen to XM radio. The audio system can also play music from an Ipod or Ipod-like device attached to the car by a USB cord (it is not a standard USB cord though, it is something special that has to be purchased from Hyundai). A side-by-side look at the radios of the 2009 and 2003 Elantras is below:

Audio Controls on the 2009 Elantra (left) and 2003 Elantra (right)

As you can see above, the climate controls on the 2003 Elantra use knobs and buttons, but the 2009 model uses big round controls with the buttons in their middle. A picture of it is below:
Climate controls on the 2009 Elantra

The instrument panels of both models are quite similar. The main difference is that the 2009 model has this blue glow that makes it easier to read the dials, I suppose. More importantly, the 2009 model does not have a temperature gauge. There is a warning light that is supposed to light up when the engine heats up beyond 249 degrees, but there is no gauge to see how close to that temperature your engine actually is. A side-by-side comparison of the instrument panels is below:

Instrument panels of 2009 Elantra (left) and 2003 (Elantra)

As you can see, the 2009 model does not show the status of the gas gauge unless the key is turned in the ignition (it shows empty right now), while the 2003 model shows the correct status of the gas gauge at all times. Notice the temperature gauge to the left of the tachometer in the 2003 instrument panel.

One nice feature that has been carried over from the 2003 model is that when you turn the car off and open the door to get out, the headlights go out if they were on. Thus, you can keep the headlight switch on permanently and your lights will be on when you drive, but will go out when you leave the car, so your battery will not be drained. I have no idea how to get the lights to stay on after the engine has been turned off if you want them to stay on!

The passenger-side airbag of this car is activated only when an adult is seated in the passenger seat. The seat has sensors that measure the weight of the seat and figure out whether to switch on the passenger-side airbag. The passenger-side airbag will not deploy in an accident unless that airbag has been activated by the automatic sensing system. There is no way to manually override either the activation or inactivation of the passenger-side airbag. This applies only to the front airbag, not the side or curtain airbags.

But the car (maybe it is not the car itself, but the peripheral stuff associated with the car) is not without its problems and drawbacks (or it may just be idiosyncracies that one has to get used to). The first is the absence of a temperature gauge in the instrument panel. Secondly, none of the instruments (including the gas gauge) work unless the key is turned to the ON position, so you can't just look in through the window and figure out whether it needs to be gassed up or not. there is no mechanical odometer, so to get an odometer reading again requires the key to be in the ignition. And you can not see the odometer and any of the 2 trip-meters at the same time because they occupy the same space and replace each other when the TRIP button on the dashboard is pressed. Both the trip-meters go only up to 3 digits, so you can't use either of them to keep track of an oil-change interval. I use the trip-meter to keep track of my mileage usually, but having 2 of them does not help me much.

The passenger-side airbag can not be activated or deactivated manually. On the 2003 model, this was possible (and I left it on all the time). Hopefully, the automatic sensor will always pick up a passenger in the seat and turn the bag on reliably, but I hate too much automation, especially when there is no way to manually override it. The 2009 model does not come with a sunroof except when you upgrade to the highest level of options. My 2003 model came with a sunroof standard without having to make any upgrades. My 2003 model also came with traction control standard. The 2009 model comes with Electronic Stability Control when you upgrade to the highest level of options and I think this is equivalent to traction control. But the car I bought does not have traction control or any equivalent.

The owner's manual for the car has several grammatical errors. There are a few run-on sentences and a few sentences leave out some important word so that the meaning is changed. You can tell what the wording should be, but the proof-reading has not been up to snuff, leading to such errors. Some of the errors may just be due to bad translation from Korean.

The Hyundai website seems nice at first glance, but once you get into the details, it is far from perfect. You can register your cars online and the website promises to keep track of service and maintenance (you have to enter the details manually, even your Hyundai dealer can not automatically update details about the maintenance performed on your vehicle even if you get all your maintenance performed only at the dealer), provide you online copies of owner's manuals, etc. To register your car, you need the VIN number of the car. You have to enter the VIN number with all the letters in upper case (I know of no VIN number with lower case letters, but if you enter lower case letters in the registration form, the form returns an error saying invalid VIN instead of internally translating the letters to upper case and validating it). After registering both my vehicles, I was able to find the owner's manual of the 2003 car, but the 2009 owner's manual (which was the primary reason I went to the Hyundai website) was not available online. Also, when I clicked the link for my vehicle's specifications, the page header identified my model correctly, but the body said "Hyundai Sonata" and listed that model's specifications. I lost interest in the website at that point and haven't been back there in the last few days.

Overall, it is a very nice car. It drives well, controls are well-thought-out and well-placed. The car is fuel-efficient and a pleasure to drive because of its responsiveness and sporty handling. It is chock-full of safety features and some nice conveniences such as the lights turning off automatically even if you leave them on by mistake. It has a much longer warranty than other vehicles I compared it with and if my experience with my 2003 Elantra is any indication, I will not need to use the warranty in any case. I decided on the 2009 Hyundai Elantra as my first choice of vehicle as soon as I started shopping, based on the performance of the 2003 Elantra I already own. I settled on it as my final choice after researching several other vehicles. I don't think I am going to be disappointed with my choice!

1 comment:

Nitin Pthania said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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