Movie sequels can be tricky. Expectations can run high and that often leads to disappointment. Even if it's a decent movie, anything less than spectacular might be considered a flop. Likewise, with the brand garnering praise for its recent automotive releases, much is expected from the new 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring.
Our Chilipepper-Red Hyundai Elantra Touring test car resembles a mash-up of a sporty hatchback, European family wagon and a miniature crossover SUV. Compared to the Elantra sedan, the five-door Touring looks fairly exciting. Next to its predecessor, the Elantra GT (last seen in 2003), the Elantra Touring is positively modern. Inside, this Hyundai is surprisingly spacious, with a simple layout and plenty of soft-touch materials. We were also duly impressed by the long list of standard features that are usually optional in other vehicles.
Around town, we found the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring capable but not thrilling. Its cabin is fairly quiet, and the engine provides enough power to get the job done. "Mild-mannered" would be a good description. Surprisingly, though, when our seasoned test-driver slid behind the wheel at the test track, we discovered that the Elantra Touring is quite exciting and entertaining at the limit. Our test-driver called it "a hoot?in the slalom." Now, the Elantra Touring is no sports car, but for a wagonlike people hauler, it has some moves. That's not entirely surprising, since this car was designed by Hyundai's European studio in Germany, where the Elantra Touring is sold as the i30.
Determining the Touring's competition poses some problems, since some consider it a mix of hatchback and wagon. When pitted against the Dodge Caliber, Kia Soul, Mazda Mazda 3 and Toyota Matrix on versatility and fuel economy they're virtually in a dead heat. When it comes to price and interior space, though, the Elantra Touring and Kia Soul have an edge. In the end, if you're looking for a family car that hauls more than the kids and groceries, the competent 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring ranks as a must-see, feel-good pick.
The Hyundai Elantra Touring is powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 138 horsepower and 137 pound-feet of torque. Our test car utilized a five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed automatic is available at additional cost).
During instrumented testing, we accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and braked from that speed to a full stop, needing only 120 feet — respectable results among comparable cars like the Caliber, Soul and Mazda 3. Under heavy braking, the ABS was a bit rough, but stopping ability showed little sign of fade after repeated panic stops. In everyday driving, the engine had a tendency to bog down due to the widely spaced gear ratios that are employed to increase fuel economy.
Otherwise, we found the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring to be well-mannered and well-suited for city living, with a turning circle small enough to eliminate most three-point turns and a demeanor that never made us feel trapped in an econobox. The EPA estimates fuel economy for the Elantra Touring at 23 mpg for city driving, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving. In its brief stay with us, our test vehicle averaged 25.6 mpg in mixed driving conditions.
Steering is light, as is the clutch pedal, but both felt precise and consistent. The gearshift, from performance parts maker B&M, ran through forward gears without any guesswork, but lacked the notchy and positive feel expected from an aftermarket supplier. Finding the reverse gear proved difficult for some on staff, with the shifter occasionally refusing to fully engage the back-up cogs unless we initially selected 1st gear.
Compared to its sedan stablemate, the Elantra Touring has a stiffer suspension that is tuned for more responsiveness. This Touring model's handling performance feels nearly identical to that of the last Elantra sedan we tested — it kept its composure and balance intact. That's impressive, given the Touring model's additional size and weight.
The Elantra Touring's cabin is uncommonly spacious, even when compared to larger crossover SUVs, with generous headroom and legroom that accommodates the tallest drivers. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel makes finding a comfortable driving position easy, as does the manually operated seat with height adjustment. Our few gripes concerned the short seat bottom's lack of thigh support for long-legged passengers and the limited lumbar adjustment range.
Rear seating is spacious, and despite their flat appearance, the seats conform well to body contours but lack the lateral support found in the front seats. The ample rear-seat legroom allows child safety seat mounting with little or no impact on front-seat comfort — even with rear-facing child seats.
Road ruts and potholes were skillfully soaked up, while the cabin remained consistently quiet, with road and wind noise well abated. On long trips, though, the buzzy engine drone can be a bit of an annoyance.
The sight lines of the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring provide an expansive outward view thanks to a large greenhouse with narrow upright pillars. Visibility is further enhanced with legible gauges and displays that are a quick glance away. The no-nonsense layout of the climate control and audio system controls allow operation with minimal fuss, as do the steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons.
Standard iPod connectivity consists of a USB port and an auxiliary input jack located in the center armrest bin. The speakers deliver decent clarity, but we found them lacking impact and bass. Much of the time we had the volume maxed out and still wanted more sound.
Cargo space with the rear seats folded is truly impressive at a class-leading 65.3 cubic feet — more than a Nissan Murano. We had no problem fitting large suitcases behind the rear passengers, but luggage longer than a golf bag would require stowing part or all of the 60/40-split folding rear seats. Secondary storage is ample, with large door pockets, well-integrated trays and bins, a deep center armrest bin and a handy organizer under the trunk floor. Cupholders can securely hold medium-size drinks, but larger cups would likely result in a sticky center console.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring's shape straddles the line between hatchback and wagon. The Subaru-like grille and Volvo-esque taillights lean toward the dull side, but on the whole, the Elantra's styling is neither captivating nor offensive. The interior's layout is simple in design and devoid of superfluous gimmickry, with just enough textured soft-touch materials to separate it from lesser economy cars.
Squeaks and rattles are nearly absent from the cabin thanks to the tight fitment of panels. However, we're not fans of the material that wraps the steering wheel — it's listed as leather, but feels more like low-grade rubber. Another misstep is found in the Bluetooth hands-free unit that replaces the sunglasses holder above the rearview mirror. This unit has a flimsy aftermarket/afterthought feel to it, as it lacks steering wheel integration and its placement requires taking your eyes off the road to operate.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you have an aversion to wagons or crossover SUVs, yet you need plenty of passenger or cargo space, the 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring could be for you. The entertaining handling should attract those who desire a fun-to-drive hauler, while its generous standard equipment list will appeal to shoppers with more upscale aspirations.
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