Used 1996 Hyundai Elantra Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

All-new Elantra is a slickly styled sedan or wagon featuring dual airbags, side-impact protection and a more powerful engine. Pricing is up as well, pushing this Hyundai squarely into Dodge Neon and Honda Civic territory.

Vehicle overview

The Excel is long dead, and it's time to stop thinking of Hyundai as a second-rate automobile manufacturer. Last year, the Accent and Sonata provided a strong hint that this South Korean automaker was finally learning how to build a good car. This all-new 1996 Elantra provides the proof. Larger and more powerful than the first-generation Elantra, this new car offers quite a bit of bang-for-your-buck in either sedan or new-for-1996 wagon bodystyle.

Under the hood is a 130-horsepower 1.8-liter Hyundai-designed "Beta" engine, which produces 90 percent of its torque at 2,300 rpm, resulting in snappy around town performance. Riding on a four-wheel independent suspension, the new Elantra features a longer wheelbase and wider track, which contributes to smoother, more stable handling. An all-new speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering system communicates improved road feel to the driver. GLS models can be ordered with four-channel antilock brakes, which read each wheel separately.

Dual airbags debut on the Elantra this year, housed in a two-piece dashboard designed to reduce the development of squeaks and rattles. Side impact beams mounted in the doors meet 1997 safety standards. Adjustable headrests and seatbelt anchors are standard, and all models come with driver's side lumbar support and seat height adjustments. GLS models get a 60/40 split folding rear seat. Extensive sound deadening materials have also been added to the Elantra.

Base price for a five-speed sedan is $10,900. This price includes five-mph bumpers, rear window defroster, dual remote control mirrors, rear seat heat ducts, remote fuel and trunk releases, tilt steering, and speed-sensitive steering. Another $2,250 nets buyers a GLS model with an automatic, cassette stereo, power door locks, power outside mirrors, six-way adjustable driver's seat, split fold rear seat, power windows, four-wheel disc brakes, and performance-oriented tires. Add Option Package 11 to the GLS, and you'll get air conditioning, cruise control, and antilock brakes, bringing the MSRP to $15,040 plus destination.

Good value? Let's take a look. A Civic LX sedan equipped with air conditioning, automatic, and anti-lock brakes runs $15,850. A similarly-equipped Dodge Neon Highline comes in under $15,000, including ABS. A sporty Pontiac Sunfire SE sedan with a powerful 2.4-liter engine stickers for $15,500 and includes traction control. A fully loaded Kia Sephia GS will cost $13,290.

The 1996 Hyundai Elantra is much-improved over its predecessor. But like other Hyundai products, once a few options are added, the value disappears. The Pontiac offers superior content, the Dodge superior performance, the Honda a better reputation, and the Kia better value. If Hyundai had priced the Elantra a bit more down market, it would make a compelling choice. We like this new Hyundai, but as it stands, the new Elantra is likely to be passed over by most consumers, simply because of the nomenclature affixed to the decklid.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.