Safe bets make up a mighty proportion of Australian new car purchases. For evidence, look at Hyundai and Kia and their march up the sales charts courtesy of value, long warranties and growing reputations for reliability.
When the fifth generation MD Hyundai Elantra compact sedan arrived in June 2011 it filled the safe bet bill and looked pretty sharp too thanks to its “Fluidic Sculpture” styling from California.
The four-door with a decent family-sized boot was good value when new and today holds up as a sound used buy with few faults reported, decent equipment levels and good fuel economy.
There was a pleasing engine and chassis package, too, thanks to an Australia-specific ride and handling tune by Hyundai’s talented local engineering team.
Basic Elantras cost a smidgen over $20,000 before on-road charges when new, and today these can be had for less than $10K, although early cars are now out of warranty.
It’s worth paying a few grand extra to score a higher grade Elantra with some manufacturer warranty remaining. The real targets, if dearer, are the 2014 and later Series II cars with improved style, technology and driveability.
Most have reasonably low kilometres on the clock, showing the Elantra’s popularity with town drivers, especially from the more mature demographic.
From 2011 the three grades were the base Active, mid-spec Elite or more luxe Premium, all powered by the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder (110kW/178Nm).
The Active was six-speed manual, with a six-speed auto a $2000 option. Auto was standard on the Elite and Premium.
Key specification for the Active included USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free, steering wheel audio controls and cruise control. It looked a bit plain Jane on 15-inch steel wheels.
The Elite had 16-inch alloys, premium steering wheel, piano black finish for the centre console, auto climate control aircon, auto headlights and wipers, push button start, smart key, front fog lamps and rear park assist.
To that impressive list, the Premium added leather/leatherette trim, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, sunroof, reverse camera (displayed in the rear view mirror), dark chrome grille and 17-inch alloys.
All grades came with six airbags and five-star safety. The spare was full-size and fuel economy was up there with the best in class.
The Series II from January 2014 brought a new chrome grille, fog lights for all and new alloy wheel designs.
Actives now had a five-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors and chilled glovebox. The Elite and Premium package included seven-inch touchscreen, satnav and rear-view camera, the Premium also scoring rear air vents and brighter headlights with surrounding LEDs.
The local suspension tune was recalibrated and there was sharper steering response thanks to the Aussie-specific Flex Steer, making these Elantras surprisingly talented things to drive.
From launch the model was praised for its five-year warranty, 420L boot, decent cabin space and equipment levels.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Elantra’s cabin still looks modern enough (especially if you get a Series II model) but some owners have said they aren’t wearing too well with age: hard plastics scratch easily and floor carpets wear away if mats haven’t been used.
On the plus side, there have been no major common faults reported by owners (such as engines or gearboxes failing) although poor Bluetooth connectivity is well-documented.
Overall most Elantra owners are pleased with their purchase, citing fuel economy, value for money and reliability as key positives. The subtext is that buyers seeking performance and fun should look elsewhere.
There are plenty on the used market, so target one with impeccable service records, low kilometres and, ideally, a careful older driver.
The Elantra was popular as a rental. You can avoid these by checking ownership records. For extra peace of mind, pay that bit extra to buy one with some of the five-year warranty remaining.
Reliable, economical and spacious, the Elantra is one for the head over the heart. Aim for Elite or Premium grade with warranty remaining and you should score a bargain sedan with impressive equipment.
John Parker: My 2012 Elite, bought new, has done just over 50,000km and it has been a wonderful machine. There is an intermittent fault that is hard to track down. Occasionally when I try to start it, it just keeps whirring away, so I just turn it off. I start it again, it kicks over with a big puff of smoke and seems to run fine. Everything is still original, though I had to replace the wiper blades — they don’t make em like they used to.
Terry O’Halloran: I decided on an Elantra after test driving the Subaru Impreza and Honda Civic. Glad I did. It is a great all-round car and fun to drive, with warranty, roadside assist and service interval making it a very appealing deal.
Keith Nicholls: We bought a 2012 Elite more than a year ago. Good points: it still looks modern, it doesn’t use much petrol and there’s heaps of space. We got a good deal on it and we’ve been impressed with how reliable and cheap to own it is. It’s going to be out of warranty soon and we’ll probably buy a new Hyundai next.
Penny Murray: My 2013 Elantra has been our family shuttle for two young kids, and is big inside and the boot takes most things easily. It drives well and is really smooth. The Bluetooth for my phone isn’t great and people can never hear me properly when I’m driving, so I don’t use it. The airconditioning has needed fixing but it is cheaper to service than our VW.
THE EXPERTS SAY
Hyundai sold 38,000 examples of the MD series Elantra. In the used market, its appeal is growing as prices come down.
The base Active version accounts for more than half the used listings and nearly nine out of 10 for sale are automatics.
A 2011 Active ($20,590 new) is now worth $9200 in good condition, having covered about 90,000km. A Premium from the same year ($28,990 new) is now $12,900. For 2015 versions, pay $13,500 for the Active ($20,990 new) and $19,800 for the Premium ($30,540 new).
Resale values for the first examples of the MD are just behind the Toyota Corolla and slightly ahead of the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 being the leader for retained value. The Elantra holds its value markedly better than Ford Focus, Holden Cruze and Mitsubishi Lancer.
The 2015 Elantras lose value faster than major competitors, including Focus, Cruze, Lancer and Civic. This may reflect aggressive discounts to maintain sales as it aged. — Red Book
HYUNDAI ELANTRA 2011-15
PRICE NEW $20,590-$30,540
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/178Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed man, 6-speed auto; FWD