Consumer Reports now argues that the Hyundai brand is more reliable than Nissan, Mazda, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Ford.
If you trust the three-year dependability study from J.D. Power and Associates, then you believe that the Hyundai brand overall is more dependable than BMW, Chevrolet, Honda, Jaguar and 21 other brands.
If you believe in recalls as a measure of quality, Transport Canada lists just four Elantra recalls since 2013, one for mis-labeling. Honda issued precisely four recalls on the rival Civic during the same period.
And if you believe your own eyes, the view from the driver’s seat of the 2018 Elantra GT hatchback is startling, and in a good way. This is what smart design and quality materials look like.
For starters, the red-faced, sharp-needled gauges in my tester, a $28,499 GT Sport, jump out like they were conceived by a smart, creative German with a slew of Red Dot awards lining his credenza. Which is the truth.
The German executive who leads Hyundai and Kia design is Peter Schreyer. He made his bones on Audis and Volkswagens way back when. Now he’s a Hyundai Motor President and the design boss of the whole conglomerate.
Okay, now I know that many of you might be brand snobs who associate Hyundai with rusty Ponys and falling-apart Stellars from decades ago. That was the 1980s, which I remember well, but times have changed. Still, the Hyundai brand does not have the cachet of VW or even Ford.
On top of that, Hyundai’s dealer network began as a collection of low-rent hustlers in bare-bones, linoleum-tiled showrooms decorated with balloons, cigarette butts and discarded Styrofoam cups. Back in the mid-1980s, when the Pony was launched and I was a young business writer, I checked for my watch after shaking hands with a Hyundai salesman.
Worse, Hyundai Canada lacked the resources and the leadership skills to satisfy its customers. Hyundai Canada sold 25,000 Pony cars in 1985 (base price, $4,995), but couldn’t back them up with a proper parts and service operation. Horrified customers were tortured with long waits and shoddy workmanship.
Today, well, the best and most respected dealership groups are committed to selling and servicing Hyundais. Billionaire Jim Pattison sells them. The Dilawri Group, Canada’s biggest dealer group, has a couple of Hyundai stores. The Open Road Group, voted one of Canada’s best employers six years running, sells Hyundais.
These are not fly-by-night operators, but respectable retailers who are in it for the long haul.
Speaking of long hauls, I would be quite happy to take one in the Elantra GT Sport I recently tested. This is a comfortable, well-balanced, functional, technologically sophisticated and quite tossable little compact five-door. Even the seats are well-made, nicely bolstered and decently padded.
Hyundai’s top cheerleaders will tell you that the chassis is solid because half of it is made of advanced high strength steel. So it’s rigid, which makes it easier for the suspension engineers to tune the ride for both comfort AND responsiveness. Solid? Yes, that’s how it feels over any sort of roadway.
The steering is not quite so tidy and direct as a comparably sporty VW Golf, but close enough. The 18-inch allow wheels nicely fill up their housings and the independent, multi-link rear suspension is what you’d expect in a VW Golf rival. The Golf is really of work of superb chassis engineering, but the Elantra GT is much cheaper, when the two cars are similarly equipped.
The GT Sport gets the most modern of engines, a 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct-injection four-banger (201 hp/195 lb-ft torque). It’s delightful. Lots of smooth power. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is snappy and quite amazing. You can manage it through paddle shifters. (Cheaper GT models get a 2.0-litre four (161 hp/150 lb-ft. of torque) mated to either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.)
As for infotainment and the like, Hyundai’s choices here suggest that the company is going after Millennials, not Baby Boomers who are often flummoxed by technology and still find themselves reliving the ‘80s at reunion concerts by the Eagles. Millennials are likely to care that the Elantra GT was the first Hyundai in Canada to offer BlueLink – connectivity that allows for remote starts and a bunch of other things that you can manage via a smartphone app, the web or the rearview mirror.
Hyundai has spent more than three decades building its brand in Canada and around the world. Respect is coming, but slowly; this project remains a work in progress.
But bi-by-bit, with solid quality, sharp design, modern gizmos, entertaining performance and improving customer service, Hyundai is tearing down the walls of bias erected by Ponys and the like.
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport
Price: $28,499. Freight and PDI: $1,705.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (201 hp/195 lb-ft torque).
Transmissions: seven-speed autoshift manual.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/7.9 using regular fuel.
Comparables: Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Cruze, Fiat 500L.