Learning lessons quickly is just one reason why the Koreans can outpace other car-making nations. The first corner at the wheel of the Hyundai Elantra - its latest small-car sedan and one of four models to hit showrooms before Christmas - shows that the company is subtly turning to a new direction.
Less than a year since complaints - notably from motoring writers, not customers - about the vague steering and suspension of the i45 flagship sedan, Hyundai unwrapped its surprising Elantra.
With suspension tuning done in Australia and, says the company, specifically for Australian conditions and driving styles, the Elantra is a taut, predictable and even a fun car to push through winding roads.
It shows the company listened. Even if most owners of the pretty and affordable sedan (it starts at $20,590) may never want to test the handling, they'll be impressed with the quality, the safety and the features.
The Elantra has entered the ring with heavyweights including Corolla, Mazda3, Holden Cruze and even plays off against some Golf variants. Hyundai says the potential is 1200 a month. In my view, they're underestimating the market.
Pricing starts at $20,590 for the Active six-speed manual, lifting to $25,590 for the mid-spec Elite automatic and then to $28,990 for the top-shelf Premium automatic. Add $2000 for an automatic Active to make it $22,590. The other two models come only as autos.
The only option is mica/metallic paint at $375. Its priced right amongst its Cruze/Mazda3/Golf rivals and, looking closer, is line-ball in so many ways with the Mazda3.
Is it as good? Yes. Standard equipment includes cruise control, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate airconditioning, iPod/USB connectivity, split/fold-down rear seats with remote levers in the boot and six airbags.
The shape is Hyundai's fluid sculpture style and this can be a bit hit and miss - it overpowers the wheels in the ix35 SUV, for example, making them apear too small - but works well in the Elantra. The new sedan has similar styling to its big sister, the i45 sedan.
But where the i45 can look a tad stretched, the flowing lines and creases really suit the smaller Elantra. It's pretty from all angles and carries that through to the interior with simple yet effective switchgear, comprehensive feature list and the perceived quality of the upholstery and specifics such as the soft-feel dash top.
The Elantra appeals to i30 hatch buyers who want a boot. But though they sit in the same category, the Elantra's platform is all new and not shared with the i30. There is only one engine and it's also new. The 1.8-litre four has variable-valve timing for inlet and exhaust but misses out on the direct-petrol injection technology of the i45 and upcoming Veloster.
It is mated to Hyundai's in-house designed and built six-speed automatic and six-speed manual. Both make their first appearance in this car and are destined now to flow into other models. The steering is electric-assist and, like its rivals, the Elantra gets conventional MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear.
Hyundai says the suspension tuning is unique to Australia - a response to some who tackled the i45's allegedly vague spring and steering systems - and says it put in new components including roll bar, coils and shockies.
The paint is barely dry but ANCAP has plunged the Elantra into concrete walls and telegraph poles for a five-star crash rating. Everyone's happy. The car also gets six airbags and a electronic chassis module called VDM that incorporates the ABS brakes with electric stability control, brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Hyundai says VDM integrates all these aids and then loops in the electric steering to make it easier to avoid an accident.
It's a small car but the flowing, sleek styling makes it appear long and low. The way the roofline droops to join the rear window and then define the snub boot indicates that rear-seat headroom will suffer. Actually, it's not that bad.
The cabin is quite accommodating with sufficient leg and head room, drivers seat height adjustment and tilt/telescopic movement for the steering wheel. Short shifts and a light clutch make the six-speed manual gearbox version such an easy car to drive. Typically, the engine also feels perkier with this transmission and able to draw out more response from the engine.
However, the six-speed sequential auto is no slouch and in most cases better suits the car's intended life in the city and suburbs. The engine is predictable and linear in its power delivery, but can leave some motorists wanting a bit more. But there's no disputing the ability of this car to hang on through the corners.
The electric steering is light - occasionally too light - but is a good fit for the cars intended market. The A-pillars (windscreen pillars) are quite thick and on a few occasions on test managed to almost completely block out the view of an approaching car.
It is a difficult car to criticise. The package seats four adults with good rear seat room, has a big boot that includes a full-size spare wheel, a feature list that is extensive in comparison with some rivals, and has a great price list and a warranty you can't ignore.
Yes, it may be even more attractive as a diesel but the purchase price may not make it economic sense. And anyway, there's no diesel Elantra on the horizon.
Price: $20,590 - $28,990
Warranty: 5-years/unlimited km
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety: 5-star Euro NCAP
Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 110kW/178Nm
Body: 4-door sedan
Transmission: 6-speed manual or auto, front drive
Thirst: 6.6L/100km, 91 RON, CO2 158g/km
"Hyundais sporty game changer makes good sense for city and suburb"