Honda City VS Hyundai Elantra
- Roomy enough to fit four adults
- Huge boot
- Handsome looks
- Underdone engine
- Average CVT performance
- Multimedia system is a disaster
- All variants fun to drive
- Sensible spec levels
- Standard multimedia set-up
- Optional safety on Go & Active
- No radar safety on Sport
- Polarising looks
Honda built its four-wheeled automotive empire on the back of small cars, flying in the face of 1970s convention that bigger was better. As the ubiquitous Civic grew larger and larger, a niche for a smaller car appeared, and that niche was subsequently filled by the City in sedan guise, and the Jazz hatch that sits alongside it.
The buying public, however, is simply not as interested as it once was in small hatches and sedans, and Honda, along with other importers, is feeling the pinch when it comes to slumping sales for its smaller models.
We’re trying the range-topping, $21,590 VTi-L to see what we may have been missing.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Is there a place for the humble sedan in 2019?
Hyundai seems to think so. And so for 2019 it has overhauled its Elantra range, with a polarising new look and interesting new trim levels.
Is the price right to push the Elantra to the forefront, though? Or is the i30’s less-famous sedan sibling destined to be overlooked?
We’ve spent some time in each of the Elantra’s four variants over the past few months to find out. Read on to see what’s what, and which one is our pick of the range.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Small sedan sales are on the wane, and as a result, the cars that remain in the market often aren’t the best in a brand’s lineup.
The underdone steering, too, makes the car uncomfortable for passengers more often than not, while the buggy, hard-to-use multimedia system is unforgivable in an almost-$22,000 car.
Are small sedans off your shopping list, or does the Honda City still hold appeal?
The Elantra might be overlooked compared to its famous i30 stablemate, but it shouldn’t be. It’s every bit as entertaining to drive and just as well equipped.
It’s a shame active safety is on the option list for lower trim levels, and there’s no radar features on higher ones, and the unnecessary styling changes might polarise buyers. But the Elantra is otherwise a well-equipped and rewarding-to-drive package across the range.
Would you consider the Elantra over a Japanese competitor? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The City does a good job of disguising the fact that it’s a micro-sized sedan; at first glance, the revised front bar and grille that’s meant to mimic the one on the new Civic does such a good job that some people will need to look at the bootlid badge to find out it’s not a Civic.
A high waistline and a solid yet stylish sweep over the roof keep the City from looking overly twee, and even though the 16-inch wheels look a bit narrow, the overall impression is one of a larger car.
The interior, too, is spacious and airy, while the controls and steering wheel give the City an upmarket feel. There’s a little too much grey plastic inside, and hard plastics aren’t difficult to spot, but the City presents well, on the whole.
Despite being a facelift of the rather good looking 2016 Elantra, the 2019 car has taken a hard turn into the domain of triangles and right-angles.
The new styling has proved controversial in the CarsGuide office. The Go and Active seem to have largely abandoned many of the styling points which Hyundai has invested in over the past few years, with their vertically lined grilles and abundance of triangle light fittings.
All the extra space on the big, flat rear is taken up by the big-font ‘Elantra’ text and Hyundai logo, which is '90s-style in design.
The Sport and identical-from-the-outside Sport Premium are angry looking cars, with frowning LED light fittings, giant alloys and an abundance of angular black highlights.
The side skirts, rear diffuser and spindle grille give the Sport variants an impressive amount of presence on the road. There’s no spoiler to be found, though.
Inside, the Go and Active are a fairly basic offering, with the Active scoring a leather wheel and some extra niceties. The dash is a sea of grey, however, and the nice touchscreen is humbled by its old-school in-dash positioning.
The Sport grades add some more sophisticated touches, with sporty leather-trimmed seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a more subtle climate-control console rather than the clunky air-conditioning one used in lesser variants.
All cars have a sensible trip computer and simple gauges in the instrument cluster.
Missing from any variant is a digital dashboard as seen in the Honda Civic. There’s also the argument that the Elantra’s cousin, the Kia Cerato, has a more forward-thinking cabin design.
Up front, the City is a great fit even for taller drivers, and its height-adjustable seat also means that the, err, less vertically inclined pilot can find a comfortable position behind the tilt-and-reach adjustable wheel.
A regular gear shifter and manual handbrake means the two cupholders are squashed under the centre console, but there are bottle holders in all four doors, as well as two more cupholders in the rear centre armrest in the VTi-L.
The VTi-L also gains two extra 12-volt accessory power points in the rear to complement the USB and a third 12V point up front, while the keyless entry system is not something you’d usually find on a car at this price point.
Sadly, the City’s multimedia system lets the side down - big time. Try as we might, we couldn’t connect a phone to our tester, no matter what we did, and it’s just utterly unintuitive to use in most situations.
It’s a bit of a rude shock, actually; most manufacturers have media systems sorted, but there’s simply not a even a half-decent one in any Honda that’s currently on sale. And there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though you can find those mirroring systems in the larger Civic.
Rear seating has adequate headroom – just – for taller teens, and there isn’t a lot of compromise required from front seaters to comfortably accommodate four people. Five? That’s getting crowded, but it can be done.
Two ISOFIX baby seat fixtures are present, along with three top-tether mounts. Boot space measures 536 litres - which is actually 12 litres bigger than that of the new Camry - while both rear seats fold flat(ish) to increase load capacity further.
A good point; the seats can be unlatched via boot-mounted buttons. A bad point; you still have to reach in and push the seats down by hand. A space saver spare nestles under the boot floor, as well.
Up front, the Elantra offers decent room. The Cabin feels a smidge more spacious than its i30 hatch sibling, and there’s plenty of leg and headroom on offer in every variant - except for the sport premium, which has a cropped roofline due to the sunroof. While there’s a decent centre console box, the door lacks a bit of padded trim for your elbow.
Like the rest of Hyundai’s range, the Elantra has a slew of generous cubbys and cupholders throughout the cabin. Underneath the air-con console is a deep trench which houses a 12v output, USB port and, in the Sport Premium variant, the Qi wireless phone charging pad.
Rear passengers are granted great legroom and decently sized cupholders in the doors, as well as a drop-down arm rest with two more cupholders.
The Active and Go lack rear air vents, whereas the Sport and Sport Premium offer two for back-seat passengers.
The available boot space should serve as a reminder why sedans shouldn’t be overlooked for practicality reasons, with 458 litres VDA on offer. Still, it is bested in this segment by the luggage capacity of the Cerato (520L), Civic (517L), and Impreza (460L). A rubber cargo liner and fabric bumper protector are available as genuine accessories.
In an annoying niggle, the Sport variants ride quite low around their midsections due to the flared bodykit bits. I found these would quite easily scrape if you weren’t careful over speedbumps or shopping centre ramps. Go and Active variants were fine in terms of clearance.
Price and features
The top shelf VTi-L is the best of a two-model lineup, and costs $21,590 plus on-road costs. It comes with an 88kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels, as well as LED daytime lamps, a part-leather interior, push-button start and smart key, climate control air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat nav and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
It also has a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shifter, and map pockets on both seat backs.
It does miss out on a lot of other stuff, though, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, automatic lights (remember when a car last beeped at you to turn off the lights? Me neither...) and automatic wipers, and it also misses out on driver aids like auto emergency braking (AEB).
It starts to look a bit dear when you look at similarly priced cars - even from the next size sector up - that do offer inclusions like AEB and automatic headlights, though the small sedan is a bit of a rarity in the Aussie market now.
Its only like-for-like rivals in the space are the Mazda2 sedan and the Hyundai Accent sedan. Other potential competitors like the Ford Fiesta sedan and, more recently, the Toyota Yaris sedan have been deleted from local line-ups after years of declining sales, while the subsequent rise of the compact SUV will continue to have an impact on the so-called 'light car' market.
The Elantra range is made up of four variants split into two price points. But there are also a few small catches to look out for.
Kicking off the range at $21,490 is the Elantra Go. That money buys you a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic can be had for an extra $2300, and from there you can add the must-have ‘SmartSense’ safety pack for an additional $1700.
Standard features on the Go include 15-inch steel wheels, halogen headlamps, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, a reversing camera, central locking, and a six-speaker audio system.
Next up is the Active. It starts from $25,990 and is offered exclusively as a six-speed automatic. Again, the must-have SafetySense is an extra $1700. The Active includes a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in nav and DAB+ digital radio support, a premium audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured auto-folding wing-mirrors, as well as LED indicators and DRLs.
Then there’s a price-jump to $28,990 for the Elantra Sport manual. The Sport gets a significantly overhauled drivetrain and exterior treatment, with a full bodykit, bumper and grille. It also gets a leather interior with slightly sportier seats, aggressive 18-inch alloy wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, ‘smart key’ keyless entry with push-button start, full LED front lighting with high-beam assist, and some (but not all) active safety items… More on that in the ‘Safety’ section.
The Sport can be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic at a $2500 premium. The other optional extra is red leather interior ($295), which can be had only when the car is painted white, grey or black.
Speaking of which, all colours (including blue, orange, red and silver) are optional and will cost you $495. White is the only free shade.
At the top of the range is the Elantra Sport Premium ($31,490 manual/$33,990 auto), which adds a sunroof (not the panoramic kind), front parking sensors, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, Qi wireless charging pad, auto-dimming rear mirror and a luggage net in the boot. Not a lot extra for a premium package, but it’s not wildly priced either.
Engine & trans
The i-VTEC four-cylinder 1.5-litre single cam engine is naturally aspirated, and it makes its 88kW at a high 6600rpm, while its modest 145Nm of torque peaks at 4600rpm.
It means the CVT gearbox needs to work pretty hard to get the best from the engine, which has been superseded by a twin-cam version in other markets.
There are two engines in the Elantra range. A dated 2.0-litre non-turbo engine which has hung around for a long time in Hyundai’s stable, and a much newer 1.6-litre turbo engine in higher variants.
Unlike the i30, there’s no option for a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. Any EV and plug-in hybrid versions are still beyond the horizon (perhaps pending the success of the Ioniq).
The Go and Active variants share the 2.0-litre engine which produces 112kW/192Nm. The Go is available as either a six-speed manual or a six-speed traditional torque converter automatic. The Active is six-speed auto only.
The Sport and Sport Premium are powered by the excellent 150kW/256Nm 1.6-litre turbo. Aside from the Kia Cerato GT, which shares the same engine, the next closest competitor at this price point is the outgoing Mazda3 SP25 (139kW/252Nm).
The Sport and Sport Premium can either be had with a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and can cycle between ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘eco’ drive modes.
The Elantra range is a strictly front-wheel-drive affair, as there’s no option for all-wheel drive.
A 320km test loop netted us a dash-indicated figure of 6.3 litres per 100km, which is impressively close.
The 40-litre fuel tank is happy to accept standard unleaded petrol, too.
All 2.0-litre Elantras have claimed/combined fuel usage figures of 7.4L/100km. Against this claim I scored a very reasonable 8.0L/100km in my road test of the Active.
The 1.6-litre variants have a marginally better claimed consumption figure of 7.0L/100km against which I scored 9.0L/100km in my test of the Sport. If you’re having fun, expect at least 9.0L or above. That’s a compliment.
All Elantra variants happily consume regular 91RON unleaded and have 50-litre tanks. Good stuff.
Weighing just 1100kg, you’d expect the 1.5-litre powered City to have a bit of get up and go… but unfortunately it’s already gotten up and left by the time you drive off.
The 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is a carryover unit from the previous generation, and it feels like it, too. It’s also teamed with a CVT gearbox that isn’t a patch on more up-to-date trannies from the likes of Subaru and Toyota.
On any sort of incline, the CVT ups the revs of the engine to a point between bloody annoying and mildly painful, too. The VTi can be ordered with a manual gearbox, which has to be better than the CVT in this example.
The underdamped suspension tune is adequate for light duties around town, but the electric steering feel very odd underhand, especially at the very beginning of a turn.
There’s a big initial motion at the front wheels when you start to turn which then quickly tapers off, meaning that you have to be ultra precise with your steering to prevent the City from lurching into the corner and falling over its soft suspension.
On light throttle, with no hills and few corners, though, the City is just fine…
All Elantra variants are great to drive. They share excellent suspension and steering characteristics, lending them a rewarding experience in the corners while not being too stiff or too soft over bumps.
The 2.0 litre variants offer, well, acceptable power, even if they're a little on the thrashy side, and their ride comfort is boosted by sensibly sized alloy wheels and soft rubber.
Sport variants are genuinely a blast to drive. The 1.6-litre turbo has small amounts of lag, but is otherwise strong through 1500-4500rpm. Torque steer is present but manageable, and even adds a little to the excitement.
Thick (and pricey) Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (225/40R18s) help keep the Elantra Sport planted and surprisingly grippy through the corners.
Road noise is acceptable but not stellar across the range. The same goes for the 10.6-meter turning circle.
Truly gone are the days where you should question whether Korean cars can be fun; the Sport and Sport premium do a better job of channeling the characteristics of Japanese sports sedans of the '90s and '00s better than most current Japanese nameplates.
On the downside, the silly flared body kit on the Sport variants limit ground clearance on ramps or speedbumps and can be prone to bottoming out. This combines with the easily scratched giant wheels to make for some nervous driving.
Full-length curtain airbags are offered along with dual front and front side 'bags, and there's a reversing camera. The City holds a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, which it has had since it was tested back in 2014.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Go and Active variants have no active safety features as standard, but can be equipped with the very worthwhile $1700 safety pack.
Included is auto emergency braking (AEB), which detects pedestrians and works up to freeway speeds, blind-spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), active cruise, lane departure warning (LDW) and lane-keep assist (LKAS).
Most of these features come standard on the Sport and Sport Premium grades, with the omission of active cruise control and pedestrian detection. This is because the Sport grades lack a radar system.
Standard safety includes six airbags and the regular suite of electronic stability and traction controls, as well as two ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the rear seats.
The Elantra carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2016.
As a bonus, Go and Active variants have matching full-size spare wheels under the boot floor. Sport and Sport Premium cars have space savers.
The Elantra is built in South Korea.
Honda sells the City with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, while a no-catch seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is occasionally offered with its cars, along with premium roadside assistance for the life of the longer warranty.
Both warranties are also transferable to the next owner, should you sell your car before the warranty expires.
A fixed-price servicing regime is in place for the City, too, starting at $259 and peaking at $297. But Honda asks for the City to be serviced every six months or 10,000km, which does add to the cost of running the car.
Hyundai covers its range with an on-par five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty promise offered by most of the competition. It is outdone by its mechanical twin, the Kia Cerato,with its seven-year warranty.
Hyundai’s fixed service program is one of its strong suits, with service pricing on turbo Elantra models locked between reasonable $273 to $460 costs per visit, locked all the way out to 168 months/210,000 kilometres. And even beyond that there's the optional pre-paid ‘iCare’ packages. Costs are slightly less for 2.0-litre cars.