2009 Hyundai Elantra SE review: How to wear a cloak

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

The Hyundai Elantra may not have invented the Cloak of Invisibility, but it’s awfully close to having perfected it. Gentlemen, when the ladies look in your direction, they’ll see nothing at all. The valets at a fancy restaurant will act as if they don’t see you. And—because there’s always some good in everything—cops won’t notice you. Well, OK, the Hyundai Cloak of Invisibility doesn’t work on radar.

The Hyundai Elantra, however, isn’t a car one drives to be noticed. Or at least shouldn’t be because it ain’t gonna happen.

Perhaps that’s as it should be. The Hyundai Elantra is basic cost-conscious transportation. If living simply is your goal, and you seek a partner who shares your interests, buy an Elantra and note it on your computer dating profile.

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE interior

The 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE interior is plain and generally inoffensive, but colors don’t match well. (click to enlarge)

That said, the Hyundai Elantra SE delivers on its promise, delivering value for low cost of entry and a distinct frugality of operation.

It is the archetype of the economy compact sedan: 2.0-liter front-drive five-seatbelt car with a 60/40 fold-down rear seatback. Exterior styling is innocuous and the interior is largely inoffensive.

But as Hyundai’s sales have proven, there’s apparently a market for that.

It’s not a bad thing. And in a longtime Hyundai tradition, it comes standard with a lot of stuff, and in our top-of-the-line SE model, it not only comes with an extra lot of stuff, it does so at a remarkably moderate price.

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE engine

The 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE engine is willing but short on muscle for true sport. (click to enlarge)

All Elantras come with four-wheel disc brakes, anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution (which reads where weight is in the car and proportions braking between front and rear so ABS won’t be used as early or often). All Elantras also come with front, front-side and side-curtain airbags.

The Hyundai Elantra comes in two trim levels, GLS and SE. (There’s also an Elantra Touring, but it’s a five-door, not a four-door sedan like our test car). The GLS has features frequently optional on compact cars, including heated power mirrors and keyless remote locking as standard equipment.

The “Popular Equipment Group” rounds out the Elantra GLS, but with air conditioning available only as part of that package, very few Elantras will sell at the base $14,120 price. The Popular Equipment group adds a/c, a 172-watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3/aux six-speaker audio, fog lights, cruise control, and dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors for $1,750. A four-speed automatic transmission (in place of the five-speed manual) adds another $1,000.

Hyundai calls the SE “sport-oriented,” citing 16-inch alloy wheels, leather shift knob and steering wheel (with tilt/telescoping and audio controls), and trip computer, plus stability control with traction control and brake assist, and everything in the GLS’ Popular Equipment Group. A sunroof, heated seats and leather upholstery is also available but not on our test SE model, which came with $95 carpeted floor mats as the only option.

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

For a car with even limited sporting pretensions, the 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE is under-tired, (click to enlarge)

Hyundai offers a “sporty monotone black” interior as an alternative to a so-called gray two-tone in our test Elantra. Two-tone? Rather a hodgepodge of colors and textures, at least five differences on the doors alone, and an unfortunate faux aluminum plastic on the console and around the heater-a/c controls.

Hyundai sported up the Elantra SE’s suspension for 2009 with stiffer springs and bigger anti-roll bars for a more controlled ride and better handling. Sorry, but this is not “sport.” Our notes call it “rubbery around the ankles if not the knees. No doubt stiffer tires would remove some of directional indecision, but probably at some cost to ride. The Elantra definition of “handling” would focus more on urban maneuverability and the ability—thanks to a tight turning radius—to slip into a space in the supermarket parking lot before anyone else sees it. Push it on a winding road, however, and a certain squishiness comes out.

The clutch on our manual transmission-equipped car was light, and Hyundai doesn’t make much about it, but the Elantra SE is equipped with a B&M Sport shifter. http://www.bmracing.com No wonder it feels so good. Altogether, we’d list the Hyundai Elantra SE as One of the Manual Transmission Cars to Get Caught in Heavy Traffic With, if of course wants to get caught in heavy traffic.

2009 Hyundai Elantra SE

Generally innulous, styling of the 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE includes a peculiar wave in the character line along the side. (click to enlarge)

Not good only in traffic jams, the 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE is stable on the highway, however, and with no wind noise and only modest tire noise, conversation is easy and even listening to classical music, with its greater differences in dynamics than pop music, is possible.

We thought the seats were comfortable though we had one vote for “too firm.” The seat fabric felt thin, however, even if durable. The Elantra has extra storage cubbies at the bottom of the center stack and on top of the dash. Almost an anomaly today, the Elantra has a cigarette lighter and ash tray; smoking is more socially acceptable in Korea.

The Elantra’s rear seat is roomy for its class size and has adjustable headrests. The trunk is accessible and at 14.2 cubic feet, has volume closer to a mid-size sedan than compact.

Performance won’t get you noticed in the 2009 Hyundai Elantra. In California-standards states, most Elantras sold will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV). Going green means no manual transmission—it comes only with the four-speed automatic—and it also cuts max power to 132 hp, not that with ULEV classification it has anything to spare, at 138 horses. The spirit is willing but the Elantra isn’t overwhelmed with torque, at a peak of 136 lb-ft with the ULEV setup.

If it’s notice you’ll want with the Hyundai Elantra, computer dating is the preferred method, with something like, …”desires appreciation for self, not a flashy car, but one that is fuel economical and Save The Planet green, with plenty of room for kids in the back seat.” On the other hand, maybe better hold off on the kids thing for now. Maybe let the multiple storage bins, the Black Pearl paint and the 100,000 mile powertrain warranty to do the talking at first. Best not to rush things. Which come to think of it, isn’t why one has a Hyundai Elantra in the first place.