A little over a year ago, after much deliberation (documented on this site), I bought the first new car I've ever owned: a 2003 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback. Not the world's sexiest car, but I was impressed with the features you get for the price and the long warranty. I wanted a small, affordable car for the daily commute, with the flexibility to bring a friend or two along as passengers or to haul a bit of cargo. The 5-door Elantra was exactly what I was looking for, and it was two to three thousand dollars less expensive than its competition (primarily the Mazda Protege 5).
I now have 16,500 miles on the car and have had no mechanical problems with it. I have had the following three issues, all of which I consider minor enough not to justify a trip to the dealer:
- The driver's side power mirror won't adjust horizontally when it's raining. It works fine if I run the defroster for a while (the mirrors are heated). I'm the only one who drives the car, so the mirrors haven't needed adjusting for months.
- The driver's seat shifts very slightly forward and backward, usually when accelerating or braking. It doesn't seem dangerous, but you can feel it.
- The vinyl adhesive trim on the rear passenger door is starting to bunch up a little, but not so much most people would really even notice.
The latter two issues are apparently fairly common on this car. I have received a recall notice for a potential brake problem, and when I take the car in for that, I'll have the dealer take care of the other issues as well.
The Check Engine light has come on a couple of times due to, I was told, a gas cap that wasn't tightened quite enough. I'll have the dealer double-check the codes during the recall service, too.
Fuel economy has been decent, though not outstanding; I'm averaging 26 MPG for the particular combination of highway and city driving that constitutes my commute. On the highway I often get 34 or even 35 MPG, 2 MPG better than the EPA estimate on the sticker. (This is due to the less restrictive K&N air filter I installed along with the Bosch Platinum +4 plugs, each of which was good for about an extra MPG on the highway.)
Some design features that could be improved on this car:
- The moonroof control needs to be one lever instead of two.
- The glovebox should have a lock.
- The detents on the doors (where they "stop" when you open them) need to be adjusted or to have an extra stop added between the two existing detents. It always seems like the door is open too wide or not wide enough.
- Pushing on the map lights should turn them on and off, rather than having separate buttons for that.
- The alarm system needs an indicator light on the dash. (I had the car stereo installer add a dummy flashing light.)
- The cargo area could really use a brighter light on each side.
- The lights on the dashboard should all be blue to match the instrument cluster.
- The steering wheel is kind of plain and could use, say, a chrome ornament in the center or something.
- The plastics in the interior outgas for quite a while. I was wiping film off the windows for months. It seems to have finally slowed down now, though.
- The trip computer is really hard to read during the day. It needs to be lit up all the time regardless of whether the headlights are on, or something.
- The "adjustable lumbar support" could stand to be a few inches higher; it's more a poke-in-the-butt lever now.
- I wanted both the moonroof and ABS anyway, so the fact that you can't buy the ABS without the moonroof didn't bother me, but it's kind of a dumb bundling of options.
- You can't turn off the A/C when running the defroster.
- The armrest on the door needs a bottom on the handhold you use to pull the door closed. It's very handy to put your wallet there when going through a drive-through or a toll booth, because when you get out of the car it's right there so you won't forget it. I still occasionally leave my wallet in the car accidentally.
- There's only a single horn rather than a dual horn like on most cars. It's kind of wimpy. Luckily, it's cheap to upgrade this yourself if you so choose.
- The interval wipers need a Mist function (a momentary switch that causes them to perform one cycle and then stop).
As you can see, these are incredibly nitpicky things to be concerned with. I could put together a similar list of annoyances about any of the other cars I've owned. Some of the issues above, in fact, have been addressed in the 2004 model (which also includes a new version of Hyundai's 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing and a Kenwood MP3 CD stereo). I understand they've got a chrome emblem on the steering wheel now and better lighting in the cargo bay.
The car salesman told me that Hyundai's build quality is about where Toyota's was ten or so years ago, and my experience bears this out. Bottom line, I still often find myself smiling when approaching my car, and I still look forward to taking it on road trips.
Some things I liked about this car that I didn't expect:
- The windshield wipers actually go different speeds depending on whether it's raining or not. It doesn't seem to be documented, and I kind of freaked out when I first noticed how slow the wipers went, but later I noticed they went faster when it rains. I swear I'm not making this up!
- The shoulder belts can be adjusted in height.
- There are more storage cubbyholes in this car than I can find things to put in 'em, including a bulge in the door storage pocket that doubles as a cupholder.
- Speaking of the cupholders, the car came with a little plastic insert that allows the center cupholders to be adapted to different-sized cups.
- The hatchback acts like one of the doors; you don't need a key to open it if the car's unlocked. Instead, there's a handle just above the license plate.
- The remote keyless entry system doesn't make any annoying sounds when you arm or disarm it. (You can hear the doors locking, particularly the hatchback; that's plenty of audible feedback.)
- If you leave the key in the ignition when you get out of the car, you will find that you can't lock the doors; the power locks push back at you when you try! An incredibly clever and thoughtful feature.
- Another thoughtful feature: when you turn off the ignition, the windows remain powered for about a minute, so you can roll 'em up if you forgot. Of course, it would be even more thoughtful if this applied to the sunroof, too, but the sunroof requires that the ignition be in the On position.
As an aside, the 5-door body style (in hatchback or wagon format) seems to be enjoying a resurgence; the new Toyota Prius hybrid is a 5-door, and Chevy has a new 5-door version of its midsize Malibu dubbed the Malibu Maxx. That's in addition to the 5-doors available when I was shopping in January 2003: the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe twins, the Ford Focus ZX5, and the Mazda Protege5 (which has since been replaced with a 5-door model of the Mazda 3), not to mention the Subaru Outback. It's a very practical and attractive body style for a small car.