Reviews

HIN2012 – TCG Goes To Penang! Travelogue – The Cars

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The Hyundai Elantra High Spec with the Volvo S60 T4.

For our trip to Penang, we were quite fortunate to be able to procure ourselves two loaned vehicles, as was mentioned in our pre-event HIN2012 Penang post; the Volvo S60 T4, and the Hyundai Elantra High Spec. In addition to the obvious, we would like to thank the forces responsible for enabling this to happen; Karl Benz, Henry Ford, and dinosaur juice.

Hyundai Elantra – Andrew Lee

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Got this while we were waiting for the ferry to dock. Sport rims look a bit blah, ya?

I got the reigns on Hyundai’s new gem (chiefly because it’s the 2012 North American Car of the Year, but has also collected more than 12 other accolades since) thanks to Hyundai Sime Darby Motors Sdn. Bhd. What we got for the trip to Penang was the 1.6-litre High Spec, which includes the leather seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, steering wheel audio controls, AUX, USB, iPod interface, and automatic headlight system found in all the lower ranges. What the High Spec lacks in comparison to the 1.8-litre Premium are the upper-income goodies; 17-inch wheels, sunroof, Nappa leather, centre screen (GPS, DVD, reverse camera), auto air-conditioning, rain sensor and most importantly, auto-cruise.

Engine

The engine of the car was taken from Hyundai’s Gamma stable, already a proven workhorse. 1,591 cubic centimetres of displacement power the 1.3-tonne (kerb weight) vehicle, with multi-point injection (MPI) helping to beef up torque figures (128hp @ 6,300 rpm, 157Nm @ 4,850 rpm, with a claimed 127Nm on tap from 1,500rpm). Hyundai’s D-CVVT enhances fuel efficiency further by managing both intake and exhaust valve timings.

Power and torque comes rather enthusiastically at low to mid-range speeds, regardless of vehicle load. In that sense, the engine seems to be capable for all but the most unforgiving terrain. Peeves? The 1.6-litre powerplant gives out a rather grating screech when pushed (i.e. from 4,000-6,500 rpm), but I do not expect an Elantra driver to attempt catching up with a turbocharged Volvo on the highway on an everyday basis.

The gear ratios of the Elantra’s 6-speed transmission are nicely optimised with the engine’s capabilities. Shifting is smooth and usually uneventful. There is, however, a significant jolt when one manually downshifts at high rpms. That said, Hyundai’s torque-converter 6-speed Shiftronic transmission is about as good as the best of the pack.

Exterior

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3/4 view shows sleek, flowing lines, as ascribed by the new fluidic sculpture philosophy.

If you have not noticed, Hyundai has made design a priority in recent years, most likely stirred by a more proactive strategy at winning fans (and buyers, of course). Its decision to hire Christopher Chapman (of BMW X5 fame) as its chief designer in America signalled the start of a flourishing era for Hyundai.

The Elantra’s sleek drag coefficient (cd) of 0.28 is the result of Hyundai’s design philosophy, aptly termed fluidic sculpture. The proportions are attractive and sporty without looking overly brash, and the sleek, flowing lines add some feminine touches to complement its masculine stance. The overall exterior design also includes some subtle tweaks to reduce wind noise; outside rear view mirrors and door handles (foam and plastic shields are also put into the chassis to reduce harmonic interferences). Another contributor to the Elantra’s sporty persona is the wide front bumper and use of horizontal lines for its front grille. Slightly flared wheel arches seal the deal.

Although the fog lamps add perceived value to aesthetics, the lack of HID headlamps are a bit of a let-down (its exclusion is understandable, given its price-point, but I tend to nitpick when it comes to visibility). Alloy rim design is bland, but that automatically justifies an aftermarket mod (good reason to give the wifey, no?).

Interior

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Overall driving profile is comfy, ‘cept for the really heavy accel pedal. Perhaps I’m not used to organ-type pedals?

Design language is substantially improved over the previous iteration. The Elantra gets an abundant dose of symmetry, from the continuous lines of the door handles to the buttons on the centre console. Not entirely flamboyant or creative, but safe. And safe is what Hyundai wants, methinks, since this is supposed to be a mid-market C-segment offering for all genders and ages.

Controls on the steering is ergonomic, as is the steering wheel and the variety of switches on the driver-side door. Unfortunately, tactile sensation on all the buttons leaves much to be desired. NVH is well-controlled (due to aerodynamic tweaks and noise dampening countermeasures in the Elantra), as is seating comfort at the back. Rear legroom is much better than the S40, too, making the Elantra our go-to car for our food-hunting trips. The seats aren’t as supportive as I would like it to be, but it should not be significant enough factor to be a deterrent towards a purchase.

Gripes? Plastics. Yuck.

Another major gripe, substantiated by fellow TCG junkies, is the irritating (and sometimes dangerous) obstruction of field of vision by the right A pillar. I estimate at least a loss of 15 to 25 percent of total viewrange from the driver’s seat, regardless of seat position.

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A/C is pretty good. It’s manual, though. Disorienting shot by Jason to complete the package.

Handling

For a front-wheel-driven sedan, the handling is above par. Understeer is evident, but only if one pushes the car beyond its designed limits. Roll and yaw are in ranges expected of a family compact sedan. The Elantra can be driven fast in the corners without inducing too much nausea, and rear passenger comfort is acceptable to all but the most sensitive (unless, of course, you get a Michael Schumacher at the wheel).

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Due to the larger rear space, the Elantra quickly became the de-facto TCG transporter.

Driver feedback via steering wheel is a tad muted, thanks to the Elantra’s motor-driven power steering. On the other hand, Hyundai’s Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) are quite useful. They do not hamper driving pleasure, and I hardly felt it engage during our more, erm… spirited sessions.

Safety

Hyundai has included many active and passive safety features to create a car that mitigates worry. Of chief importance are ESP, VSM, a rigid chassis with reinforced hardpoints (including hot steel stamping, reinforced door inner rail and dash centre), ABS, EBD (typically, ATSA), higher rear lamp and turn indicator lamps, a crash box in front of the car (think, absorber bumpers), knee space pads, and safety power windows.

All this culminates in a package that is worthy of 4 stars (of 5) overall crash safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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Conclusion

Despite the mild initial disappointment of not getting the Premium, I soon got to realize why this car was voted to be better than both the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passat at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. It feels good to drive a good-looking car, with all the creature comforts required by today’s exacting consumers. At the price range of RM88,888 to RM114,888 (OTR with insurance), one will be hard-pressed to complain. The only reason why anybody set to buy an Elantra would complain would be the recently-launched Ford Focus (which we’ve yet to test), and the 4 to 6-month wait list (Hyundai Sime Darby has informed me that they have already gotten down to expediting delivery to its customers).

How would I summarise the car’s awesomeness? Perhaps I don’t need to, as Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today explains, “Sporty, yet sensible. Luxurious, yet affordable. Spunky, but safe. The Elantra is a series of paradoxes and every one is another argument for the latest impressive entry in the Hyundai lineup.”

Drawbacks? When compared to a modern forced-induced engine (like the Volvo S60 T4), the Elantra lags behind in fuel economy. For a combined cycle, I managed an adequate-but-meagre 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres, and urban driving went up a bit to 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres.

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Here we are on the way back to KL. This time waiting for the ferry to take us back to Butterworth.

Volvo S60 T4 – Jack Lee

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Volvo’s new design focus is changing its image, albeit slowly. Will mid-high executives now consider Volvo’s now? I think they’ve got a chance.

Seriously? A naughty Volvo? Memories brought me back to the S60 billboard ads with the tagline “Naughty or Nice” on it. Don’t get me wrong, but when one mentioned Volvo, a boxy shape sprung to mind. And soft suspensions. So, over the Merdeka weekend, I finally had 3 days to bust the myth that Volvo cars are boringly safe with the all new S60 T4, with a road trip to the Pearl of the Orient – Penang. I picked up the car at Mid Valley and there she is, sitting nicely at the parking bay with front and rear skid plates, side scuff plates, 17″ Balder sport rims, boot spoiler and twin rectangular exhaust pipes on either side. On a Volvo? Naughty.

Step in using the Personal Car Communicator (keyless entry), I was greeted by that lovely floating centre console finished in graphite inlay, which is now angled towards the driver. Metal inlays garnished the accelerator and brake pedals. Motives of a racing circuit endowed the passenger side dashboard and also on all the 4 doors. “Is this a Volvo?”, I asked myself. Settling into the oh-so-comfortable and supportive leather seats (the Swedish makes the best seats, period), press on the engine start/stop button and the engine purrs. There is no indication of demon lurking underneath the front hood.

The T4 is a turbocharged 1,600 cc petrol engine, outputting 180hp at 5,700rpm and maximum torque of 240Nm from 1,600rpm to 5,000rpm. What this means is, it’s a rather brisk car. However, the Volvo S60 is heavy, weighing in at 1,542 kilos, but the strong engine coupled with 6 speed PowerShift (Volvo’s, or rather Ford’s language for dual clutch transmission), moves the car effortlessly. In my opinion the PowerShift’s creep function (stop and go during traffic jam situation) is better than VW’s DSG, but I feel that the latter’s shift times and quality is better. The PowerShift unit in the Volvo is a dry unit. Volvo has a DRIVe, which was supposedly to be a start-stop system but in this T4, what it does is to disengage the gear in drive when foot is off the accelerator, cruising to a halt. How about the fuel consumption, you might ask? Based on the computer trip meter reading, I clocked 9.5litres per 100km on the highway and 10.7litres per 100km on city roads.

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Side profile looks sportish and proportionately modern.

Attempts in making the S60 a sporty sedan meant that the ride is quite stiff. You’d definitely feel it on the concrete section of the North South Expressway that the harshness intrudes to cabin. Because of stiffer suspension, the S60 handles remarkably well. It corners flat, has a sharp steering and when you gun the accelerator, the engine releases a rather nice note. I think it comes rather close to BMW 3 series, the default benchmark of sport sedan. It is no secret that Volvo is pushing out the perception of “safe and boring” image of its cars with series of naughty ads, as shown below.

Being a Volvo, it’s not that safety has taken a lesser priority to sportiness. Although the T4 is the entry spec for the S60, it is adorned with safety acronyms that most car manufacturers don’t have. SIPS (Side Impact Protection System), IC (Inflatable Curtain), dual front airbags, WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), ABS, EBD, HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assist), RAB (Ready Alert Brake), FBS (Fading Brake Support), BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), EBL (Emergency Brake Lights), Bi-Xenon ABL (Active Bending Lights), DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) with torque vectoring, ISOFIX and City Safety. The cruise control system fitted to the T4 is not the adaptive type, however.

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Hello! Spotted an older model inside Corner Club and decided to park beside for comparison purposes.

Nitpicks? I didn’t have chance to sit at the rear, but our residential rear seat personnel, Brian, said that the headroom and leg space at the rear is tinier than the Hyundai Elantra MD (which Andrew drove on this trip). This can be attributed to the sloping roof line of the T4. I would also add that the rear of this car would only be able to ferry 2 passengers comfortably for long distances. Other than the rear seat space, the tyre and wind noise encroaches into the cabin at about 160km/h. I am not quite sure if this is an inherent problem or if it is isolated to the test drive car. 215/50 R17 Continental Sport Contact tyres are fitted to the car.

At base price of RM220,000, the T4 becomes a serious alternative to the usual German trio – the BMW F30 3 series, Audi A4 and the Mercedes Benz C class, although it may not receive the luxurious brand value espoused by its German cousins. Given that Volvo’s direction in making its car more attractive to young professionals, I think in the next generation of cars, it may catch up with them.

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Conclusion

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Rear lamps now feature easily distinguishable light pattern. Twin tailpipes sound pretty good for a 1.6-litre.

Although our review may digress a little bit, our original intention was to show the difference between a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated and a 1.6-litre force-induced engine. It is unfair to compare between the 2 cars in terms of features as the Volvo easily costs 2.5 times the price of the Hyundai. The Hyundai weighs in at about 1,250 kilos while the Volvo is about 250 kg heavier. We thought that the weight penalty that the Volvo has to carry would put a dent to its fuel consumption, but we were wrong. The Volvo also has a bigger fuel tank (67.5 litres vs 48 litres), which meant that the Hyundai needed more fuel-ups during the trip (an additional RM115 vs RM70). The beefy torque figure of the Volvo definitely made a difference in fuel consumption, especially when taking the long drive into account. The downsizing of engine displacement started by Volkswagen is starting to make financial (and practical) sense.

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Filling both the babies up before the trip back to KL. Both cars travelled approximately 896.4 klicks up north and back.

About Andrew Lee

Andrew is a commercial photographer by day and speed demon by night. Don't let his pleasant, approachable demeanour fool you, as he's an incredible fast driver on the circuit! Andrew is a man of many talents (some hidden). He often baffles many with his uncanny ability to stay awake for an inhuman number of days, then disappears. For hours. TCG labels him “Comatose Man” for his nocturnal endeavours and sleep super powers.

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