Drivers wanting to buy a small sedan have an appealing new option after the introduction last week of a new-from-the-ground-up Hyundai Elantra.

While sedans aren’t as popular as hatchbacks and SUVs with small-car buyers these days, the Elantra is the longest-running model in Hyundai’s local line-up, having carried thousands of Australians reliably and economically since the early 1990s.

Think of it as a Hyundai i30 with a boot and a different badge, although until it’s updated too the award-winning hatchback is now a generation behind its sixth-edition sedan sibling.

As Hyundai’s biggest seller globally, the Elantra unsurprisingly has warranted major improvements underneath its re-designed skin.

The key element is its body-chassis structure, more than half of which now is built with lighter but stronger ultra high-tensile steel. Hi-tech adhesives replace welds along 120 metres of panel joints, again for superior strength; in the previous Elantra, just three metres were glued.

The result is a substantially stronger shell, which provides a more rigid platform for a new suspension design front and rear. In turn that permits more refined suspension tune, translating noticeably to a smoother ride over all surfaces, more grip and control in bends and less noise finding its way into the cabin.

Hyundai employs an engineering consultant with many years’ international motorsport experience to test and fine-tune its suspensions for Australian roads. The benefits of this should be evident to Elantra drivers of all abilities, with re-assuring stability over loose gravel and winding bumpy roads.

Engine capacity has increased from 1.8 litres to 2.0 litres. Outputs gain only marginally to 112 kiloWatts and 192 Newtonmetres, while petrol consumption (there is no diesel option) bucks progress with an increase, albeit one Hyundai claims costs just 15 litres in an average year.

Despite the small paper gains, drivers will experience an engine that’s more willing in its general response, particularly in the vital mid-range, and smoother when pushed hard.

Everything adds up to a car that is refined and easy to drive around town and enjoyable to hustle along the open road.

There are two models – Active, from $21,490 plus on-roads, and Elite, $26,490. The previous Premium version has been dropped. The pricing puts the Elantras right among rivals including the Mazda3, Holden Cruze and Toyota Corolla.

The Elantra continues Hyundai’s tradition of good value, if no longer cheaper prices. Standard inventory on the Active includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a full-size spare wheel, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, hill-start control, LED day-lights and a reversing camera. Apple CarPlay app allows users to access all the contents and features of iPhones through a seven-inch touch screen. A software update for Android phones will be available in a few months.

The base Active comes with manual transmission and a six-speed auto option lifts the price to $23,790.

A step up to $26,490 for the Elite is a better choice than the Active automatic. Subtracting the $2300 value of the auto, which is standard on Elite, the true difference between Active and Elite is just $400 for these extra features:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Leather upholstery with two colour choices
  • LED tail-lights
  • Extra body chrome
  • Electric folding outside mirrors
  • Electro-chromatic auto-dimming interior mirror
  • Dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning with automatic windscreen demister
  • One-touch up/down on driver’s window
  • One-touch turning indicators
  • Smart-key door locking, ignition and boot opening
  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • Rear air-con vents
  • Cargo net

The most common safety items are all there, from six airbags to stability control, but some I’d like to see are not. These include automatic forward-collision braking and lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, increasingly available in lower-priced cars.

Hyundai says these features are available in some other countries but not currently in Australia. However, they are expected to appear in a high-performance version of the Elantra due mid-year.

This tantalising model will run the 1.6 litre, 150 kW turbo engine and seven-speed double-clutch gearbox from the Hyundai Veloster sports coupe, plus uprated suspension and brakes. Hyundai’s first proper sports sedan is expected to be the first of many as the Korean maker continues to chase a sexier image.

Meanwhile, the Elantra Active or Elite demands consideration by anybody shopping for a small sedan.

It’s not so small, actually, with seat and boot room that would have been more likely in a bigger vehicle not many years ago. Hyundai quality, backed by a five-year warranty and other benefits and affirmed by wins for three of its models in the recent Australia’s Best Car awards, ranks among the best in the mass-volume market.

With this particular part of the new-car market is a hot-bed of competition between all the big makers, the new Elantra has re-invigorated Hyundai’s stake in the game.