Cohort Outtake: 2002 Hyundai Elantra – I See Weariness in Your Future


Do you ever see a new car and just know that it’ll be a beater in its old age?

Any car can become a beater; it’s not something that’s bestowed in a grand event, but rather subtly given through the combined forces of depreciation, age and entropy. A once proud Mercedes 450SEL that wouldn’t be seen on anything else than the finest driveways in the country when new is as likely to be seen today with faded paint and broken indicators as a Middle Class Cutlass or a “Just need some wheels and a warranty” Chevette. But there are some cars that almost seem especially predisposed for the humble and unappreciated service of being “the other car”.

The finest example I can think about on the new car market today is the Mitsubishi Mirage, which I must admit has become somewhat better in the years since it got released. At the very least it’s no longer the laughing stock of the new car market (considering that I’m using it right now as an example it probably still is a little bit). And it has evolved to the title of mediocre subcompact. But the qualities that make it so undesirable as a new purchase, like a basic interior, little in the way of equipment, and an anemic hamster of an engine make it very desirable for the sort of person that buys a car knowing that by the time they’re done with it, the next stop will be the crusher.

This particular Elantra, shot and posted in the Cohort by William Rubano, is one of those cars. It even has all the requisite touches of a beater so we can confidently call it one. Although it seems it has been bestowed with a coat of matte black paint to protect it from the tin worm (or hide its effects). The fact that it’s simple, cheap and gets decent fuel mileage is far more important than how stylish it will look. And anyway, the look will probably be spoiled once someone bumps into it again and makes the passenger door match with the fender.

Introduced to the American market in 2001, a time when Hyundai was still climbing to the top of the mountain and hadn’t quite ironed out all of the kinks in their cars, it represented a big improvement over its predecessor and had a couple of interesting features. Space, for one; apparently these Elantras are so spacious inside that the EPA classified them as a mid-size car rather than the compact it was supposed to be. The platform on which it was built was also used on the Tiburon coupe, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage crossovers, and Kia’s own offering on the compact sector, the Spectra. This wouldn’t mean that anyone buying a Camry or an Accord would be giving this a glance. But for those that were prepared to defy everyone saying that it was a lot better to buy a second-hand Japanese car than a Korean one, there were some other rewards. As usual with a Hyundai, you got a fair amount of bang for your buck. Some trim levels even got side airbags fitted in as standard.


The interior itself was pretty standard for a compact, nothing to be glad or sad about as long as you didn’t minded cheap plastics and the occasional rattle that came with them.

There are two bodystyles; a four door sedan, like our featured vehicle, or a five-door hatchback. Engine-wise, other markets got a choice of three gas engines and one diesel, but in America the only powerplant was a 139 Horsepower 2.0-liter engine mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Post-2003 models got a couple of extra horses to help speed things along. Top of the line “GT” models didn’t get any performance bumps to justify their badge, but they included disc brakes all around and Traction Control to match the tauter suspension.

With its standard equipment, spacious interior and good price, the Elantra was a hit for Hyundai, hovering around the 120k sales mark for much of its life, and only drooping below 100k on its last year. The model that followed it wasn’t as well received, dropping to 85k sales on its inaugural year and only lasting one three-year cycle instead of five. Then again, it was competing with the final progressive Civic. That one seems to have gone straight to the crusher instead of being bought as a cheap runabout, at least on my neck of the woods. But this one is still making the rounds as the car you give to the kid when its time to go to college, or when the most difficult thing you ask from a car is hauling the weekly groceries back home.