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.
Really liked the looks of the five-door- I would have definitely looked into purchasing one if I had the money for a new car at the time. It looks very European in its styling to me, for some reason.
Good article and adding to the beater look for this Hyundai is the lack of hubcaps plus, to a certain extent, those license plates. Even in Portland, OR Elantra Hatchbacks are rare as hen teeth, but then again, I tend to zone these cars out.
Pontiac G3s, Dodge Journeys, and first generation Ford Escapes are just three vehicles that are quickly falling into beaterdom if they have not already.
Not only were these destined to be beaters, they were born beaters. I was in high school from 02-06, know what I saw a lot of in the student parking lots? Brand spankin new Elantras. Pretty much anything daily driven by a teenager = beater, and boy did they look it after a year or two. My friend had an 04 handed down from his older sister by senior year, and you’d swear it was a 20 year old car with 200k miles.
As for the cars themselves these are what come to my mind when I hear the phrase penalty box uttered. Offensive to all senses.
Low content economy cars are almost always beaters from day one—that is their intended purpose. Model A Fords being the exception, of course. Thus, very few Henry J’s around anymore….or Pintos, Vegas, Escorts, Cavaliers, Breezes, Neons, Sentras, Accents, you name it. That is their lot in life.
And that’s why a mint Escort wagon attracts a lot of attention in the classic car show.
Folks, you won’t believe this, but in a muti-car comparison test by Car and Driver that included the featured generation of Elantra and it’s competition…..the Elantra came in second out of 6 (or was it first out of 6?). The testers were pretty impressed by the car, among other features they praised was it’s comfortable and spacious interior.
Just after I bought my 09 Crown Vic a GT model of this Elantra popped up on the website of one of my favorite used car dealers…..they are still asking about $4,000 for a car with approximately 115,000 miles on it. And “icing on the cake”? It’s got a manual transmission and ABS.
Google a Comparison test of the 2002 Elantra.
Second out of ten competitors, coming only behind a Mazda Protege. These Elantras were not bad cars by any means for the times. The generation before wasn’t sub-par either; it came in sixth out of thirteen cars in a similar Car and Driver comparison test.
It was second out of ten I believe. This was also the same comparison test where they dubbed the 2001 Civic (which finished fifth) ‘a loser’.
The red one in the picture is a late 90s one. The Elantra debuted for 1992 as the step between the 2nd Excel and the 1st Sonata. At first it had a 1.6 liter, already twin cam and 16 valve. A friend just traded their 2001 with 230k for a new one and wondered why Hyundai bothered with a Sonata as an Elantra was now so large.
The Elantra, and I expect the Mirage, will give good solid, economical and dependable service. You could do worse.
OK, first a disclosure. My first car in college was a well-worn, gutless 78 Datsun B-210 4-door sedan. My taste in cars runs from cheap and bland to somewhat less cheap and practical. I’m not a car snob.
But, I rented this generation of Elantra for about 1 week several years ago while my Subaru daily-driver was in the shop for head gasket repairs. I quickly developed a hatred of it because of a complete lack of anything fun, interesting, or quirky. Even my young daughter complained of being driven to school in it. “Daaaaaaaad, I miss the Subarooo!”
Yup, failed Subaru head gaskets are quirky and interesting! Dealers love them!
I resemble that remark!
I drove an Elantra briefly. My brother, who is not a car person, bought it for strictly financial considerations: the most car for the least money to suit his basic transportation needs. Then I ended up with it. But I soon sold it and bought a Forester. And after it inevitably developed head gasket issues, I replaced it with another, newer Forester, which also had head gsket issues. Only after my THIRD Subaru, I moved on to an Acura.
The point is, I LOVED my Subarus despite their annoying flaws, and still remember them fondly. The Elantra was trouble free, but I hardly remember it. At no time did I regret selling it. The head gaskets just went with the territory and one learned to accept them as part of something otherwise endearing. The soul-sucking,appliance-like blandness of the Elantra, on the other hand, negated whatever virtues it may have had in reliability.
The 2nd generation model, the one with the wagon, was the most attractive style-wise.
The red one is the ’07 model. it looks like a 7/8 version of a Buick LaCrosse. They couldn’t find a more successful sedan for inspiration? The C-pillar window reminds me too much of the oval Taurus as well.
The generation before that looks better to me. Also its dash has a bit of Saab DNA.
I really like the ’08 Sonata. Somehow it got it right by looking at least as good as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Only car I ever bought new was a Pewter (silver) ’03 GT that I’m still daily driving 60 miles a day with 237k miles on the clock. Drove a rented GLS sedan on a 1000 mile trip and was so impressed by it, I came home and bought the GT. Very comfortable car, easy to service and has gotten more reliable as I’ve replaced the original parts (the aftermarkets seem to last longer!) over the years. I keep thinking I should replace it before it dies or the tin worm finally gets it, but I have no idea what I’d replace it with.
R henry,my head gaskets were not done at the dealer. I had bailed after the Subie
dealers 400.00 90k service. Sensors,cv joints boots, etc etc the Forester
was stripping me like a grape. Oddly enough all this time later the car seems
to have straightened up and I hope to drive it to 200k The car has original
tranny suspension electrical parts cooling system parts, runs and drives ok
I just did the neighbor a favor and brought home his pinball machine along with
two 250 lb men and me driving hauled that load like a charm.
Pretty much all econoboxes are “beaters” from day one. These are the sort of cars that tend (*tend*, I’m not making an absolute claim) to be bought as low rent fleet fodder and by people who merely want to get from point A to point B. As such, they tend to not be taken care of. It’s the kind of car someone who doesn’t know you are supposed to change the oil buy.
That said, if you want cheap transportation and take care of it, the car should serve you well. I see a lot of these as well as Neons around here. Pretty much beaters all, but still on the road.
We still have one of these as a fleet car. It drives ok (I took it out this morning) but it has the usual moans and groans of a 10+ year old economy car. The interior held up better than I thought it would.
I think the last major service it had was coil replacement.
We have quite a fleet now – this Hyundai, a 2008 Jetta, a 2009-ish Altima and some little Hyundai Accents that break down all the time.
While car shopping a while ago I test drove an ’09, it kicked like a mule over small imperfections in the road. It felt overly sprung and stiff yet tippy in the corners. As a commuter car it could simultaneously rattle your teeth and tip your coffee. It had very little km on it and I left it for someone else to wear it in.
Next up, a year later actually, was an ’03 sedan with wind up windows and a 5spd. This was to be the daily driver to replace my Accent which was run over by a Silverado. Didn’t expect to see wind up windows in a car that had a/c and power door locks. Even my Accent at the time had power windows and locks. It was an oddball and priced rather cheaply at the time considering the low mileage. Could wind up windows be that much of a deal breaker for it to be priced a couple thousand less than an identical car with power windows on the same lot? I’m guessing though the stick had more to do with the price difference. It handled much better than the ’09 and had all the torque-steer the Accent had. Left that one for someone else too.
It seems to me that all the Elantras before the 2011 restyle were made to be appliances and therefore beaters. Not that there’s anything wrong with appliance mobiles they all have a place in the grand scheme of things and I freely admit to owning and driving them too.
My Elantra “beater” is a $1k “get to work” appliance mobile that hasn’t let me down yet (230,000 miles)! With a little TLC paid to the running gear and periodic maintenance, this thing is just the ticket if you worry about door dings, curb rash, bird shit, tree sap and all the other crap that is inevitable over time. Sure, I have a few nicer rides, but if you’re going to park in a crowded Walmart lot, you’ll have no worries with a car of this type. I even wash it every other week or two (or three…)
Great post, Gerardo.
Around 2010, Hyundai/Kia really stepped up their game and started producing cars that people bought because they were appealing, attractive, and good values, not just because they were cheap. But in the 10 or so years prior to that (maybe the 6 or 7 prior for Kia) they were making solid, reliable cars that just didn’t have those dynamic qualities to cross over into appealing. It was the formula for a solid, if boring, car at a great price when buying new–but it was also the formula for a future beater.
THese are definitely NOT “Penalty Boxes”, unless you daily drive a BMW or something like that. I grew up in the 80’s, so hand-me-down 70’s econo cars were what we all had (unless we got Grandma’s LTD, and never drove it because of the 11mpg) THOSE were “penalty boxes”. No radio, no AC, just a shifter (for the 4-speed, no 5-speeds here) poking out of the bare floor, usually rust holes everywhere… When I met my wife, she had a 00 Elantra like the 4th picture from the top. SHe’s the classic “just put gas in it” car owner (When I asked about changing the oil for her, her reply was, “You don’t have to, I got it on a lease.” I thought she meant she had free maintenance, she meant she hadn’t changed the oil for 2 years…) We kept that car for 6 more years, it had 150K on it when I got T-boned by a red-light runner and all I had to do was regular maintenance on it. Despite it’s mistreatment when it was new, we had NO engine trouble with it (after I thoroughly cleaned the engine out with the ATF/Seafoam trick). It came with power windows/locks/steering/brakes, unlike pretty much every “cheap” car I owned before that. Hyundais won’t ever inspire car geeks to rhapsodize about them, but they seem to be well-equipped, reasonably sturdy cars that are decently affordable.