This picture perfectly encapsulates how far Hyundai has come. It’s been a long journey from the cheap and cheerless Excel to the i30 (Elantra GT), a car that can stand on the same footing as the best compacts from Japan and Europe.
Hyundai’s baggage is now a distant memory for many, myself included, perhaps explaining why the automaker has felt confident enough to start pricing their cars directly against rivals. Their latest products, like the i30, have an impressive solidity and quality feel to them. Hyundai may still have some work to do in certain areas – their products are sometimes heavier and less fuel-efficient than rivals’, for example – but the entire Hyundai range is competitive.
As late as the 2000s, Hyundais were cars you offered with caveats – “It’s an okay car but get a good deal.” Now they no longer need to have a lower MSRP to be worth recommending. The i30 is a great example, being a member of the top tier of compacts. There’s chiselled, handsome European-influenced styling and a modern, elegant interior. There’s a comfortable ride and crisp handling, as well as an optional 1.6 turbo with 200 hp and a choice of six-speed manual or dual-clutch auto transmissions. As a bonus, the i30/Elantra GT follows Hyundai/Kia’s tradition of democratizing luxury features such as panoramic sunroofs and ventilated seats – such features are optional on the Hyundai but can’t be found on any Infiniti Q50, for example.
Let’s not forget either about Hyundai’s first hot hatch, the i30 N (there’s no Elantra GT N – North Americans get the Veloster N instead). Hyundai has knocked it out of the park at their first attempt in rivalling the VW GTi juggernaut, the i30 N receiving rave reviews thanks to its athletic handling and powerful 250 hp engine.
Contrast that with the Excel. This is an X2-series model, a restyled version of the X1 Excel that introduced the Hyundai brand to US consumers. But though it had some improvements, the disposable X2 still suffered from indifferent assembly, sloppy handling and a lack of refinement. In its favor, however, was a low, low price.
Hyundai may no longer be able to tout drastically lower retail prices but none of their cars today could ever be accused of being trashy and thrashy.