Hyundai Introduces a Wagon
Excuse me, I mean a Touring model
By Brendan Moore
The prevailing wisdom is that station wagons are a terrible market segment in the US market. People want minivans, SUVs and crossovers, not station wagons.
First, the minivan displaced wagons in driveways across America, then, when the minivan became identified as a housewife’s vehicle, it was replaced by the SUV. And now we have the crossover. Each one of those station wagon replacements took away some percentage of the station wagon’s former constituency, and now, there just aren’t a lot of station wagon fans left.
Some import manufacturers sell wagons, but in small numbers, to a core “wagon” population, and those are the exception rather than the rule. Station wagon models have gone away completely at Ford, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Toyota, Nissan in the last 15 years.
This, despite the fact that a lot of SUVs and almost all crossovers look like, well, a tall station wagon.
And then, of course, you have vehicles like the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins, the Honda Element and the Dodge Caliber that are really big hatchbacks (kinda like wagons).
But the difference, according to a tremendous amount of consumer research done over the years, is that those vehicles do not have the “station wagon” label, which has lately become the kiss of death in the North American market.
Of course, it is different in Europe, as a lot of things are. Combis, or estates, or touring models, or sport wagons, or, if you will, the French “familiales” are all held in good esteem. They’re actually seen as an indicator of an active, vital lifestyle. The perception is that people who have wagons have them to carry around their bikes, kayaks, camping gear, mountain climbing equipment, etc. Sedans are for older people.
Now, at the risk of making you think less of me, I’ll tell you that I’m a fan of wagons. Sneer if you want, but the concept of a car that drives as well as its sedan brother but will haul a lot more stuff has always seemed nothing short of brilliant to me. I am still on the lookout for a low-mileage 1996-1999 Ford Taurus Wagon LX to purchase and then keep around as a utility vehicle that will carry dogs, household goods, stuff from Home Depot, etc. Not to mention passengers.
Why the particular wagon and the particular range of production? I knew you’d ask.
The slavish devotion to the oval design theme in the second-generation Taurus, even more pronounced in the wagon model, and reviled by most Americans, just rings my bell. Strange, right? Yeah, but who can tell what’s in a man’s heart?
The people at Hyundai are well aware of the recent history of station wagon sales in the US, but believe that Americans are now ready to circle back around to the wagon. The desire to keep the utility they had with a crossover or SUV, but the desire to also drive something smaller that gets better fuel economy than one of those larger vehicles is going to increase wagon sales, Hyundai believes.
Hence the new compact class Hyundai Elantra Touring, due to arrive in early 2009.
The Elantra Touring has a clean design, attractive in a lower-key sort of way. The mechanical bits are nothing to get excited about; the corporate mainstay 141 HP 2.0 liter four-cylinder is the only engine offered, paired with a five-speed manual transimission or (gasp) a four-speed automatic. The four-speed autobox is a rarity these days as almost everyone has moved to a five-speed or six-speed automatic transmission on their mass-market cars.
However, the level of standard equipment of the Elantra Touring is very high.
The Touring model comes standard with a tremendous amount of amenities, including air conditioning, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with built-in audio controls, automatic speed control, keyless remote entry, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat (including lumbar support), heated outside mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels and a full spectrum of safety equipment, including electronic stability control. It also offers (standard!) a six-speaker 172-watt sound system that includes XM satellite radio.
The only options on the new Touring are a power sunroof, heated front seats, certain paint colors and 17-inch wheels.
Pricing just came out, and at an MSRP of $18,495, Hyundai is expected to undercut their segment competition in terms of equipment offered for the MSRP – just as they always do. The most expensive MSRP for the Elantra Touring is only $20,795, and that’s for the Premium Sport model, which has all the options listed in the last paragraph.
The Elantra Touring has also achieved a five-star frontal crash rating in the compact passenger car segment from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Elantra Touring gets an estimated 23 mpg city/31 highway, according to the EPA.
With first-quarter 2009 right around the corner, we won’t have to wait very long to see if Hyundai’s faith in the wagon market is justified.
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