Globally the brand Hyundai is metamorphosing. It is almost like the Spider-Man villain Dr Connors who, with a shot of his chemical creation, turns into a superhuman—a superbeing, if you will. Of course, that analogy isn’t fair, in that Dr Connors turns into a villainous lizard, while I’m trying to paint a more positive image! The brand may be known in India for its affordable and efficient small cars, but internationally Hyundai spent the nineties and noughties gaining market share as the affordable brand—regardless of segment. Then it hired better designers and spent more money on R&D and engineering. The result has been the fluidic sculpture range of vehicles that have taken the world by storm. Be it the Sonata, Accent (what we know as the Verna) and Elantra in the US, or the i30, i40 and i45 in Europe.

Bigger and better: Elantra is the best- looking car from the Hyundai stable.

I first drove the fifth-generation Elantra in November 2010, shortly after its debut in South Korea, while on a trip to Seoul. Called Avante in Korea, it caught my eye then too for its futuristic and gorgeous curves and its intense road presence. It also seemed more of a driver’s car than the earlier Elantras. In fact, to me this is the best-looking Hyundai yet, especially at the rear. That tail light has an almost organic quality.

On the petrol side you get the more powerful 1.8-litre VTVT motor with 147 bhp on tap. Other markets also get an optional 1.6-litre entry model. The company is likely to offer six variants on debut in India, with six colour options that include a deep red, light blue and bronze besides the usual white, black and silver.

The car comes with a whole lot of goodies, some as standard and some only at the top end—like stability control, hill-assist control, backup camera and parking sensors, six airbags, and anti-lock brakes, or ABS. The seats are comfortable, but the rear bench lacks under-thigh support. There is a drop-down armrest at the rear which houses controls for the music system—as in the Honda Civic. The front seats (in the top-end variant) have ventilation to keep you cool on those hot summer days—a nice touch. Other creature comforts include auto headlights and wipers, heated electrically adjustable side mirrors, a Bluetooth and phone-compatible music system and dual-zone climate control with rear AC vents.

I drove the diesel automatic model, and I have to say the engine performs admirably well. The pick-up is smooth, power isn’t lacking and for the most part—though it could be smoother—the auto gearbox is fairly responsive. I suspect the manual gearbox would be a lot more fun, and I cannot wait to drive that variant, as also the petrol Elantra. What isn’t great, though, is the electric power steering, which (like the Verna’s) feels soft and lacking in precision. I would have liked it to be stiffer, with a lot more feedback from the steering column, which mars otherwise decent handling.

So how much will this car cost you? It arrives in the second week of August, and I expect pricing to stay at 12-15 lakh for the petrol variants and 13-16 lakh for the diesel variants—this includes the automatics and all frills at the top. Anything higher would be suicide as Hyundai attempts its second innings with bigger cars. Frankly even 16 lakh may be pushing it, so I hope Hyundai surprises me and the market! I think the car’s looks alone, besides the rich colour tones of its cabin and diesel option, will make it popular. If priced well, it will certainly give the Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla Altis a run for their money.

Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.

Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com

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