Taking the retail road less travelled.
Hunter gatherers only had to find and fend for their food supplies. They didn’t have to circumnavigate the darker reaches of the supermarket car park, seeking out the lesser used spaces away from those inclined to fling open car doors. But silver linings to clouds, those outlying regions often contain spaces filled by esoteric choices and, mercifully bereft of those sporting or cross derived.
One such regular being a dove grey Hyundai Lantra of 1995 vintage. Only ever seen in the darker reaches of the underground car park, this second generation Korean rather blends into the concrete gloom. It was obvious that space was taken but a closer examination proved necessary in order to ascertain exactly by what. The Venturi effect of such locations meant but a swift scan and no photos. Apologies. Launched in its native South Korean home as the Elantra in 1990, landing on European shores in the Spring of ‘91. As to dropping the E, it would appear Lotus became sniffy – too close to the Elan, Hethel seemingly opined.
In saloon guise only, power was by a Mitsubishi designed 1.6 litre, straight four, sixteen valve engine developing 113 bhp. Firmly lumped in the (then) Mondeo, Vectra, 406 class, the Lantra was as diligently engineered as it was unremarkable. However, dimensions suggest something in between.
At launch, the car measured 4,375mm long, 1,675mm wide with a 2,500mm wheelbase, which remained unchanged. However, swift incremental changes saw the Lantra grow in length and width. Our car, a J2 or RD version for 1995 was now 4,420mm along with an extra 25mm girth. Subsequent models maintained this growth spurt. The Korean’s progressed with facelifts for the J1 in both 1992 and ‘94 although sales remained small compared with the Lantra’s competition.
Voluptuous, yet also somehow looking a little sad to the rear, the front of this example remained tightly parked up to the fence, ergo examination denied, but a swift internet search revealing an equally anonymous, whilst inoffensive nose hardly gives this Ulsan metal box charisma. Which is a shame for there appears a decent, if flavourless car in there – somewhere. This particular version was launched in Blighty as The Curvy Car, combined with a suitably tongue-in-cheek TV advertisement, which may be viewed here.
Naturally, the Lantra came in for some journalistic stick. Parker’s gave a 2.5 star rating, citing the boot as big. Otherwise, it’s a predictable litany of not up with best, poor traction, reasonable inside, harsh engines. A five speed manual or optional four speed automatic worthy of no mention. Sticking one’s neck out here, the betting is that they were both just fine.
Here’s the but – significantly improved build and excellent warranty. Reasons enough to sell boatloads. The RAC were kinder, observing the high levels of standard kit, including ABS, electric sunroof and windows, heated mirrors, metallic paints, reach and rake steering wheel and front airbags. They even lavished praise in this 2005 re-estimation with, “The thinking man’s family saloon, fluid and reasonably responsive“, alongside, “should you find one, it’ll never let you down. Our patrols haven’t repaired one single mechanical part“.
Pricing started at £10,850, rising to £13,753. Keen, to say the least. The colour chart offered dark rosewood, peacock green and two reds – Mars or Poppy and two, mica blues – lobelia or navy, alongside the standard fare black, white and silver. At the time of writing, Autotrader has a late 1995 (J1), automatic in white with over 90,000 miles for just £500. Beats the bus, walking and practically guarantees a parking space with its battered demeanour.
The Koreans tried hard. Loosening the Mitsubishi shackles, our dove or possibly twilight grey hued car was now powered by Hyundai’s own Beta engines of 1600, known as G4GR and 1800cc (G4GM) capacity. An aluminium head sat above a cast iron block weighing in at 144Kgs. Double over head camshafts provided outputs from 89 to 141 bhp. The turning efforts ranged from 93 to 137 foot pounds in a body weighing around 1050Kgs.
The Lantra was conceived to be the family shopper, the holiday get you there and back, the everyday boring reliable car with a few creature comforts for good measure. But we always demand more. An estate version arrived early in 1996, garnering looks of a perplexed balloon, inflated swiftly with the roof rails helping pin it all together.
For those (perhaps less senior) motorway pounding representatives, the Lantra Estate(1) (or Kombi) could happily maintain higher speeds in a 4,515mm long, somewhat classless tube. With hindsight, these eyes would prefer seeing a few more Lanty’s instead of the bulky blobs parked badly in the Parent and Child section.
Sadly, by the car’s very nature, that is why the Lantra is here – ignored, neglected, maligned, (in snobbish terms) amid the furthest reaches, apart from this single devotee to early Ulsan, Korean wares. Should we be offering thanks to this devotee of a quarter century old car as rare as rocking horse doo-doo? After all, barring consumables, this Hyundai is unlikely to be a frequent visitor to a workshop – surely this is the point of a car?
The Lantra morphed into the i30 saloon in the UK around 2015, a not so dissimilar beast. The Elantra name continues across the pond. There’s an aggressive edge these days but the car claimed the North American car of the Year 2021 gong; 2019 saw 175,000 models sold stateside, for 2020 almost seventy thousand less, presumably COVID related but already over twenty thousand for 2021.
Globally, Hyundai made and sold 3.74 million vehicles for the year that brought everything back home. The burgeoning Hyundai portfolio grows apace. And for thirty years the carmaker has supplied a four door saloon fit for all markets – but have you seen one? Or does the (E)Lantra reside in that forgotten corner of the store – bargain basement?
(1) The Audi upsetting Avante name was soon dropped like a hot potato
Sales figures from www.carfigures.com