Supermarket Sweep

Taking the retail road less travelled.

Image: Automobile-catalog

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“.

Image: Automobile-catalog

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.

Image: Automobile-catalog

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

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

25 thoughts on “Supermarket Sweep”

  1. Morning Andrew. Another interesting piece, thank you. Can’t remember when I last saw a Lantra. One if my nephews has an i20. He’s had it from new, must be 10 years old by now and apart from routine servicing, never neaded any other repairs. Mind you, if it’s done 20,000 mikes, I’d be surprised.

  2. Good morning Andrew. It was easy for car buffs to be rude about cars like the Elantra for their perceived mediocrity, but thousands of customers who regard their car as a domestic appliance bought them for their good value and reliability and were perfectly happy with them.

    The TV advertisement is an absolute classic! (I had added the YouTube video, not realising that the soundtrack was missing, but I’ve now substituted another version with the soundtrack intact, which is essential to its appeal.)

  3. Another interesting article Andrew so thank you. I note the interior trim pattern in image 3 and wonder how that is described?

    1. It looks rather like the stuff found in 1990’s Peugeot and Citroën models. Rather ‘comfy’ looking, unlike the austere looking fabrics found in today’s cars.

  4. A lovely article about an interesting car, albeit in retrospect (more, please).

    I think the Lantra may look smaller than it really is, and it reminds me of a mk1 Mondeo, in a good way. I actually think it’s a nice piece of design. The whole thing, including its colour palette is very 1990s and none the worse for it.

    It’s fascinating to me how Hyundai has progressed from making an improved Morris Marina to some of the best cars in the world.

    I found a 5-minute history of the Lantra, filmed by Hyundai, just to give a bit more context; I find it’s not a car that sticks in the memory and I wanted to know where it had been / was going. It is, however, one of those cars that Americans like, for its honest functionality.

    That seat fabric is called “coach driver’s terminal migraine”, by the way.

    1. “Coach driver’s terminal migrane” Brilliant! 😂

  5. Two Hyundai articles in two consecutive days! Thank you Andrew (and Daniel for yesterday’s). Here in the States, as car inventory remains scarce and the prices on what is available (new and used) continue to skyrocket, I suspect there are a lot of people looking wistfully at unpretentious cars like the mid-1990s (E)Lantra. You could call the ‘curvy’ 1990s Elantra the last modest Hyundai as well. The third-generation car, which debuted in 2000, reflected the company’s ambition and growing customer base and had more aspirational styling, clearly borrowing from BMW (complete with pseudo-Hofmeister kink on the rear quarter-window!), while its two-door counterpart, the Scoupe (or Tiburon or Tuscani) resembles a slightly squashed Ferrari 456.

    Perhaps we are at the start of a 1990s Korean-car renaissance? Coincidentally, what must be the nicest surviving Daewoo Leganza of similar vintage has been put up for auction in Florida:

    https://bringatrailer.com/listing/2002-daewoo-leganza/

    1. I remember the praise that the Scoupe got for its looks when first reviewed, and it was a huge leap in desirability from its challenging predecessor…

    2. Hi Neil and Andy. The facelift to the previous generation coupé is an obvious candidate for DTW’s ‘Under the Knife’ series on facelifts, good and bad, but we still have some scruples here about mocking the afflicted, so a couple of comparative before and after photos will suffice:


    3. But Daniel, don’t you find scruples terribly boring to deal with, week in, week out? I think one is entitled to ask, however, what *were* they thinking of, regarding its original version? It does make me wonder what they rejected…

    4. Ah, you’ve rumbled me, Andy. It’s not scruples at all, it’s actially the fear that fellow DTW authors would mock the writer of said piece for shooting fish in a barrel! 😒

  6. OK. I’ll take up the challenge and ask.

    Daniel, please undertake a restyle of the car. How do you reckon it ought to have looked?

    Anyone else want to have a go also? Please do.

    I remember how well the Citroen C5 DTW series looked and I reckon the same may well prove out again here. So, have at it!

    1. And now we all wait with baited breath – but let the poor man have a rest for an hour or two; it’s the weekend and he’s surely earned it!

    2. Good morning gentleman. I’m afraid this will appear to be a cop-out, but I think Hyundai should simply have left it alone. It was not by any means a brilliant design, but it was fine as it was, which is certainly not something one can say about the facelifted model!

      If pushed to do something, I would change the shape of the headlamps and indicator lenses (of the white pre-facelift car) to smooth out the lower edges and stop the headlamps looking like they are drooping towards the centre of the front end. This would be cheap as one would retain the existing bonnet and wings. Only the front bumper moulding would need to be changed.

      I’ll give it a go later.

    3. Right, prepare to be underwhelmed:


      I’ve enlarged the headlamps and indicators so they flow into each other more smoothly along their lower edge. I’ve also removed the heavy eyebrows above the wheel arches and instead added a subtle bodyside crease that starts over the front wheel arch and runs to the rear of the car, to add a little tension into the flanks. Finally, I straightened out the front valance to make the car look wider.

      Whaddya think?

    4. Thanks, Fred, glad you think it’s an improvement.

  7. I remember a Hyunday Accent commercial from 1995 where the car´s suspension was being tested and I thought there was Elvis Presley music playing in the background. does anyone remember it, I can´t find it. And the colour in which the Accent was launched was pink.

    1. Thanks, JTC. Fattening up the sides of the car and getting rid of the droopy headlamps has, I think, really improved its stance. It would have cost more than Hyundai’s facelift, of course, which left the flanks unchanged.

    2. Fine work, Mr. O’Callaghan, as ever, but for the life of me, I can’t quite work out what the 1980s Norwegian popsters have to do with the matter…

  8. Even though the Excel was said to be based on the 2nd generation Mitsubishi Mirage, before the Excel was replaced by the Accent. It is difficult to believe the Accent was not derived from the 4th generation Mirage, based on the similar exterior styling of the two cars in spite of the Accent initially having a slightly shorter wheelbase and width.

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