Shake it Up: Hyundai Elantra vs. Chevrolet Cruze

Words & Photos: Francois Steyn

Comparing the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze might make sense if you put the entry level 1.6s or the two 1.8-litre automatic models in a jar and shake it. Fortunately I drove the 2.0D LT Cruze, so I can’t get into trouble by directly pitting it against the 1.8 auto Elantra in which I did an 800-kilometre breakfast run. So let's see what I thought.

There’s no doubt more people will say the Elantra is prettier and they won’t be wrong. I agree, my wife agrees and so does every article I’ve read on it. I do, however, like the conservative, safe design of the Cruze. It won’t look silly in a decade or two and there’s nothing that bothers me about it. What’s more, in a car as neutral as this you can’t be judged as being a show-off or wannabe. It’s not too much, nor too little, everything about its design is just right.

They both produce 110 kW and I therefore declare it a perfect tie. That’s where the similarities end though, as the diesel Cruze develops peak power at 4 000 rmin and a massive 320 Nm of torque from only 2 000 r/min. The manual gearbox is well matched to the engine, as I hate automatic diesels that always upshift too early when you’re taking it easy or too late, after the torque curve has hit the floor, when you step on it. I also like the fact that there are only five gears. The ratios are spot on and six would have had you shifting up and down all the time. The Elantra has to be wound up (power peak is at 6 500 r/min) to get the best out of it, but in this the automatic gearbox is not annoying in any way and has six ratios.

During my week driving the Elantra there was one day that I had to pick up my mother at 8.30 a.m. in Clanwilliam and drop her off in Kleinmond. I didn't realise I’d be doing 800 kilometres before having to meet my wife at a wine tasting in Franschhoek at 5.30 p.m. Needless to say I had to heat up the pace and the Elantra never felt anything but at ease. However, if you had to put a gun to my head and ask me to pick a winner, it would be the Cruze with its higher top speed and 1.5 seconds faster acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h.

The Elantra was tested good and proper in the twisties of the Piekenierskloof Pass and Franschhoek Pass, as well as Viljoen's Pass near Grabouw. I had to do all three twice and can truly say there is nothing wrong with the handling of the Hyundai. The steering is soft and rather vague in a straight line, but when chucking it into the tight corners it’s direct enough to actually be enjoyed. The Cruze also handles well and it’s much more fun to drive than one might think by just looking at it.

Both these cars have all the features the middle class family (wo)man would want. ABS-brakes are standard on all the models and both cars have six airbags each and rain sensing wipers. While the Elantra has halogen headlights, the Cruze LT comes standard with traction control.

In both cars you can feel the family resemblance to its respective siblings. The Elantra has the same two-tone black and grey trim theme as the more luxurious Sonata, as well as the blue hues around the clocks. The Cruze on the other hand shares the Sonic’s steering wheel controls. Both cars have an upmarket feel, with the Cruze maybe edging ahead with leather seats in the diesel LT model. Everything falls easily to hand in both and you don’t feel like it’s going to fall apart or age too quickly. Climate control is standard on both cars and so is rear park assist. Spending nine consecutive hours in the Elantra on one day wasn’t tiring at all, and the Cruze was just as comfortable.