Korean cars in 1996 weren’t like they were today. Back then it was all about value. Nowadays a Hyundai i30 is up there with the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
Fast forward back to late 1995, and the Lantra was launched globally, replacing a dull-but-worthy Mitsubishi-derived saloon.
Available as a saloon, with a stationwagon following a year later, it was a curvy car that was about value and style. There was also a coupe too, branded as Hyundai Coupe.
A choice of 1.6 and 2.0 engines were offered, although after a facelift in 1998 it was a 1.8 that replaced the 2.0 engine. OK, so they weren’t that cutting-edge, but they did the job, which was enough for most buyers. No diesel, but then again, the technology wasn’t there for the non-European manufacturers… Honda had a Rover diesel, enough said (not that it was bad, it wasn’t, that’s for another day).
Reliability was assured, and they seemed to be popular at the time. And they still are too… but outside the UK, where more survive.
There was a choice of four trim levels – Si (base), LSi (mid-range) and GSi (top-spec), with GLSi spec later offered as an exec-type model. Plus the obligatory special editions, which didn’t really differ that much from the original – and with Italian names – Bari (1.6 saloon) and San Remo (1.6/2.0 saloon), available around 1999. Just a paintwork excuse, really.
There are still a good many around now, and it’s not the best family car, nor the worst, but still, in a sea of banger Escort, Astra and Fiestas, it’s a bit more distinctive.
It was replaced in 2001, by the Elantra, which was available as a hatchback as well, to replace the Lantra estate.
In the U.S. and Canada, there are still a good many around, so if you can’t find a decent UK-spec one, go for the higher-spec Canadian 2.0 GLS sedan. Sure, it’ll cost a bit to import, but you can still service it over here, no technical issues, and it’s even more well-equipped than our UK car.
Hilarious in hindsight – people thought Korean cars were bad… but now the Chinese branded cars, like Emgrand are replicating this scenario. Where next? Indian-branded cars, in a few years time? Wouldn’t surprise me.
SAIC – the next Hyundai? Yes, I know they own MG, but they own other brands too… will they appear here?