When Hyundai redesigned the Lantra in 2000, they finally added an ‘E’ to the name, making it the Elantra. Then they added a roomy 5-door hatch to the range, but they dropped the spacious Sportwagon. Since that was a popular model, Hyundai decided to hire the famous Italian design firm Pininfarina to pen the body of a new 5-seat mini-MPV.
Based on the XD Hyundai Elantra, the Hyundai LaVita / Hyundai Elantra LaVita is a cross between a tall wagon, and a people carrier. Thanks to the tall roof, the rear seats were positioned higher off of the floor than the front seats, giving the rear passengers a commanding view of the road. Those seats also recline, and slide 200mm forward and backward, giving passengers a comfortable perch on long journeys. The 60/40 seats also fold out of the way, revealing a surprising amount of space, in the event that cargo needs to be transported instead of people. The seat bottom can also fold up against the front seats, providing more room to haul bulky objects.
The Hyundai LaVita’s mission seems to be toting things, so there’s a hidden storage compartment in the boot floor, a clever drawer in the bottom of the centre console, and two storage boxes in the boot. Hyundai also fitted cargo tie-down hooks, several bag hooks to keep your shopping from rolling around in the boot, and a cargo net to keep larger objects in place. There’s even a 12-volt power outlet, and a full size spare under the floor. Getting all of that into a car that’s barely 4 meters long is impressive.
The rather upright European styling seemed to surprise a great many people. This little MPV was discontinued (here) in 2004, after just three years on the market. The little Elantra-based shopping trolley was no longer imported, mostly due to its controversial looks. The interior design was equally controversial for the time, as it featured a gauge ‘pod’ that was located in the centre of the dash, instead of in front of the driver. This carry-all actually did its job rather well, but buyers just weren’t ready for it.
On a more conventional note, the 90kW, 1.8L was lifted straight from the Elantra, along with its 4-wheel independent suspension. Although the Hyundai LaVita is rather tall, it handles quite acceptably, although cornering is not a strong suit of the car.
The Hyundai LaVita uses the same 1.8-litre, 16-valve petrol engine found in the Elantra GL. This Beta-Series motor has 90kW at 6000 rpm, and 161Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. Transmission choices were a 4-speed automatic, or a standard 5-speed manual. Fuel consumption was rated at 7.1-7.9L/100km, depending on the transmission.
Given the risk of introducing such a unique vehicle to traditional wagon buyers, Hyundai Australia only imported the well-equipped Hyundai LaVita GLS. Standard kit included electric windows with driver’s auto-down function, air conditioning, remote central locking with an alarm and engine immobiliser, a CD radio, electric mirrors, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, automatic headlights, and premium upholstery.
Options on the 2001-2004 Hyundai Elantra LaVita were limited to paint, transmission, and the Enhanced Safety Pack, which bundled ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and a passenger side airbag.
Given its unique size, and layout, the nearest equivalent to the Hyundai LaVita would be a Daihatsu YRV, or the Mazda Premacy. The Daihatsu YRV is similarly sized, and also seats 5 people. But it’s not nearly as refined, and much of the kit on the Hyundai isn’t even offered on the YRV. Plus, the seats simply do not manoeuvre as well as the LaVita’s.
The Mazda Premacy offers the same assortment of kit, and like the second row in the Hyundai LaVita, the Mazda’s can fold to allow extra cargo room. Where they differ is in the seat action. The Mazda’s seats can’t recline, or slide back and forth to accommodate different size passengers and cargo. But you can remove the second row seats entirely, which allows for an even larger cargo hold.
The styling of the Mazda Premacy is a lot more ‘conventional’ than the Hyundai’s, and that alone made it more popular than the LaVita. It’s also based on the popular Mazda 323, so it feels well put together. But on the used market, all of those positive points make it more expensive than the Hyundai LaVita. There is also much more standard kit on the Hyundai LaVita.