And controversy, too. Prior to the Imperial Group taking over the concession, vehicles were brought in as token CKD packs for minimal assembly at a plant in Botswana.

Hyundais did not have the cachet of most of the existing product on our market, but they were modern and affordable. Moreover, as owners totted up the kilometres, it became apparent that they were durable, too.

The subsequent debacle with Hyundai Motor Distributors and the resultant angst suffered by Hyundai owners is sufficiently common knowledge for all to know that the brand's image will have to undergo some serious rebuilding.

The Imperial Motor Group's taking over the concession is a great stride in the right direction. IMG already does business with Hyundai's Korean partner, Kia, whose offerings have always been imported as fully built up units. As before, the Corolla-sized Elantra will be at the forefront of the operation, but this third-generation model is from a different mould to that of its forebears...

OK, it is an all-new vehicle that, as is usually the case, is a little bigger than the model it has replaced. Its styling incorporates a simple but effective trapezoidal grille with a bright top bar and flanked by a pair of large clear-glass headlamps devoid of any gee-whiz lens styling. Front on, the Elantra looks upmarket. A gently rising waistline meets with a sloping roofline that, in silhouette, creates a coupé-like profile. Such an effect is currently quite popular, but a rear wing detracts from its modernity: a subtle lip on the bootlid often provides similar aerodynamic qualities for the level of performance the car will usually be subjected to. In mitigation, the wing's central support stylishly, and effectively, houses the third brake light. Study the Elantra and you will see hints of many other models in its styling, yet it manages - like its predecessors - to exude some individuality.

Giving credit where it is due, Hyundai has done exceptionally well to develop and introduce not only a new Elantra but a number of other models, too, despite the financial and industrial woes that currently engulf Korea. Befitting its range-topping status, the test two-litre GLS saloon (there are 1,6 models as well, including an automatic, but do not expect to see a station wagon) comes with most of the expected creature comforts. Included in the line-up are air-conditioning with a four-speed fan, electric windows all round with one-touch operation for the driver's, electric exterior mirrors, Hyundai branded radio/tape (but with an old-fashioned telescopic aerial housed in the rear fender), spectacles holder and dual maplights mounted above the windscreen, and central locking albeit without a remote control. On the safety front, dual front airbags are standard and there is ABS as well as traction control. But the era of expecting a lot of Korean kit for the money compared with rivals appears to be over.

Sure, the car's specification is comprehensive, but the 2,0 GLS's pricing pitches it above Chrysler Neon and Daewoo Nubira and just below Nissan Primera - all two-litre saloons with similar equipment. So, the ante has been upped. Is the Elantra still in the game?

There are some aspects to enthuse about. From a driver's perspective, adjustment for seat cushion height and angle are provided, instruments are simple and clear with variable backlighting, controls and switchgear have an Opel-like user-friendliness, and there is a left foot-rest. The gearshift is typically Asian - easy, light and precise, with a leather knob for the shifter. Less pleasant to hold is the slippery rim of the rake-adjustable four-spoke steering wheel.

More disconcerting was the traction control system, though. Even with it supposedly engaged, we managed some wheel-spinning starts on the test strip and indulged in some spirited drifting through corners, all of which suggested less than optimum functioning of the TCS.

Generally, the Elantra is mild-mannered - quite entertaining, actually, if pushed towards its limits - exhibiting a failsafe dose of understeer when limits of adhesion are challenged. Power-assisted steering offers 3,15 turns lock to lock, but lacks pro-gression, although it does provide satisfactory feedback. Our car's 15-inch alloy road wheels wore 195/60 Kumho Powermax radials, with a full-size spare fitted to a steel rim. Ride quality is generally compliant, the suspension seeming to have plenty of travel and good damping.

Passengers will notice that the cabin is roomy for its class, although those in the rear may find that headroom has been compromised because of the coupé styling, and that the roof does not extend far enough back to protect heads from the sun. The rear seat has a fixed cushion with a split folding backrest and a centre foldaway armrest with integral tray.

There is a dual drink holder that pops out from the leading edge of the cushion. The front seatbacks are indented to release more legroom, and contain map pockets. Plastics are softer to the touch, but a couple of testers commented on the rather tacky smell inside the only 400 km-old test car.

Cruising, the Elantra is pleasantly relaxed. The woven cloth upholstery is comfortable to sit on, and the cabin manages to shut out most road and engine noise thanks, in part, to some extensive sound deadening. With healthy peak outputs of 106 kW and 186 N.m available from the twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder - which has NVH-friendly hydraulic engine mounts - progress seldom becomes strained, which contributes to a surprising air of refinement. In keeping with modern trends, drivability is the keynote.

And with fuel prices hitting the R4 per litre mark in some areas, the Elantra - with its drag coefficient of 0,333 - can boast excellent fuel economy amongst its attributes, too. Based on our steady-speed test results, we calculate that overall consumption over mixed driving will be around 9,5 litres/100 km, which means that a range approaching 580 km is possible from a single tank of unleaded.

If there is a need for all-out acceleration, then the Hyundai will not be left behind. Zero to 100 km/h takes 9,63 seconds, with the kilometre marker passed 21 seconds later at just over 170 km/h. The two-way averaged top speed is 204 km/h, which shows that the GLS is no sluggard. Braking ability is par for the course for an ABS system, but the absence of smell and fade during our test sequence was encouraging. (Korean friction lining materials tend to exhibit both traits.)

A small rear bulkhead limits the Elantra's cargo loading versatility, but the boot will hold > 312 dm3 of our ISO standard blocks, with utility space increasing to 984 dm3 with the back seat folded forward. The boot can be opened either remotely from inside or with the key. Loading height over the bumper is 655 mm. For storing odds and ends, the cabin has the expected bins and cubbies.