What could be better than cruising through provincial highways in an SUV? Not much, but certainly some surprises that you wouldn’t expect.

Hyundai Philippines recently brought members of the media to the exquisite Kandaya Resort in Daanbantayan, Cebu. Our first surprise? We didn’t take the hardy Tucson or the tough-as-nails Santa Fe. Instead, we took their smaller brother, the all-new Hyundai Elantra. Confident in the ability of every vehicle in their lineup, Hyundai dared us to go through paved roads running through towns, zigzagging mountain roads, and unmade terrain in the Elantra.

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For our second surprise (which shouldn’t come as one given the terrain), cruising filled only a portion of our four-hour ride and drive to Kandaya Resort. Throughout Cebu’s unpredictable roads, we were able to test the Elantra’s different capabilities. How did it drive? Let’s break it down.

The all-new Hyundai Elantra comes in three powerful variants: the 1.6 GL 6M/T, the 1.6 GL 6A/T, and the 2.0 GLS A/T. For our little trek in Cebu, members of the media drove the latter two variants; one for the first ride and the other for the return trip. Our first vehicle was the 1.6 GL 6A/T.

The model’s most noticeable change is its design revamp. The all-new Elantra sports Hyundai’s ever-evolving Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. Just short of a complete overhaul, the Elantra features less sharp curves and more definition that brings its front fascia to the fore all on its own. With Hyundai’s signature large hexagonal grille and sporty projection lamps, the new Elantra energetically stands out in both urban and rural settings.

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Down to the nitty gritty of its design, the Hyundai Elantra has an enhanced chassis made up of more than 53% ultra-high strength steel (whose grade is 32% higher than the previous model), reinforced B-pillars, and dual impact beams on the rear seats for better handling, durability, and performance.

Its aerodynamic structure maximizes stability and fuel efficiency from the top all the way to the air curtain surrounding the wheel. The new wheel arch design expresses the car’s dynamic road presence, setting the new model apart from all other vehicles on the road. The roof flows back to the trunk almost seamlessly, with the sides left simple and unembellished, while with understated lines on the shoulders to create an elegant and smooth look. Distinctive, shining tail lights, equipped with rear combination lamps are arranged in an attractive horizontal line, while the rear bumper completes the balanced design.

The Elantra comes in two engine variants: the top-of-the-line GLS variant uses a Nu 2.0 MPi engine, which delivered maximum performance in both winding roads and grueling traffic. With a horsepower of 152ps and torque of 19.6kg-m, the all-new Elantra took us to new heights in Cebu. Meanwhile, the GL variant houses a Gamma 1.6 MPi powertrain that squeezes out a maximum horsepower of 127.5ps and 15.7kg-m of torque. Despite being a lower variant, the GL variant easily caught up with the GLS even in open road conditions, especially with its transmission system.

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Both variants are front-wheel drives mated with 6-speed automatic transmission. Both also come equipped with Hyundai’s Shiftronic manumatic transmission system, making provincial roads a breeze for the Elantra, especially in uphill drives and overtaking hazards on the road. Shifting to manumatic mode also makes catching up to the GLS 2.0 a manageable feat.

Inside, refined active character lines are ergonomically positioned to enable intuitive operation, elements that are inherited from Hyundai’s luxury range of the Sonata and the Genesis. Dashboard buttons are grouped according to functions. The cockpit display is angled 6.9 degrees toward the driver, and soft-touch and high-quality materials are used across the surfaces for convenience.

Four hours per trip can be tiring even for the more seasoned drivers. Luckily, the all-new Elantra is engineered for comfort. Whether you’re the current driver or resting after a driver change, the spacious interior has got you covered. The new Elantra is 20 millimeters longer and 25 millimeters wider than the previous generation. Advanced ergonomically designed fabric seats give both driver and passenger better comfort and flexibility during travel. Also, for the first time, the new Elantra now has a rear air ventilation system. I was easily able to doze off while riding as a passenger, even for the tight turns.

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For entertainment, the new Elantra boasts a 5-inch monitor infotainment system with FM/AM radio, CD, USB, and AUX connectivity. Complemented by a glorious six-speaker system, road trips are sure to fly by on silver wings.

The ride to Kandaya Resort was hardly a stressful one, but for those barreling through hairy and risky situations, the all-new Elantra’s convenience and safety features ensures security and stability for both driver and passengers. The headlamps have an auto light control that turns on your lamps when it detects you’re driving blind in the dark. Dual airbags protect passengers from head-on collisions. A rear park assist system guides drivers into and out of tight parking spots. A smart key/push-to-start system takes out the hassle of fumbling for the key from your bag or pocket.

Whether you’re the driver or a passenger, four hours’ worth of driving (and another four going back) is well worth it for a view as picturesque as Kandaya Resort’s beachfront. Even as we dragged it into the beachfront for a photoshoot, the Elantra handled marvelously on the sand.

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Kandaya Resort is a rare gem in the sand that offers a lot more than just relaxing on the beach with a good book. It has been one of the most luxurious and comfortable resorts I’ve been in, from the white sands of the beach to the sizable villas right beside the shore.

In many ways, the all-new Hyundai Elantra mimics the hidden beauty of Kandaya Resort. It conquered both the city and the countryside with ease. Bang-for-buck, the Elantra is a paragon of performance and comfort tightly wound into a sedan-sized package.