Over the past 10 years Hyundai has risen from an also-ran automaker producing inexpensive passenger cars to a car-builder with a very complete automotive lineup that has catapulted the brand up the sales charts in America. Now the number six selling automaker in the United States, ahead of Dodge, GMC, Volkswagen, Jeep and dozens of other manufacturers, Hyundai is a force to reckon with in today’s auto market.
This growth has not come without certain pains, as the American-based assembly plants are now construction constrained — they can’t make enough cars and crossovers to meet demand and sales are starting to stabilize rather than expand. Several competitors are envious.
As Hyundai expands here, it also has matured — thereby further increasing its appeal. Latest offerings have eliminated annoyances and quality flaws that might have turned off previous shoppers, helping Hyundai to make it on to more customer shopping lists as well as increased quality and reliability scores by the critics.
This week’s review vehicle is the latest Elantra model, a five-door GT hatchback that gives this compact series one more choice for fuel-economy minded buyers. There is, however, a contradiction or two.
Like its sedan and wagon siblings in the Elantra lineup, the GT hatchback comes with stellar fuel economy ratings: 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, with a combined rating of 32 mpg. The ‘new’ number that the EPA calculates will be the ‘average’ fuel economy for most drivers.
This is important to note as you shop for a new car and those Munroney stickers tout the best fuel economy ever seen, across the board, on all new cars. First, the EPA no longer field tests every new car for its actual fuel economy rating; only a few cars get pulled from manufacturer’s fleets for actual testing, while the majority of most new car fuel economy ratings are derived from computer modeling based on specifications produced by the automakers. This can obviously lead to some inconsistencies since weather, terrain, passenger load, etc. can lead to the infamous disclaimer “actual results will vary.”
And secondly, the EPA does not factor in or test with ethanol-based gasoline. Ethanol has significantly less BTU output (power) than regular gasoline, so your fuel may burn slightly, ever slightly, cleaner but you will use more of it because it lacks the same energy content as conventional gasoline without ethanol. Again, “actual results will vary.”
So, when a car comes close to or surpasses the EPA mileage estimates you can bank on the fact that the car was never really tested and that you potentially could get even better mileage!
The Elantra GT was spot on its suggested blended mileage average during its 800-mile visit, returning just under 32 mpg while covering a mix of driving that included a fair amount of four- and six-lane highway travel. The 1.8-liter 148-hp four-cylinder engine funnels its power through a smooth six-speed automatic transmission, a combination that produces respectable power, but not the kind of acceleration that you might associate with a car carrying a ‘GT’ label. I frequently longed for a bit more torque, only 131 pound/feet on tap, or, perhaps a turbocharged upgrade like what is available in the new compact Veloster hatchback.
The benefit of the hatchback design is cargo-carrying flexibility and the Elantra GT does not disappoint. Just this modest alteration of the Elantra sedan’s body creates a vastly more flexible cargo area, with simple rear folding seats and a liftgate-attached cargo cover that is more practical than the usual panels attached above the rear deck. There are anchoring points for loose items, plus several separated bins below the deck.
Rear passenger space is not sacrificed as the nicely sculptured rear seats readily accommodate full-size humans with a comfortable perch. The expanded cargo deck available with the seatbacks folded is not quite flat, but it’s close.
As the industry shifts to ever-more use of rear-view cameras, and the public comes to rely on these aids completely rather than turning around to view their surroundings, the challenge will be how to keep that lens clean enough for regular use. Hyundai has devised a simple answer on the Elantra GT.
As you survey the rear end, you can’t find the small camera lens anywhere, even though you know you have seen the view from the large center-dash screen. Hyundai has located the rear-view camera behind the emblem on the liftgate. Engage reverse and a small electric motor flips the emblem up to reveal a clean lens!
Elsewhere, the Elantra is a model of clever packaging as there is a multitude of storage bins, beverage slots and cargo pockets sprinkled liberally in each of the four doors as well as the center console. These subtle nuances create a happier owner.
Like the Elantra sedan, the GT handles smoothly and drives like a very composed small car. Its 106-inch wheelbase is comparable to some midsize sedans, while a weight under 2,800 pounds keeps the car nimble and quick. The low-speed turning radius is also compact, so this five-door fits anywhere. The country’s leading consumer magazine still picks the Elantra as one of its top small cars.
The Elantra GT’s styling continues to embrace Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” philosophy with swoopy fender lines and a low front grille. It is a clean shape — as well as very much like the larger Sonata — however Hyundai needs to complete the whole theme at the rear by either including the tailpipe in the design or better masking its appearance. The current iteration remains a metal pipe exposed as an afterthought while rivals are now accenting this essential component. Small point for sure, but a detail that should be addressed.
Hyundai sure didn’t miss any details inside as our 2013 GT came very well equipped. Besides the novelty of variable effort steering feel — the driver can toggle between sport, comfort and touring settings, with subtle variations — you get front fog lamps, satellite radio and Bluetooth, Hyundai’s new Blue-link telematics system (think OnStar) a tilt and telescoping steering column, heated front seats, plus the six-speed automatic replacing the regular six-speed manual for $19,395. The base hatchback starts $1,000 less with the stick-shift.
Also standard are one-touch lane change signaling, interval wipers front and rear, and a loud dual-note horn — a pleasant surprise over the usually tinny single note horns favored by Asian automakers.
Additional features included the ‘Style’ package: 17-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, a clever dual panel panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, mirror-mounted turn signals and a power driver’s seat for $2,750. The $2,350 Tech package adds navigation system with the back-up camera, automatic headlamps, dual temperature controls, plus a push-button ignition with proximity locks.
The Elantra GT neatly competes in a tough segment, battling similarly sized hatchbacks like the Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus, Mazda 3, VW Golf and the Toyota Matrix.
Attractive, capable and quite competent, the Elantra GT will shake up the class with its value quotient and steady performance.