Inside, the Elantra offers room for five and an almost premium feel, especially in SE trim. The stylishly functional dash gets some nice visual interest thanks to satin metal-look trim on the centre stack and around the vents, and the switchgear all has a quality look and feel to it. My SE test car featured perforated leather upholstery, and soft-touch materials covered all the major touch-points including the dash and door uppers. I found the front seats very comfortable and spacious, and the back seats fit my 5’11″ frame reasonably well, although there wasn’t any headroom left over for taller passengers.
Despite its smaller size compared to the outgoing Touring, the Elantra GT doesn’t give up too much in terms of cargo space: Admittedly it does come up about 170 L (six cubic feet) shy, but you still get a useful 651 L of room in the trunk, which expands to 1,444 L if you fold down the rear seatbacks. Speaking of rear seatbacks, these can be folded entirely flat if you first take a couple moments to flip the seat cushions forward or, if you are in a rush and don’t need a flat floor, you can simply flip the seatbacks forward onto the seat cushions.
On the road I found the Elantra GT to be a notch above the Elantra sedan, which is itself a very competent, easy-driving car. True to its name, the GT is just a little more engaged and sporty to drive, with a well-controlled ride and precise steering. The only negatives that I noted were the bulky and therefore somewhat obstructive front and rear roof pillars.
The Elantra GT is available in four trims levels – GL, GLS, SE, and SE Tech – and in the usual Hyundai style they all include a lot of features for the money. Starting at a suggested price of $18,794 including destination charges, the GL includes air conditioning, keyless entry and alarm, power locks, power windows, six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio with USB plug, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control, heated seats, power mirrors, a cooled glove box… shall I go on?
As expected, the GL comes equipped with the manual transmission (the automatic is a $1,200 option), but what’s less expected is the driver-selectable steering mode (DSSM). This varies the power steering boost to allow better feedback when cornering at high speeds, easier steering when maneuvering at low speeds (such as when parking), or medium effort for normal driving. I could see occasionally switching it into sport mode when tearing along twisty back roads, but I reckon most people will leave it in normal mode most of the time – the sport mode feels heavy-ish around town, and comfort mode feels decidedly over-assisted.
The GLS trim, which starts at $21,019 (destination included) adds a panoramic sunroof, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel, under-floor storage box, fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels and a few other features – a lot of nice goodies for only $2,225 more.
The SE trim is a bigger leap forward, starting at $24,039 and adding perforated leather seating, fully automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, automatic headlights, one-touch driver’s window, solar glass, chrome grille and side window moldings, 17-inch alloys and included automatic transmission. I do find it a shame that, sports cars aside, manufacturers tend to think of manual transmissions as a lower-end feature (I’d prefer to have my Elantra GT with the SE package and the manual transmission), but I guess I’m in the minority because if there was much demand for higher-trim cars with stick-shifts, surely manufacturers would offer them.
At the top of the range, the SE Tech trim starts at $26,039 and includes all the features of the SE plus a proximity entry system and touchscreen navigation system.
With its comprehensive list of standard features (I didn’t yet mention the seven airbags, stability control and other safety features), sporty yet relaxed road manners, frugal fuel consumption and economical price tag, the Elantra GT certainly deserves the honours it won from AJAC (the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) as the best new small car over $21,000. It offers a compelling alternative to competitors such as the Mazda3 Sport, Kia Forte5, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, and if you’re considering buying a sporty compact hatchback it should definitely be on your list of contenders.
Pricing: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT SE
Base price (SE): $22,544
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $24,139
Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback