BY TONY SWAN
The coupe designation has been blurred by the marketing minions, but we ordinarily understand it to describe a car with two doors and a formal trunk. Beyond that, we tend to perceive coupes as sexier than their sedan equivalents, with a suggestion of more performance.
The sexier part of this perception is true of the new Hyundai Elantra coupe. Its four-door sibling is already one of the more eye-catching members of the compact crowd, and subtracting a set of doors adds a little more visual zing to the package. But if you expect a corresponding increase in dynamic zing, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Tale of the Tape
Subtracting a set of doors can be an oversimplification, but not in this case. The exterior dimensions of the two- and four-door versions of the Elantra are essentially identical—wheelbase, width and height. The only distinction is in overall length—at 178.7 inches, the coupe is 0.4 inch longer, which may add a little subliminal drama to its wedgy good looks.
For the coupe’s front passengers, legroom and shoulder room remain the same; head- and hip room drop just slightly. For rear-seat passengers, headroom is the same, at 37.1 inches, but legroom actually increases by 0.2 inch in the two-door, while hip room is up by 0.4 inch (Hyundai says this is due to the absence of the rear door and its normal protuberances like door handles). The sedan’s only real advantage here is its easier rear-seat access. There’s a slight distinction at the scales between the two- and four-door Elantras—the coupe’s curb weights run a few pounds heavier, according to Hyundai—but this is academic.
Hyundai points out that the Elantra coupe has advantages in both passenger and cargo volume versus its two key development targets, the Honda Civic coupe and the Kia Forte Koup, as well as mid-size coupes like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. (As an aside, it’s also interesting to note that one of the Elantra’s key targets is produced by Hyundai’s Kia sibling.) The Scion tC, a car conspicuous in its absence from Hyundai’s volume discussions, has slightly less interior room but its hatch can swallow three times the cargo of the Elantra’s trunk.
Like the Elantra sedan, the base coupe comes well equipped. For example, standard features on the $18,220 GS include air conditioning, heated front seats, a tilt/telescope steering column, fog lights, 16-inch aluminum wheels, Bluetooth phone connectivity, remote keyless entry, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB input jacks. The sportier SE ($20,520) adds firmer suspension tuning, 17-inch wheels, a power sunroof, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum-clad pedals, and a rear decklid spoiler.
There are two options: a six-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is standard) that adds $1000 to the price and the Technology package ($2350), which includes a rearview camera, auto headlamps, a 360-watt premium audio system, auto headlights, and a nav system with a seven-inch screen. The Tech package is not available with the manual transmission, so those who want nav and the other goodies will have to go with the automatic.
Like that great line from a country song—“Is your mouth writin’ checks that your body cain’t cash?”—the coupe’s swoopy exterior suggests a level of performance that its mechanical elements don’t quite deliver. The engine is the Elantra’s standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder, delivering 148 hp at 6500 rpm and 131 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm. The power ratings trail those of the Forte’s standard 2.0-liter (an even-more-powerful 2.4 is available there, too) as well as the tC but edge the Civic coupe.
But the numbers don’t really tell the story. The Elantra four is a distinctly undersquare design—smallish bore, long stroke—that doesn’t care to rev. Low-end torque is tepid, and the gearing of both transmissions is aimed at mpg rather than mph. This approach pays off in fuel economy. The EPA ratings are 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with a manual transmission and 28/39 with the automatic.
As a result, the acceleration is languid, a word that also applies to the car’s dynamic responses, sport suspension tuning notwithstanding. The electric power steering, although precise enough on-center, becomes vague with additional lock, and vague describes the action of the manual shifter: The driver isn’t always certain he’s going to get the cog he hoped for.
On the other hand, the coupe is smooth, comfortable, and quiet at all speeds. Its deportment is competent and predictable, its braking feels strong, it looks good, it’s an mpg champ, and as with all Hyundais, you get a lot of standard kit for the money.
If coupe styling is a requirement, and 0-to-60 and hot-lap times don’t matter—they rarely do in this segment—that combination is tough to beat. Buyers more concerned with two-door performance can look to the pricier Civic Si or even Hyundai’s own Genesis coupe. We’d bring up the Scion tC again, but it’s a three-door and therefore doesn’t fit into the sexy-coupe mold. Definitions are important in this industry—just ask the marketing guys.