Disclaimer: Hyundai wanted me to drive their new Elantra Coupe, Elantra GT, and Veloster Turbo
so bad that they put me up in a nice hotel on the ocean and fed me an unbelievable assortment of meats.
They also offered to fly me to La Jolla from Los Angeles, but I declined, and drove myself.
“That’s a good looking little car,” I said to myself as I approached the Elantra Coupe for our morning drive after half paying attention in the media briefing, which went way too long given the simplicity of this car. It’s an Elantra, with two less doors. The Elantra sedan is already a very attractive car, arguably the most aggressively designed in the segment, and the transition to coupe form works nicely. The front end is sculpted with its lower front fascia sticking out much farther than the leading edge of the hood, for a nice, sweeping look.
I was about to drive off with Hooniverse’s Jeff Glucker on our PR-determined route when I was stopped, and informed that because of my many, many speeding tickets, Hyundai’s legal team required a chaperone to accompany me on my drive. While this isn’t a problem for me, in fact I found it quite hilarious, I would later learn that I originally was not going to be allowed to drive at all, until North American CEO John Krafcik personally requested that they find a way for me to drive. I guess he wanted a rematch after all.
As there would be three of us in the Elantra Coupe, the first thing I learned was that this little car has an unbelievable amount of rear seat room. I’m 6’3″, and my 5’10″ chaperone fit behind me without issue, and moreover, we both had ample room for our knees. In fact, the rear seat of the Elantra Coupe has more room than the Honda Accord coupe, which is sold in a larger class. It positively shamed the Honda Civic Si I recently tested, and even the last Audi A4 sedan I drove.
Hyundai’s done a great job recently with integrating good materials and slick interfaces at a low price, and the dashboard feels modern and well thought out. The air conditioning controls (see the lower large central knob in the above image) are particularly slick, using less buttons and taking up less space than in other cars. There’s four cupholders up front, a decent-sounding radio, and large, clear gauges.
Our drive route would take us through mostly two-lane roads along the coast, with just a hint of winding, mountain passes. Our six-speed manual tester was a middle-trim level SE model and did not feature the navigation system as seen in the photo above. Sticker price: $17,995. Under the hood, you get a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine producing 148 horsepower, and returning 40 mpg highway thanks to the longest gearing I’ve ever seen in a 4-cylinder car. Around town, it makes reasonable power, though it’s nothing to write home about, likewise the shifter and clutch, which offer light throws and relatively precise action. Though performance numbers aren’t available at the time of this writing, we’d estimate 0-60 times in the mid-8 second range. Again, nothing to write home about, but don’t let the swoopy styling confuse you; this is an economy car, through and through.
Then we drove up into the mountains, specifically Palomar Mountain Road. This is a wonderful driver’s road, which ascends Palomar Mountain through a series of decreasing radius switchbacks, zagging esses, and on-camber sweepers. The last time I drove this road, I was behind the wheel of the Switzer E900 GTR, so I had to remember to manage my expectations. It was here that we learned the importance of gearing. As we find with so many cars of this class, the gap between second and third gear is just too large for any kind of real canyon carving. Winding out second all the way to the 7,500 RPM redline and powershifting to third, the engine bogs, and the car no longer accelerates up the hill, requiring the driver to push the pedal practically through the floorboard just to keep pace. It’s a safe bet that I spent more time literally flooring the Elantra Coupe than I have in any other car, ever, save for some Lemons racers. But, truth be told, the gearing is irrelevant anyway, because the Elantra Coupe’s suspension is so sloppy when pushed that the odds of me recommending this car to an enthusiast driver are about the same as the odds I’ll wake up tomorrow morning looking like Clive Owen.
This is not a car for enthusiasts. This is a car for parents to buy their 16-year old kids. It’s nearly impossible to get in to trouble with the Elantra Coupe, because it’s so little fun to push to its limits. It’s a stylish, economical, practical, and spacious coupe that, in top-level trim, comes with an adequate number of luxury features at an affordable price. It will get you around town reliably and save you money on gas. It is the reasonable choice for a reasonable person. The enthusiast doesn’t require a lot more, but they do require more, which is why I’ll be writing about how much better the Elantra GT is as a driver’s car in a few days.