Hyundai reveals two new compact entries to its lineup. The Elantra Coupe is smooth, but it's the five-door-hatch Elantra GT that got our attention.
$18,220 (Coupe base) $19,170 (GT base)
Fuel Economy (city/highway):
29/40 mpg (Coupe), 28/39 (GT)
Honda Civic Coupe, Kia Forte Koup, Ford Focus five-door, Mazda3, Toyota Matrix
1.8-liter I-4; 148 hp; 131 lb.-ft. of torque
The compact car class is booming. There were more compact nameplates in the top 20 best-selling new cars of 2011 than at any time in recent memory. That includes the Elantra, whose sales increased nearly 41 percent over 2010. For 2013, Hyundai has added both a sporty two-door Coupe and a practical five-door hatchback called the Elantra GT to the lineup.
Both new Elantra variants share the basic bones of the Elantra sedan's chassis. The coupe and sedan use the same wheelbase, but the five-door GT uses a 2-inch shorter wheelbase and is 9 inches shorter overall. Hyundai says the five-door was primarily built for Europe—a place where every inch counts when it comes to parking. All three Elantra models use a MacPherson strut front suspension. But only the new Coupe and the GT have the sport-tuned V-beam rear axle, a component they share with the Veloster. The V-beam is essentially a twist-beam rear axle whose tube is in the shape of a V rather than round. And instead of mounting the stabilizer bar outside the tube, as is the case with most cars (including the Elantra sedan), Hyundai mounts the bar inside the V-beam, which gives it added stiffness for sharper handling. The Coupe and GT also share the Veloster's new steering knuckles for improved steering feel.
Under the hood, all Elantras use a 148-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy is nearly identical for each model, the thriftiest of which is the Coupe equipped with a manual transmission, which delivers 29 mpg city and 40 on the highway. All automatic transmission Elantras have Hyundai's Active Eco system, which smooths out aggressive throttle inputs for improved fuel economy. And both the Coupe (2687 pounds) and GT (2745 pounds) are the featherweights compared to even their lightest competitors.
The Coupe's sedan-size wheelbase provides rear-seat occupants plenty of legroom. Even a six-footer won't mind taking a longer trip. The 14.8-cubic-foot trunk holds 3 more cubic feet of stuff than the Honda Civic Coupe. Though the GT is shorter in both wheelbase and length, its hatchback design provides 23 cubic feet of trunk space with the seats up and 51 cubic feet with the seats folded down—more than an Audi A4 wagon. The Coupe's interior is a mirror image of the Elantra sedan's. But the GT's dash is more upright, with a large (and handy) storage bin ahead of the shifter.
Tech Tidbit: The Elantra GT is not only the most practical member of Hyundai's compact family; it comes packing the most tech, too. Hyundai's new Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) is a smart way to deliver just the right amount of steering feel and assist for every type of situation. Thanks to an electric motor replacing the traditional hydraulic steering pump on newer cars, engineers can alter the characteristics of steering feel and effort—in many cases through software changes. In the Elantra GT, the DSSM provides three distinct modes: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Dave Dutco, Hyundai's ride and handling engineer on the project says, "We can tune the steering for every 5 kilometers per hour increase in speed. And we do that three times, so we have a unique map for each mode. It takes a very long time."
Although the steering rack's ratio remains constant, the DSSM system alters the weight, torque buildup through the steering wheel, and the on-center feel. So in Sport mode, the steering feels heavier and more substantial. In Comfort mode, the steering effort is much lighter, with a looser on-center feel. Hyundai says Comfort mode comes in handy for the long boring cruises or for situations when a higher-speed road is heavily crowned. In that case, it would require less steering effort to keep the Elantra GT pointed straight.
Driving Character: Coupes are supposed to be more fun to drive than five-door hatchbacks, right? Not here. The Elantra GT is just as nimble as the Coupe. In fact, on the twisty roads that surround Mount Palomar northeast of San Diego, we enjoyed the balanced feel of the GT more than the Coupe. We locked the new selectable steering system in Sport mode and had a blast running the GT through its six speeds. The GT's short wheelbase (it's the same as the Veloster) is one advantage that it has over the Coupe. Another, Ducto says, is that it has only one suspension tuning, and it's a sporty one that must satisfy the demands of European buyers too. The Coupe has a different damper setup depending on the wheel you choose. On the rougher roads, the Coupe and the GT were both firm but not overly so. And we enjoyed the more bolstered seats in the Elantra Coupe, which come standard with heating.
The 2.0-liter 148-hp four-cylinder is certainly sufficient. But no matter which Elantra you choose, we'd like a bit more low-end torque. Perhaps the 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder from the Veloster Turbo soon will become an option from the Elantra family.
Favorite Detail: Few would expect to find a 007-like feature on a Hyundai hatchback that costs less than $20,000. But the new GT packs a hidden camera. Most automakers mount the rear-parking camera somewhere within the vicinity of the license plate or underneath the lip of the vehicle's hatch. But to keep the GT's rear fascia clean, engineers devised a secret-agent solution. Slip the GT's transmission into reverse and the Hyundai badge at the rear of the vehicle will tilt up, revealing the camera. The rearview camera is part of the Elantra GT's Tech Package, which also includes a navigation system and push-button start/stop.
Driver's Grievance: Why should Elantra GT drivers have all the fun? The DSSM (Driver Selectable Steering System) should become standard on all Elantra models.
The Bottom Line: In the past, we'd guess that the new Hyundai Coupe would attract more buyers than the GT. After all, the traditionalists always claim that Americans don't like hatchbacks. But that may no longer be the case, considering the popularity of the genre even among the luxury car set that's now buying Porsche's Panamera. The Elantra GT is certainly no Panamera. But it is a fun and tech-forward alternative to the compact sedans that dominate the automotive landscape.