Instead of fawning over the all-new 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT's practicality and bang-for-the-buck equation, or preaching from the pulpit about why more Americans should embrace hatchbacks, I'd rather examine why the Elantra five-door embodies its maker's commitment to constantly improving its vehicles. Like in the old "Tortoise and the Hare" fable, slow and steady wins the race, and Hyundai's taken that approach to heart with its evolving Elantra lineup.
The current-generation Elantra sedan has made quite a statement in its segment, becoming a true compact-car contender in its three years on the market. And it's frequently near the top of auto industry analysts' monthly "shortest days in inventory" lists, meaning there's more than sufficient demand. The Elantra GT, along with the new Elantra Coupe, will offer prospective sedan customers more choice.
The Elantra GT is based on Hyundai's European-market i30, and although it has been tuned for America and shares much with its Elantra siblings, there are a variety of GT-specific modifications, specifically in one area we've called on Hyundai to address: steering. The Elantra sedan's electric steering from its 2011 launch was exaggeratedly elastic on- and off- center with curious effort buildup; a revision for 2012 models added loading heft but was far from great. The GT incorporates a Driver Selectable Steering Mode setup, and is one of only a few vehicles that isolates the steering itself for adjustment. (More common are all-encompassing Sport modes that boost steering heaviness, along with throttle tip-in, stability control thresholds, etc.)
Activated through a steering wheel-mounted button around the 4 o'clock position, your DSSM choices are Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Each alters on-center tension and effort weight (but not the steering ratio) when you pull the wheel off-center. It's no Focus or Mazda3 equivalent, but effort ramp-up and feel in any mode is more honest than in non-GT Elantras. You can place just your fingertips behind the main spokes on the steering wheel and commit the vibration level to memory -- it changes only very subtly as the road surface changes, regardless of mode. On one of my favorite local mountain roads, I trusted the Normal steering, and I think it's the best fit for all-around driving. After figure-eighting the car to a satisfactory 28.1-second run (on par with its lighter sedan counterpart), testing director Kim Reynolds agrees the heavier Sport setting feels disingenuous for the car's relatively restrained performance level. The takeaway here is Hyundai is paying attention to steering, and there's a good chance DSSM will propagate to more vehicles.
The Elantra GT chassis feels more capable than its low-grip, 215/45-17 Hankook Optimo H426 tires (part of the $2750 Style Package) suggest. It doesn't take much braking force for the ABS to cycle, but at 123 feet to stop from 60 mph, overall stopping power matched the Veloster Turbo we just tested. What was surprising was its transient response behavior and manageable handling, which can be handy for emergency maneuvers or occasional sprightly driving. I'll explain.
While driving on a curvy downhill road the other day, a fast right-left-then-right section appeared. The following thought flashed in my mind on approach: "Am I taking in too much speed?" The easy play would have been to dive-bomb into the opposite lane and make a beeline for the exit. Daringly (or foolishly?), I brushed the brakes briefly before the initial right, eyeballed and traced my path, put my faith in the bolder steering, balanced the sweeping move with the throttle, and pulled through. It appears Hyundai left in some accommodating rotation to cope with the nose-heavy hatchback's front-end push.
While the Hankooks held up their end of the bargain, I cannot ignore the group effort from the chassis and suspension working those tires. Credit begins with the chassis, as Hyundai claims it is almost 34 percent stiffer than the outgoing Elantra Touring due to greater application of high-strength steel. The 104.3-inch wheelbase (2 inches shorter than Elantra coupe and sedan, same as previous-gen Elantra) and platform are shared with the Old World's i30, though the i30 has a multilink rear suspension. (Elantra GT uses a torsion beam.) Sachs shocks specific to the GT control body movement in a predictable manner, and everyday ride quality is damped appropriately for the most part. The rear springs are about 5 pounds per inch stiffer than the four-door Elantra. And get this: We've tested four Elantra sedans at an average curb weight of 2763 pounds; for our 2978-lb GT test car to have such marked handling differences has to be a sign of good things (chassis/suspension tuning decisions) to come.
The engine is unmolested from other Elantras, with the same 1.8-liter Nu four-cylinder with 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque sitting above the front axle. Available with a six-speed manual or automatic, the GT's axle ratio is 7 percent shorter with the automatic versus the coupe and sedan, presumably in an effort to counter the extra pounds. But with a 0-60 mph time of 9.7 seconds and a quarter mile of 17.2 seconds at 81 mph for our auto-shifting tester, the GT is the most laid-back Elantra we've tested since we got our hands on a 2007 SE with its 138 hp, classic four-speed auto, and 10.2-second trot to 60 mph.
Both manual and auto Elantra GTs are rated to do 28/39/32 mpg city/highway/combined. I got 30 combined mpg out of 324 miles, but it's worth noting the car itself was pretty green during my trial run with fewer than 1000 miles on the odometer, and it seemed to loosen up more as time went on. City and highway driving was split about 50/50, with maximum comfort doled out from the optional dual-zone climate control at all times. I even carried three passengers and cargo around town -- that couldn't have helped the efficiency.
Apart from the handy cargo room advantage over the Elantra sedan -- 23 cubic feet versus 14.8 with the second-row seats up -- and a generally favorable total interior volume showing against its rivals, the GT differentiates itself with a less flamboyant center stack design, straight-pull auto shifter gate, and a driver's knee airbag. The back seat floor is nearly completely flat for packing ease.
All of these incremental updates hopefully signify a page turned in Hyundai's book of vehicle advancement. My biggest question mark was the model name. Serious hardware like the Ford GT40 and GT, Porsche Carrera GT, Audi R8 GT, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT, and Nissan GT-R are halo icons. Numerous treasured and historic Italian cars have worn "GT" in their names. Heck, even the more quotidian Ford Probe GT had distinct engines and special equipment to its designation. I'm not sure the Elantra GT fits into that pantheon, but for an Elantra at least, this is the one tour on a long trip. Maybe you'll even pass that sleeping rabbit along the way.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
BASE PRICE $19,170
PRICE AS TESTED $25,365
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 1.8L/148-hp/131-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 2978 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 169.3 x 70.1 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 9.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 17.2 sec @ 81.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 28/39 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 120/86 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.60 lb/mile
Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/hatchbacks/1207_2013_hyundai_elantra_gt_first_test/#ixzz20EUSpeXX