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All-new hatchback replaces the Elantra Touring
Disclaimer: Travel to Montreal, accommodations, food and drink, and a predetermined driving route were provided to the writer by the automaker.


Initial Thoughts
Compact cars may be small in stature, but they’re pretty big on the auto scene overall. Right now they account for close to 25 per cent of the Canadian market, and it’s estimated that within four years, they’ll be up to that one-quarter mark. Obviously, it’s an important spot for automakers to be involved.

Having overhauled its Elantra sedan, Hyundai invited the press to test-drive its two new variations for 2013: the Elantra Coupe (which I’ll cover separately), and the Elantra GT, which replaces the outgoing Elantra Touring.

The Elantra Coupe is based on the Elantra sedan, but like the Touring was, the GT is a version of the i30, which was released as a redesigned model in Europe last year. Why the name change from Touring to GT?

Well, the Touring was the “W-word” – wagon – and that can be a hard sell in that huge market south of the border. Instead, the GT is a four-door hatchback, or, as it’s called by automakers, a five-door. The new i30 also comes as a wagon overseas, but we won’t be seeing it here.

Hyundai outfits trim lines, rather than offers options, and so the GT’s trims run from $19,149 to $26,349. Unlike some base-model prices, that lowest number includes air conditioning. The mid-range GLS, at $21,349 with a stick shift, or $22,549 with an automatic, is expected to be the volume seller.


Performance
All Elantra models use a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that makes 148 horsepower, and 131 lb-ft of torque (and uses a timing chain, eliminating the future maintenance expense of a timing belt). It replaces the 2.0-litre in the Elantra Touring, a thirstier engine that made only 138 horsepower, but produced 136 lb-ft of torque.

I only had the opportunity to drive the GLS with six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic with manual shift mode is also available on the GL and GLS trim lines. The autobox is the only choice on the top-line SE. Hyundai says it’s because, at that upper trim level, only about five per cent of buyers go for the stick.

I didn’t get a chance to properly check fuel mileage on my afternoon drive, but the official published figures for the stick shift are 7.2 L/100 km in the city, and 4.9 on the highway; and for the automatic, 7.3 and 5.0.

The engine is fine at cruising speeds, but it strains to hold its speed on hills. It was necessary to downshift a couple of gears on hills, and colleagues in automatic-equipped cars reported that the transmission had to scramble to keep everything moving. The upside is that the GT is eerily quiet, and the tach pegging up to 4,000 rpm was the only indication of any thrashing going on under the hood. Indeed, the Elantra is quieter than many full-size, mid-luxury sedans I’ve driven.

The clutch and shifter are well-done, with smooth, precise action that make it a pleasure to row your own gears. Unique to the GT in the Elantra family is a driver-selectable variable steering system, with a button on the wheel that lets you select between Comfort, Normal, and Sport. The Normal setting is – rather unsurprisingly – about what I’d expect for this car, while the Comfort setting is unpleasantly vague, with a dead on-centre feel.


The Sport mode is the one you want, offering a tight, crisp quality. Hyundai says that while the system doesn’t change the steering ratio, it does affect the on-centre and active return. I may know that the response isn’t mechanically quicker, but I still can’t help feeling that it is.


The system is standard on all trim lines, and best of all, when you shut the car off and then turn the engine on again, it stays in the mode you last selected, instead of returning to a default mode.


Ergonomics/Comfort/Quality
Although its platform differs, the GT’s interior is similar to that of its sedan and coupe siblings. All models include heated seats, Bluetooth and iPod connection, cruise control, and heated mirrors. Features on the mid-level GLS that I drove include a power driver’s seat, a storage box under the cargo floor, fog lights, and a panoramic sunroof, which Hyundai says is unique to the segment.

The top-end SE then adds leather upholstery, automatic climate control, chrome grille and auto-dimming rearview mirror, among other features. The final step up, the SE with Tech Package, throws in a proximity key with pushbutton start, and a navigation system with rearview camera. That last item is quite a gizmo, as the camera lens is hidden under the “H” badge on the liftgate. Put the transmission into Reverse, and the badge swings up to expose the camera.

The idea behind hiding it is that it’s always clean, which is a bonus if you’ve ever tried to use a camera if the lens is coated with water or road grime. And yes, Hyundai has tested it extensively in winter weather, both in the lab in Korea, and outside in northern Quebec. It reportedly works fine in sub-zero temperatures, and has a failsafe to prevent it trying to open and burning out the motor if the badge is glued shut with ice.

The dash is handsomely laid out. I found that my car, with manual climate control, to be more intuitive to use than one with automatic control, since the buttons and dial are easier to find and work quickly, versus the smaller metallic controls on the automatic system. The switches on the steering wheel are also easy to figure out and access, and the instrument cluster is simple and straightforward. Seven airbags are standard, including one for the driver’s knee.

There’s a lot of room inside the Elantra, given its compact footprint, with long, wide foot wells for the front-seat passengers. Add in the comfy seats, and you can take this one for longer-haul trips. The rear seat will be fine for all but the longest-of-legged, especially since the front seatbacks have indentations to provide more room for knees.


Unfortunately, there’s not enough space under the front seat cushions for a rear-seat passenger to slip his feet and stretch out just a bit more.


Functionality/Usability
For as much as I like the Elantra GT overall, I’m very disappointed with the operation of its rear seat. One of the major points of a hatchback is that it’s cargo-friendly, but the GT’s seat takes far too much effort when you want to fold it down. The cargo area clocks in at 651 litres when the rear seats are up, and 1,444 litres when they’re folded.

You can release the 60/40 folding seatbacks and just pull them down, but that doesn’t give you the flat floor that’s so handy for loading items.

To achieve that is a multi-stage process. First, you have to pull up the seat cushion and flip it forward, which also restricts how far back you can now slide the front seats. Then, you have to remove the rear head restraints by pushing the little release tab and lifting the restraint off, which is not the easiest thing to do with the middle one. I had to put one knee on the seat and lean in to reach it. The restraints now have to be laid correctly on the floor by the folded cushion, or they’ll be in the way.


Now, finally, you can fold the seatbacks down flat.

Honda can put a simple, one-touch, fold-flat rear seat into its $15,000 Fit. Hyundai really needs to make this a lot easier to use.


Conclusion
The Elantra sedan has been among those at the top of the sales charts since it was redesigned, and hatchbacks are a popular Canadian choice. With all that blended together, and with a far more handsome exterior than the outgoing Elantra Touring, I’m expecting to see the GT do very well for itself.

I believe Hyundai’s correct in that the mid-range GLS will be the bulk of sales, but with leather chairs and a navigation system ringing in at less than $26,500, I’m expecting to see a fair number of flip-up cameras out there, with buyers who want more of the luxury features but with a smaller-car footprint.


There are a couple of things here that could use improvement, but overall, the Elantra GT’s long list of features and its good looks should put it in a lot of driveways.
 
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