Look, we’ll come right out and say it: we like small wagons and hatchbacks a lot. The formula is so simple: take a popular sedan, expand the trunk vertically, give it some unique styling, and voila, you get a small wagon. Besides maintaining the small-car driving dynamics of the donor car, you get a level of junk hauling that can’t be had outside of a small SUV/CUV.
Hyundai’s Elantra Touring was a prime example of a good small wagon. This European import was based on the Hyundai i30 and managed to combine style and function in a reasonably priced, efficient package. Folding the backseats down gave access to 65.3 cubic feet of space; just short of the cavernous Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen’s 66.8 cubic feet in a vehicle that was almost three inches shorter overall.
[Click here for our review of the 2012 Mazda3 Skyactiv]
For 2013, though, the Elantra Touring has been replaced by this, the Elantra GT. Right off the bat, though, we were skeptical of this new body style. While the old Touring was a dedicated wagon, the Elantra GT is technically a five-door hatch, and it loses cargo volume accordingly. It’s down from a maximum 65.3 cubic feet to 51 cubic feet, although with the second row up, there’s less of a sacrifice, only 1.3 cubic feet is lost (23 cubic feet versus 24.3 in the old model). Overall interior volume is down from 125.5 to 119 cubic feet.
Consequently, Hyundai’s bogey is no longer the Jetta Sportwagen, but is far more diverse for 2013. Primary competitors are listed as the Mazda3, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf, and Toyota Matrix (all in five-door hatch configurations, where applicable). The Elantra GT looks to be a fair match for this competitive set for multiple reasons, not the least of which is age; the Mazda3 and VW Golf aren’t long for this world in their current iterations, and the Toyota Matrix has been a zombie since NUMMI was taken over by Tesla. Only the Focus and Impreza have been updated recently.
Part of our love of affordable long-roofs is the unique style that these cars have over the more traditional sedans they are based on. In the GT’s case, it shares its face with the rest of the Elantra range, but walks a line between the blacked-out grille of the Coupe and the more docile face of the Sedan.
It’s clear from the profile that this is more hatchback than wagon, as the D-pillar slopes rather aggressively, leaving a fairly small window between the rear pillars. This doesn’t really impact visibility all that much, as the view through the two side windows is pretty good. The rear window itself is adequately sized, and we had no real complaints about rear visibility. Out back, a subtle spoiler is present, along with the standard wrap-around taillights. In a cool premium twist, the rear-view camera hides behind the Hyundai logo, popping up when the car is slotted into reverse.
Inside, it’s the same clean, stylish, and well-finished interior that we’ve seen on other Elantra models. Plastics feel no better or worse here than in any other Hyundai. While we understand the reasoning behind all three models boasting identical interiors, one of the highlights of the old Touring was that its interior was different from the sedan, and felt more high-class because of it. On the GT, it loses that specialness, and just feels like any other Elantra.
To be honest, we really aren’t going to say all that much about the Elantra GT’s powertrain, because we give fairly in-depth reviews of it here and here. It’s the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder that’s found in the Coupe and Sedan, delivering 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. It also nets 39 miles per gallon on the highway. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-cog autobox with a manual mode is an optional extra.
The Elantra GT is Hyundai’s first model to sport the brand’s new Driver Selectable Steering Mode system. Basically, this system allows drivers to switch between three different levels (creatively called Comfort, Normal, and Sport) of steering effort. Comfort requires the least effort, while Sport requires the most. The system is operated via a steering-wheel-mounted button, with the instrument cluster display showing which mode the driver is in.
We tested all three modes, and found the results to be negligible. There’s maybe a 15- to 20-percent difference in steering effort between Comfort and Normal, and Normal and Sport. It’s nice, but we feel like it’d make a lot more sense for this system to be on the Veloster Turbo, Genesis Coupe, or even the Elantra Coupe, rather than a five-door hatchback with no sporting pretenses.
In terms of on-road character, the GT is much more like the Sedan than the Coupe. That’s a good thing, as the Coupe’s rougher ride doesn’t do it any favors. Instead, the GT feels smoother over rougher sections of tarmac. Its biggest issue remains the level of vertical motion over undulating pavement, but it manages rougher stuff much better. While the Coupe would sidestep and feel unstable in mid-corner bumps, the GT is more composed. There still isn’t a great deal of feedback on hand here, but it’s about par for the course in this category.
Let’s be honest though, people that buy the Elantra GT are interested in practicality. Those buyers certainly won’t be disappointed. We mentioned the five-door GT boasts 51 cubic feet of space with the back seats folded down, and 23 cubic feet with the second row up. To put that in perspective, the only car in this class that has more space is the Subaru Impreza (but only by one cubic foot of cargo volume). Helping the cargo situation is a clever storage space under the floor of the trunk area that looks big enough to handle items that may slide around too much when left alone.
Backseat space is tolerable, as we were able to stuff Senior Editor John Beltz Snyder behind your six-foot, one-inch author with only a modicum of complaining. Those same backseats cleverly flip forward and fold flat, presenting a nice, wide loading space.
The hatchback has the highest starting price in the Elantra range at $18,395. Unlike the other two body styles, though, the GT is features only one trim level. In place of dedicated trim levels are two packages, the Style Package and the Tech Package. The Style Pack ($2750) includes a sport-tuned suspension, panoramic sunroof, leather seats, and seventeen-inch alloys. The Tech Pack ($2350) features navigation, a rearview camera, automatic headlights, and push-button start. Opting for the six-speed automatic will run another $1000. That makes for a fully loaded model running $25,245, out the door.
The pricing equation works out well for the GT. It’s starting price bests everything but the Volkswagen Golf by around $1000. Optioned up, as our tester was and the Elantra GT still makes a fair bit of sense, costing around the same price as a loaded Subaru Impreza or Mazda3, and undercutting a navigation-and-leather-equipped Ford Focus by just over $2000. Even if price isn’t your determining factor, 39 mpg on the freeway and the sheer amount of cargo space make the Elantra GT a fine choice for a small wagon.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
Engine: Inline-four, 1.8 liters, 16v
Output: 148 hp/131 lb-ft
Weight: 2784 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 39/27 mpg
Cargo Volume, 2nd Row Up/Down: 23/51 cu ft
Base Price: $18,395
On Sale: Now