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MONTREAL, Que. — Hyundai product planners are having a fairly easy time of it these days. The company has erased an early reputation by consistently building high quality vehicles. The engineers have developed a range of new, state-of-the-art four-, six- and eight-cylinder engines, a hybrid system and six- and eight-speed transmissions.

The designers came up with the stand-out ‘fluidic sculpture’ appearance in 2009 and Hyundai interiors are now considered among the best in each of their respective classes.

With this array to chose from, when it came time to replace the Elantra Touring ‘miniwagon’ (my term for vehicles that are a cross between a small wagon and a minivan), a quick look at the various products the company builds globally revealed the i30. Designed at the company’s Russelsheim, Germany studios, the small five-door wagon/hatchback is also available as the Kia Ceed in Europe.

From this base the planners dipped into the Elantra parts bin for the 1.8-litre Nu four-cylinder engine and a pair of six-speed transmissions. The suspension came from the European product which allows the GT to display a different, more European-like attitude, despite having the same running gear as the sedan. This more athletic suspension is the chief reason they are calling a small wagon a GTG.

Joining the GT in Hyundai stores this month will be a new coupe we’ll tell you about in a few weeks. It shares its underpinnings with the sedan and the trio all have the same engine and transmissions.

All of this is part of Hyundai’s plan of world dominance — or so it seems, as the fledgling company continues to introduce new product at an amazing pace. But despite recent sporty arrivals like the two-door Velostar and Genesis coupe, the Elantra and Accent are the foundation of the company.

“Small is still big in Canada,” says John Vernile, Hyundai Canada’s vice-president of marketing. “This is where we started and where we will continue to grow,” he said here during the introduction of the two additional Elantra models, which arrive in Hyundai stores this month.

The compact segment is the largest in the country, accounting for one in every five cars sold here. The segment is expected to grow by 18 per cent in the next three model years.

The fourth-generation Elantra has been a resounding success for the company, snapping at the heels of the Honda Civic, the perpetual best-selling car in the country. In this case second-best is quiet an accomplishment when you remember there are more than a dozen competitors climbing that mountain. Adding two new models to the Elantra line will help prevent potential customers from going elsewhere.

Unlike our neighbours to the south, who are slowly coming around, Canadians love hatchbacks, which consistently account for one-fifth of the segment. With this background you can see why Hyundai is excited about having the new coupe and GT hatchbacks available — and why it turned to hatchback-mad Europe for the GT.

As mentioned above, the same engine is shared by the three Elantras — Hyundai’s Nu 1.8 four-cylinder. It produces 148 horsepower and 131 lb.-ft. of torque and allows Hyundai to boast about class-leading fuel economy with numbers at 4.9 litres/100 km on the highway with the manual transmission and 5.0 with the automatic.

Hyundai is proud of the fact all of the Elantras are able to achieve this fuel mileage level without resorting to a special trim level or tweaks. While commendable, I’d sacrifice a point or two in those numbers for a little more power.

My wheel time with the GT was with a six-speed manual and while the shifter was easy to use, there was a distinct lack of grunt below 3,000 rpm and a need to downshift frequently.

The engine makes peak torque or power at 4,700 rpm so you need to get into that range in order for it to strut. Direct injection and/or turbocharging would make this an even more enjoyable package.

Beyond that the GT gets a great big ‘well-done’ from this quarter. The road manners are very European in nature with a slight tilt toward handling in the ride-handling issue.

The steering deserves and received special attention. A small switch on the right steering wheel spoke allows the driver to alter the heft of the steering system between normal, comfort and sport modes.

Unlike most, there is a discernible difference. For me, comfort was too bland with too much assist, sport results in a much stiffer wheel with morefeedback, great for tackling the twisties. But I suspect most GT drivers will leave it in the default normal mode.

Despite the name, this is a wagon or small minivan and practicality will be the chief reason for buying one. With a fold-flat second row seat and five-doors utility is the name of this game. With all seats in place or use there is 651 litres of space behind the second row. With it folded flat capacity jumps to 1,444 litres.

The 2013 Elantra GT will come in three trim levels — GL ($19,149), GLS ($21,349) and SE ($24,349). Add $1,200 for an automatic in the GL and GLS trims. The SE is only available with an automatic.

The GLS is expected to be the volume seller and is equipped to meet that role with air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power windows, locks and mirrors.

A cooled glove box is standard and there are some very interesting features that are either standard at higher trim levels or optional: dual-zone climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat, panoramic sunroof, and a navigation system.

Also of note, a rear view camera hidden behind the Hyundai emblem on the tailgate. Place the transmission in reverse and the door opens to let the camera do its job. In the closed position, the cover keeps the camera lens clean. Hyundai says the system was tested to ensure it met Canada’s tough winter conditions.

Utility in a sporty setting. Probably another home run from Hyundai.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

Price:$9,149 base, $21,349 as tested plus freight
Engine: 1.8-litre DOHC four, 148-horsepower, 131 lb.ft. of torque, six-speed manual or automatic transmission
Drive: front-wheel-drive
Transport Canada says (litres/100 km): 7.2 city / 4.9 highway
Competition: Ford Focus, Mazda3 Sport, Toyota Matrix, VW Golf
Length: 4,300-mm
Width: 1,780-mm
Wheelbase: 2,650-mm
Weight: 1,324-kg

http://thechronicleherald.ca/wheelsnews/113647-elantra-gt-hatch-offers-utility-in-a-sporty-setting
 
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