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.
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.
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.
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.
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.