Hyundai's Elantra has been a huge success, missing just a model or two to complete the usual compact-car trifecta. A hot seller and an award winner--the North American Car of the Year for 2012--the latest Elantra seems to have caught the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla completely off guard, underpricing and out-valuing them, challenging their safety leads and taking the lead on infotainment not just by a baby step or two, but by magnitude leaps and bounds.
Now Hyundai's fleshing out the Elantra lineup with a two-door Coupe and a five-door GT, just to make the comebacks even more difficult for those mainstays of the compact class. It won't be easy on them, if our first drives of both last week outside San Diego are any indication.
2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe First Drive: you were expecting...?
The Coupe's the easier of the new pair to dissect. There's very little change, outside of the obvious stuff that makes the four-door a two-door. That said, the Coupe isn't without a surprise or two.
Aimed right at the Honda Civic Coupe, but also at its kith and kin, the Kia Forte Koup, Hyundai's Elantra Coupe looks intent on snaring the few shoppers who objected to the sedan because it wasn't curvaceous enough. The overlapping arcs and layers of metal stack up almost as neatly as they do on the sedan, while the long roofline appears taller, almost VW-like. Hyundai's cleverly coupeed its smaller car instead of cutting down its larger Sonata sedan--which explains why the Elantra Coupe looks so balanced, while the Nissan Altima Coupe is a Monte Carlo-ish mess. And thankfully, it's left the interior pretty much alone.
The drivetrains are the same, and so is fuel economy, except for the laggy 39-mpg rating on automatic two-doors. What's different here is the swifter steering and the Coupe's new twist-beam rear axle. Hyundai says it's stronger than the one on the sedan, and provides more stability for the rear wheels. It's subtle, but the Coupe does ride more comfortably, and the steering doesn't wander like the first two years of Elantras did--both the coupe and sedan have improved hardware to dampen that motion from their electric power steering systems.
With nearly the same dimensions as the sedan, the Elantra Coupe finds itself overlapping some convenient size labels. It's a mid-sizer by EPA-measured interior volume, while the Civic, Accord, and Altima two-doors are compacts. It plays mostly in great head room, not in exceptional leg room. In fact, the Coupe's somewhat tedious to enter and exit, since the front seats lack a single-lever action for rear-seat access--you have to flip the backrest first, then reach down to slide the front seat out of the way. The rear seats do fold down for trunk access, though at 14.8 cubic feet, the trunk's bigger than the hold in some sedans.
As with the Elantra sedan, the $18,220 Coupe GS has an exceptional list of standard features, including Bluetooth; satellite radio; a USB port; and heated front seats. Opt for the $20,520 SE and you'll get a sport suspension; a power sunroof; aluminum pedals; leather seats and trim; and a rear spoiler.
Along with the SE, we'd probably leave the otherwise fine $1,000 automatic transmission behind, and take the Technology package. It bundles a navigation system; a rearview camera; a 360-watt audio system; automatic headlamps; and automatic climate control, for a tab of $22,870.
There's more in our full review. As Hyundai does, we've grouped the Coupe together with the sedan, so steer over to our 2013 Hyundai Elantra review for the details.
The expectations are even higher when it comes to hatchbacks, since there's a common thread running through the likes of the Mazda3, Ford Focus, VW Golf, even the Subaru Impreza--the next step up into performance editions dubbed Speed, ST, GTI and WRX.
The Elantra GT is a long way off from earning those initials, but it's a competent, pleasant piece that has more in common with the European Hyundai lineup than with the Elantra Coupe or sedan. It's more useful behind the rear seats than the two- and four-doors, and to some eyes, it's the best-looking of the trio.
That said, it's the least fluidically sculpted of them all. The GT has a front end that blends in perfectly with the other compact Hyundais, but from the front doors on back, it's pure Euro hot hatch. The cockpit does an about-face, though--it's conservative, not forward-looking like the one in the sedan and coupe, without the definitive hourglass at its center. It is a little more finely finished, though, with a synthetic-leather dash cap and some higher-quality switchgear.
With the usual Elantra 148-horsepower four-cylinder, and the same six-speed automatic and manual shifters, the drivetrain experience carries over from sedan to GT, with some reluctance to shift on the automatic we drove. Like the Coupe, the GT gets a V-beam rear suspension with a baked-in roll bar--and all to itself, the GT adds Sachs rear shocks for better ride compliance. It may be the most well-sorted Elantra, by a slight margin, but sometimes its road manners are masked by three-mode electric steering. Given the choice of comfort, sport, and normal modes--all with their own heft, but the same steering ratio--we left it in Normal after briefly experimenting with the other modes.
Interior space gives the nod to other Elantras. The GT cuts 2.0 inches from its wheelbase and 9.0 inches from its overall length to get to its snappy five-door layout. It's 1.4 inches taller, though, and a bit wider, All the front passengers will realize is a touch more knee room, while the adults in back will definitely feel the loss of some leg space. Cargo room of 23 cubic feet beats some $50,000 crossovers we've tested this year.
With gas mileage topping out at 39 mpg highway, and stickers starting at just under $20,000, the Elantra GT leaves very little wiggle room for the competition to play pricing games. It's extraordinarily well-equipped, with standard satellite radio; heated front seats; Bluetooth; cruise control; and steering-wheel audio controls. Topping it off with both the Style and Technology packages--including a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, a power driver seat, a rearview camera, and a navigation system--brings the most expensive hatchback to just over $26,000.
We'd still opt for a Focus or a Mazda3 if handling prowess topped the purchase reasons, but in the balance the Elantra GT's value seems destined to suck some of the oxygen out of the small niche containing these hatches. And what about those GTIs, STs, and WRXs? Hyundai barely disguises its interest in adding more power to the Elantra GT--so it's possible there's room for another letter on its badge too.
We say bring on the R-Spec--we'll trade you two steering modes for it.