Hyundai’s quest for compact dominance continues with two new models for 2013.
Apparently, it’s not enough that the Elantra sedan won both the North American Car of the Year and Canadian Car of the Year awards; buyers can now choose both a coupe and a new five-door model from the Elantra range, clearly placing cars like the Mazda3 Sport and Honda Civic Coupe directly in its sights.
On top of that, the addition of the new Elantra GT (the official name of the 5-door) and Coupe makes Elantra the only compact model range on sale in Canada that has two-door, four-door and five-door body styles. That’s an impressive and rare feat here in North America, and shows the European mantra surrounding the Elantra.
In fact, the GT is an almost direct transplant of the European-built i30 model. With the exception of a different rear suspension set-up (the GT gets a twist-arm system, the i30 a heavier multi-link), you could easily swap the “GT” badge on the hatch for a “i30” badge and most would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Meanwhile, you’d have to be eagle-eyed to spot the difference between the front ends of the sedan and Coupe (the blacked-out grille is the biggest giveaway), while the chrome bars on the GT are a big departure that I rather like.
Actually, I like both the exterior and interior styling of the Elantra quite a lot; these are some truly exciting things to look at and are clearly benefitting from Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” styling language that got its start on the Tucson in 2009 and has been taking the world by storm with the Sonata, Genesis and Veloster ever since.
Size-wise, the GT has more room inside than the Mazda3, Ford Focus and Toyota Matrix, which is impressive because the GT doesn’t look that big; Hyundai says that much of this can be attributed to the fact that the company develops their own steel, meaning they can form it in certain ways that can maximize the room in the car without wasting space.
Of the two, the GT is definitely the more cruise-worthy of the two; there’s more room inside for all passengers and certain features point to that being the case. The biggest addition in this department is the selectable steering feature, standard on all six trim levels; with a press of a wheel-mounted button, drivers can switch between “Normal” and “Sport” modes. “Normal” lightens the electronic power steering for ease-of-use around town, while “Sport” adds some tangible weight to the steering for those who are inclined to tackle the bends in their Elantra.
The Coupe, meanwhile, doesn’t get this feature, no matter which if the three trim levels you choose. Its only steering setting feels like the “Sport” setting on the GT. All buyers, meanwhile, will benefit from the Coupe’s claimed fuel economy of 6.8 litres per 100 km in the city and 4.9 on the highway if you spec the manual, and the GT’s 7.2 and 4.9 rating when specced the same way
The theory here is that those buying the GT tend to lean towards the “practical” side of driving, whereas Coupe buyers want a more involving drive, and will be happy to settle with the heavier steering as their only option. Still, the fact that the GT is the only Elantra that has Euro-tuned Sachs dampers at all four corners shouldn’t be discounted here; watch out, VW Golf.
The Coupe, meanwhile, has stiffer damper and spring rates, rides lower than the others and is aimed at the younger buying crowd that may want a fuel-efficient, stylish ride but don’t want the slightly more “grown up” look of a four-door sedan.
That being said, while you may not have as much room in the Coupe as you do in the GT, its wheelbase is the same as the sedan and it actually has more room inside than coupe versions of the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering those are full-sized coupes that retail for much more than the Coupe’s base $19,949 MSRP (the GT, meanwhile, starts at $19,149).
Also playing in the Elantra Coupe’s favour when it comes to knocking off the Honda Civic Coupe off the “best sub-$20,000 coupe available in Canada” pedestal is that there is no premium charged for the Coupe over the sedan; if you want the Civic Coupe, on the other hand, you’re looking at dropping an extra $500 over the four-door. Now, once Honda gets wind of what Hyundai’s doing (actually, who are we kidding? They know already), maybe they’ll change their bottom line.
Mechanically, both cars are the same; 1.8-litre four bangers that make 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, each one fed through either a six-speed automatic with a Shiftronic manu-matic mode or manual transmission. Those are the same numbers as the Elantra sedan, which means the same feeling we had when we tested that car in 2011 applies; it could have used a little more power then, and so can the latest two models now, especially the more performance-oriented Coupe model.
That being said, with the Elantra, you get more power than the Civic and Matrix and equal amounts to the Mazda3, so the Hyundai doesn’t fall behind in this category; I guess it’s just that the Elantras are victims of their own doing, in that their sporty styling left me expecting more performance from their powerplant.
But that’s my own preconception and should not be a deterrent to seriously considering one of these when you’re considering a compact. We’ll wait until we fully test them for our final feelings, but—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—the Elantra nameplate might have just found a way to better itself, impossible as that sounds.