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The Elantra GT is roomier than the sedan, but 230 mm shorter. (Morgan J Segal/Hyundai)
The Elantra GT is roomier than the sedan, but 230 mm shorter. (Morgan J Segal/Hyundai)

First Drive

Hyundai Elantra GT: Trading frumpy for flair Add to ...

Elantra GT, Hyundai’s replacement for the Elantra Touring, serves up spectacular flair with appealing functionality.

The outgoing Touring was popular because it held a ton and, beyond that, was more fun to drive than an Elantra sedan. But the Touring’s boxiness was out of step with Hyundai fashion, which is all about contoured and pleated sheet metal that reflects light and blurs your eyes unless you’re careful. Out with the frumpy, then, in with the flair.

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Like the Touring, the 2013 GT has four doors and a hatchback. Being less rectangular, it holds less cargo – 1,444 litres against 1,849 for the Touring – but practicality remains its strong suit. The fully folding rear seat affords a flat cargo bay from the hatchback to the front seats, whereas the Touring predecessor was compromised by the rear seat back creating a ski hill.

So the GT functions as a station wagon – except wagon is not a word Hyundai Canada wants any part of, believing square-back cars are as out of function as bell bottom jeans.

Elsewhere in automotive fashion, Hyundai is convinced two-door models still appeal to sufficient buyers to introduce another version of the Elantra, the Coupe, simultaneously with the GT. The thinking may be, if Honda sells a Civic coupe, so should we.

The GT starts at $19,149, the Coupe at $19,949. Despite its lower base price, the GT is the superior car, we say, based on a day’s driving into Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

Some will consider the two-door’s styling and features worth the premium over the GT. We don’t. In any event, Hyundai Canada anticipates the best-selling model among the range of sportier-than-sedan Elantras will be the GTS version of the GT, exceptionally well equipped at $21,349.

Whatever the model, 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque propel the front wheels. The engine and transmissions – six-speed manual or six-speed automatic – are the same in all Elantras.

Cool fuel efficiency rather than hot performance is this powertrain’s selling point: 4.9 litres/100 km in highway driving according to Natural Resources Canada lab test methods (with manual transmission, 5.0 with automatic).

We started the day in a GT – the projected best-seller GTS version, actually, albeit with a slick six-speed manual that only a minority of drivers will choose.

First impression, it feels like a European car. In a sense it is.

Those who watched Spain defeat Italy to win the Euro Cup saw Hyundai i30 advertisements flashing along the sidelines. The i30 was designed to compete with the Volkswagen Golf by Hyundai engineers based at Russelsheim, Germany, and it’s manufactured in the Czech Republic. The GT imported here from Ulsan, South Korea, is based on that i30’s platform.

The standard equipment level is astonishing. Even the $19,149 GT comes with heated front seats, air, keyless entry, Bluetooth, cruise and driver-selectable steering modes. The $21,349 GLS adds to that a huge sunroof, power seat, alloy rather than steel 16-inch wheels and more.

But we were talking about feel. Simply put, the i30/GT contains more high-strength steel than other lower-priced Hyundais, ergo the body is stronger. The dividends are clear: an extremely smooth ride over bad pavement, effortless cornering on twisting two-laners. Quebec roads include plenty of both. Suspension plays a part, with Sachs shock absorbers and a stiff rear V-beam design with an anti-roll bar.

Wind and road noise is hushed. A low coefficient of aero drag (0.30) as well as the body stiffness help. This is a comfortable car, front seats or rear, and with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel coupled with the eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, optimal for focused driving.

Selectable steering modes seem a bit of a gimmick. Choosing among Normal, Sport and Comfort varies the amount of electrical assist (less in Sport, more in Comfort) for more heft, on-centre feel and self-correcting while mastering the curves. Comfort, is what comfort does: In this mode, steering requires less effort for more relaxed cruising than in Normal.

If Porsche drivers push buttons to change their 911’s characteristics according to circumstances, perhaps some GT drivers will, too. We’d leave it on Sport.

The GT is roomier than a regular Elantra sedan despite being 230 mm shorter. Because it’s taller, the GT comfortably accommodates adult rear-seaters with more generous space for both heads and legs than in the sedan or the coupe. Luggage space is smaller than coupe or sedan if the rear seat is occupied, huge with it stowed.

We drove the Coupe SE in the afternoon. It carried more goodies than a chocolate store. While the $19,949 model has air, heated seats, Bluetooth, a sunroof, the $25,199 SE adds an automatic transmission, 300-watt sound, navigation, a back-up camera, leather seat surfaces and dual-zone climate control. There’s more, but you get the idea.

If we’d driven the coupe after driving an Elantra sedan, perhaps it’d have impressed more. Certainly it’s a sportier drive than the comfort-oriented sedan, and Hyundai boasts of competitive advantages over Honda’s Civic coupe including (slightly) more power and interior room.

But the Coupe SE is neither as sporty nor as smooth riding as the GT. Based on the Elantra sedan’s platform, not the i30, its suspension tuning cannot compensate for the body falling short of the GT/i30’s torsional rigidity.

What it doesn’t offer disappoints. The seats aren’t powered, surprising given the extensive standard equipment in the SE, and the lack of lumbar support adjustment left this driver with a sore back. Paddle shifters aren’t available; they’d make the automatic sportier. A more powerful engine, comparable to Honda’s Si, ought to be on offer.

On reflection, the four-door GT felt and drove like a two-door sports coupe, strangely enough – and even stranger the two-door coupe felt and drove more like a four-door sedan.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

Type: Four-door hatchback

Base price: $19,149; as tested, $22,845 for GTS model and freight/pre-delivery ($1,495)

Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, DOHC, with variable valve timing

Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/131 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual (automatic $1,200)

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.8 city/5.3 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Matrix, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza

Please note: The fuel economy numbers in this review have been changed to reflect new data released Nov. 2, 2012, by Hyundai and Kia. Please click here for more details.

 

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