So long 2012 Elantra Touring, hello 2013 Elantra GT.
What does this mean? Hyundai’s march from doughty but affordable and reliable to something sexier (and pricier) continues. Hyundai is growing up. Once shy, a bit defensive and almost apologetic about its place in the automotive world, Hyundai now has a catwalk strut about it. A bit of style and a fairly long string of good reviews and quality reports will do that.
Delicious looks were not the Elantra Touring’s calling card, however. The Touring arrived in 2009 as a plain but nicely appointed small wagon with a starting price of $14,995. It was a boxy and bland design, but the interior was handsomely finished. The lined cargo area, for instance, was far superior to the hard plastic bunker in the back of the rival Toyota Matrix.
Hyundai sold thousands of Tourings and, even at the end, Hyundai had barely raised the price – $14,999 to start. Canadians recognized a deal and even though Hyundai Canada launched the Touring in early 2009, right into the teeth of a recession, sales were brisk. Hyundai Canada president Steve Kelleher made no apologies for using the Touring to chase the frugal, recession-wracked car buyer and it worked.
Hyundai kept a lid on Touring prices that helped drive Canadian sales from just less than 81,000 in 2008 to 2011 sales of nearly 130,000. From 2008 to today, Hyundai has picked up 3.4 points of market share. The Touring did its part in reeling in penny-pinching buyers and juicing sales growth that is nothing short of remarkable.
That was then. The Elantra GT suggests Hyundai now believes its products and its brand overall are all grown up and ready for the prom, to graduate from cheap and dull and reliable – Hyundai is a solid top 10 performer in J.D. Power and Associates long-term Vehicle Dependability Study – to something closer to the automotive equivalent of a cover model for Vogue. Or at least Canadian Living.
Enter the Elantra GT. It’s base price is not $15,000 less discounts, but an unapologetic $19,149. And the GT line tops out at a healthy $24,349. A rival Mazda3 Sport hatchback, by contrast, starts at $16,995. Ford Focus hatch? $19,599 to start. Subaru Impreza hatch? $20,895 for the base model, though this one has standard all-wheel-drive, versus front drive for all GTs and all the rest of its rivals save the $24,560 Matrix AWD. The starter Matrix lists for $16,795, which is precisely in line with the Kia Forte at $16,795. In fact, the Elantra GT seems aimed more at Volkwagen’s Golf hatch ($21,475) and perhaps the sporty Focus hatch than Toyota’s aged but solidly dependable Matrix.
The Focus and Golf play on their European roots, by the way, so it’s not surprising to find Hyundai doing the same. Hyundai says the GT was originally developed for Europe where it’s sold as the i30.
Let’s not get too carried away here, though. The GT shares its platform and powertrain with the Elantra sedan, though the hatchback has a shorter wheelbase and uses a twist beam rear suspension with stabilizer bar to jolt the ride and handling into a sportier place. What we don’t get in Canada is the European i30s multi-link rear setup. That said, you can play with dialling in your choice of three electric power steering options – normal, sport and comfort.
What you cannot do is get an engine any more powerful than the 1.8-litre, 148-horsepower, four-banger that’s standard across the Elantra family. This is a perfectly acceptable engine and it’s fuel-efficient, too: 7.6 litres/100 km in the city, 5.3 on the highway using regular gas.
But the Focus has a four rated at 160, the Golf’s basic five-cylinder gas engine, while not a perfect picture of refinement, is rated at 178 hp and Mazda’s best SkyActiv four comes in at 155 horsepower, though you need to move to the $20,695 Mazda3 GS-SKY to get it.
The Elantra’s transmissions also fall short of the best available, in particular the SkyActiv six-speed automatic from Mazda, which delivers precisely controlled shifts while saving fuel, and the DSG automatic VW offers for extra money in the Golf. Mazda’s SkyActiv six-speed manual, for the record, is likely the best of its kind in a car less than $25,000, while the Elantra’s six-speed manual gearbox delivers sharp shifts and has a clutch that engages smoothly. It’s not bad, not bad at all.
Better still is the GT’s bright interior design with its responsive and sensible controls. There is adequate space for four in the cabin and the cargo area is about the size of what you get in the Focus hatch and more than the Golf with the rear seats up. The GT’s 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks make for a nearly flat load floor and the liftover height at the rear is nice and low.
What we have here, then, is Hyundai’s move upmarket with a more stylish and more expensive replacement for the Touring. Hyundai has graduated and with that comes higher expectations. The GT delivers on most of them, but not all.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
Type: Compact five-door hatchback
Base price: $19,149 ($1,495 freight)
Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/131 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual (six-speed automatic $1,200)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.8 city/5.3 highway (manual; 7.6 city/5.3 highway (automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Mazda3 Sport, Ford Focus hatchback, Subaru Impreza hatchback, Toyota Matrix, Kia Forte hatchback, Volkswagen Golf hatchback