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car review

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe

The body-style term "coupe" is derived from the French to cut. And most are just that, cut-and-paste two-door versions of sedans, an expedient and inexpensive way to extend a model range into new-buyer territory.

That is exactly how, and why, Hyundai's 2013 Elantra Coupe found its way into showrooms last year.

This cosmetic chopping and changing process, however, was carried out on one of the most up-to-the-minute technically, and coolest-looking small sedans on the market. So, it's no surprise the compact coupe that emerged also shares these attributes, while adding plenty of styling cachet with a sleekly contoured two-door layout.

The essential impracticality of driving a car with only two doors has always sent the message its owner sees him or herself as being far different from the typical sedan or hatchback owner. Common sense doesn't play any discernible role in any coupe purchaser's rationalization process. Instead they are really mostly about style, particularly as performance, certainly with the Elantra Coupe, is often essentially the same.

Which is likely why Hyundai chose to enter its other new Elantra model, the hatchback GT, rather than the coupe, in the 2013 Automobile Journalists of Canada Car of The Year competition. This turned out to be a good decision, as it won the Best New Small Car under $21,000 class, mirroring the success of the Elantra sedan, which won Best New Small Car over $21,000 the year before.

Both wins prove auto journo judges are not just all about tearing up a test track, but have a distinctly sensible side, and that the Elantra, in whatever form, is a decent little car.

If you've been counting, Hyundai's latest-generation Elantra, which arrived for 2012, is available in three distinct versions: sedan, hatch and coupe. There's something for everybody shopping for a compact class car in the $16,000 to $25,000 price range.

The Elantra Coupe is available in manual GLS form starting at $19,949 or $21,199 with automatic transmission, and as a better-equipped automatic SE (like our test car) for $25,199.

Not every attempt to cut a sedan into a coupe is successful from a styling standpoint, but I don't think I'll generate much argument by saying the Elantra, with its long, swept-back roofline, is a good-looking two-door interpretation of Hyundai's current "Fluidic Styling" theme. The test car looked great in look-at-me bright red paint with a black leather interior.

That sexy bodywork is 10 mm longer than the sedan's, but underneath things are largely identical. Typical for spin-off coupe, little effort has been made to improve performance.

The engine is the same 1.8-litre twin-cam unit that powers the sedan, and is rated at 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque (that peak number produced at a high 4,700 rpm). You can choose either a six-speed manual or automatic, the tester being fitted with the latter.

This four-cylinder unit sounds and feels civilized enough, but doesn't do much to increase the sportiness of the (actually slightly heavier) Coupe, producing 0-100 km/h acceleration on the long-side of 10 seconds, and 80 km/h-120 km/h in less than eight.

Around-town driving performance is fine, though, with the gearbox tapping the available torque supply to deliver enough thrust when required. You can select shift mapping from eco through sport modes to suit requirements, but the car would undoubtedly feel livelier, and be more entertaining, with the manual gearbox.

Fuel economy numbers with the automatic are 7.6 litres/100 km city and 5.3 highway (a bit higher than with the manual), and I averaged 7.8 litres/100 km over a week, and 6.8 litres/100 km on a (somewhat hilly) four-lane highway trip.

A bit of effort went into making the Coupe feel a bit sportier in its driver's hands. The braking system is the same, but a quicker rack has been fitted to the power steering, which results in 2.78 turns lock-to-lock compared to the sedan's 2.88.

The Coupe's rear axle is different too, a V-beam torsion system with an integrated, 22-mm, anti-roll bar, which coupled to the "sport" tuning of the dampers, and generously sized low-profile P215/45R17 tires on the SE, sharpens up steering response.

It's not a car that actively encourages you to set out in search of its outer handling limits, but does deliver an enjoyable driving experience.

The GLS is equipped with amenities most would expect of a $20,000 compact and, typical of Hyundai, with some you might not. But the extra $5,000 you spend for the SE steps things up a worthwhile amount by adding 17-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension, leather trim, automatic climate control, push-button start, alloy pedals and a 175-mm touch-screen for the navigation and rear-view camera systems.

The cabin is interestingly styled – the coupe was designed in the United States and is built in South Korea – and dressed up with dark silver trim. The front "buckets" are suitably sporty-looking, and actually do their job well despite soft-ish bolsters. Controls are easy to reach, instruments simple and readable, as is the touch screen. Prompt response from the seat heaters is great for cold mornings, but the noticeable wind noise at speed isn't.

The rear seat actually has room for two, with adequate headroom, and there's 420 litres of trunk space – the same as the sedan – making it about as practical as a small coupe is going to get.

The Elantra Coupe has what it takes to appeal to young singles and couples, but also perhaps more "mature" motorists seeking a fun commuter or second car. But if you want something that really moves you, try Hyundai's Veloster turbo or Genesis Coupe.

Tech specs

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE

Type: Compact coupe

Base Price: $25,199; as tested, $26,714

Engine: 1.8-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/131 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city/5.3 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Hyundai Veloster or Genesis Coupe, Honda Civic Coupe, Kia Forte Koup, Mini Coupe, Volkswagen Beetle, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ