The Elantra is Hyundai's compact high-value car that has been winning frugal hearts and minds throughout Canada. Small cars make up 25 per cent of the Canadian market, so investing in "small" is big for auto manufacturers, and no one knows this better than the Korean automaker.
Before the launch of the new GT and Coupe versions of this popular front-wheel drive model, the Elantra existed only in 4-door sedan and wagon variants.
Interestingly, the wagon doesn't make it through to 2013. Instead, it's being replaced by the Euro-inspired 5-door GT, which is sportier and more youthful in appearance and function.
I attended the launch of the GT in historic Montreal and had the opportunity to drive it through the rural communities of Quebec's Eastern Townships south of the city.
Before the drive, Hyundai provided journalists in attendance with a comprehensive briefing on the GT, emphasizing its quality and frugality. While not particularly popular in North America, the 5-door hatchback configuration is more the norm overseas. This is changing, however. Canadians are far more receptive to the 5-door design than our neighbours to the south, yet they too may come to appreciate 5-door versatility over time, and the 2013 Elantra GT may be the catalyst.
The Elantra GT is based upon a European platform taken from the Hyundai i30, which translates into ride and handling dynamics that are more Euro-like than North America - and this is a good thing by most measures. The vehicle is powered a fairly conventional 1.8-litre 4-cylinder DOHC power plant that utilizes continuously variable valve timing to generate 148 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm and 131 pound-feet of torque @ 4,700 rpm. The engine is racked with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission, and it's nice to have the choice. While the powertrain may be straightforward, it's notably thrifty, and "best in class," according to Hyundai.
With the manual gearbox in place, the GT is rated at 6.8 and 4.9L/100 km city and highway driving respectively. Those are impressive numbers, although not achieved on our drive loop where 7.0L/100km seemed the norm during a mix of city and highway motoring.
No doubt, my heavy foot was responsible for some of the over-consumption, and the newness of the vehicle may have contributed as well; and fair enough, our drive wasn't intended to shatter economy ratings. The goal was simply to spend seat-time in the GT, evaluating its driving dynamics and overall desirability - both of which impressed.
Cabin noise is an econobox dead giveaway and generally a detraction of these vehicles, especially at highway speed where wind and road noise become magnified. Not so with the GT. Hyundai has applied special seals and sound-deadening material to ensure a nicely muted cabin, even at highway speeds. In my mind, the absence of sound in such circumstances is the sound of quality.
Cabin desirability extends beyond the ear. I was impressed with the quality of the materials in use and the accuracy of assembly. Many compact vehicles have seen great improvement in this regard, and the GT's living space is among today's best.
Cabin architecture is well thought out and highly functional. Front and rear head-and-legroom are extensive for this class, resulting in interior volume exceeding that of the Mazda3, Toyota Matrix and Ford Focus. A fold-flat rear seat creates a vast cargo hold that again eclipses most of the competition.
Cabin attributes mean little if a vehicle isn't pleasing to drive, so let's take the GT on the road. Early impressions are often the most revealing. Mine were dominated by the high degree of operational refinement exhibited by the GT and its overall solidity.
As the drive continued, I came to appreciate the car's European underpinnings and its absorbent yet highlycontrolled ride quality, making it delightful to push through the corners of a twisty Quebec back road. Unfortunately, it was less delightful in the passing lane.
Let's keep in mind that we're talking about a compact economy car and not a sports car despite the GT badge affixed to its fifth door. Guided by that proviso, I found the GT's ability to put a semi in my rear-view anemic and a little less than optimal.
Still, that's pretty much the norm within the segment, so it's a bit like complaining that a schnauzer doesn't sprint like a whippet. Just be sure that you can live with what you've got under the GT hood because there's no optional upgrade engine.
While it's uni-engined, the GT does provide purchasers with three trim levels, beginning with the well-equipped GL base unit. Standard fare includes a full slate of safety equipment and occupant protection, including traction control, vehicle stability management, anti-lock brakes and a suite of seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag.
Additional standard equipment includes heated front seats, cruise control, 6-speaker audio with steeringwheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry and much more. Moving up to the mid-range GLS adds an expansive panoramic glass sunroof, an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and more.
Trim levels crest with the leatherlined SE, which treats its occupants to dual-zone climate control, automatic headlamps, 17-inch chrome alloy wheels and more.
The optional Technology Package adds a voice-activated navigation system doubling as a backup screen. Wisely, the rear-view camera is concealed behind a flip-up door to keep it clean.
Another unique aspect of the GT is its Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM), which enables the driver to select from three different levels of steering resistance at the touch of a button. The electro-mechanical system provides Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. I preferred the ease of Comfort mode for typical motoring.
With the addition of the GT and Coupe variants to the Elantra lineup, Hyundai has covered pretty well all configuration bases. The loss of the Touring wagon in 2013 may disappoint a few ardent wagoneers, but the inclusion of the 5-door GT is likely to attract a larger base of Euro-seeking youthful buyers, and I doubt they'll be disappointed.
The Elantra GT ranges in price from $19,149 to $26,349, and should be in showrooms forthwith.
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