Thumbs Up: Great content, great value, surprisingly entertaining.
Thumbs Down: Automatic transmission won’t hold gear selected to redline.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a hatchback with impressive content at a great price.
It’s easy to love what Hyundai is doing these days, since the Korean automaker seems to be turning out hit after hit after hit. First it was the new midsize Sonata sedan, followed by the compact Elantra sedan. Next came the new Accent and the new Veloster, which seemed to fill the brand’s need for a compact hatchback.
Except, to be honest, the Veloster isn’t for everyone. Sure, it looks cool and we do love the innovative three-door design, but the back seat has a serious head room shortage and the Veloster, even in turbo form, falls short on the expected fun factor. If you’re of a certain age or mindset, chances are good you’re willing to overlook those things in favor of the Veloster’s strong points.
On the other hand, we’d bet that very few Volkswagen Golf buyers cross-shopped the Veloster, or Hyundai’s aging Elantra Touring wagon, which remained on the former Elantra platform. Enter the new-for-2013 Elantra GT, which seems to fill the niche left by the departure of the Elantra Touring wagon, while attracting new customers who would otherwise pass by the Veloster hatchback.
While the Elantra GT also competes with the likes of the Ford Focus, the Mazda3, the Subaru Impreza and the MINI Cooper, it somehow manages to feel just a bit more “grown up” than many of its rivals. Perhaps we’re seeing it as a foil to the Veloster, or maybe we’re just swayed by the car’s contemporary Euro-influenced styling, but the net result is this: the Hyundai Elantra GT is among the best-looking car’s in Hyundai’s lineup, and we’d be happy to park one in our own garage if we needed a commuter car.
If the styling looks familiar, it should. It’s the latest take on Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” school of design, so it carries over common themes like the hexagonal grille, flowing headlights and arched fenders. It began life as the European-market i30, so its lines do come across as a bit more conservative and refined than other recent Hyundai models.
We especially like its rear three-quarter view, which accents the roof spoiler and steeply raked back window. Even its rising beltline and (relatively) narrow C-pillar work to give the car a sporting and upscale feel that you simply don’t expect in its price point.
If there’s one thing we’re not sold on, however, it’s the chunky five-spoke 17-inch wheels, included with the Style package. They blend an odd mix of paint and chrome into an entirely unpleasant look that fails to mesh with the car’s overall design. Even the 16-inch wheels fitted to base Elantra GT models look better, but we’d probably turn to the aftermarket for help in both cases.
Inside, the Elantra GT sticks to less dramatic presentation than the other models in the Elantra lineup. Its center stack flows into the dash, but not in the same bold manner seen in other Elantras. Metallic accents are the order of the day, and they do a good job of breaking up the textured plastics and vinyl. Unlike the Veloster, which boasts a “sportbike inspired” cockpit, the Elantra GT clearly aims to satisfy a broader audience, and we say it does an exemplary job of pulling it off. It may not be on par with the Volkswagen Golf’s Audi-esque interior, but it’s certainly on the same level as the interior in the new Ford Focus and several steps above what you’ll find in the Subaru Impreza.
Instruments, as we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, are a cut above most of the competition. Tachometer and speedometer rest in semi-round pods, shielded by a deep hood and illuminated with a blue glow. Splitting the instruments is a driver information display, gear indicator, coolant bar graph and fuel gauge bar graph.
Front seats are stitched in a pattern unique to the Elantra GT, and feature a bit more side and hip bolstering that you’ll find on other Elantra variants. They’re wide and supportive, too, and we’d call them above average for the commuter car segment. Opt for the Style package, and you’ll get leather trimmed seating, in addition to a power driver’s seat with an inflatable lumbar support.
Rear seats also get unique stitching, but that’s about all that sets them apart from other Elantra models. There’s more rear headroom in the GT than in the Veloster, and we’d call legroom on par with others in the segment. We wouldn’t want to ride the second row on a cross-country trip, but it’s more than adequate for the car’s daily-driver purpose.
Under the hood is the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder used throughout the Elantra lineup, rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Buyers get a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, but those who enjoy their time behind the wheel will be happiest with the manual gearbox. Expect a 0-60 time of around 9.5 seconds with the automatic, though we suppose the manual could shave a tenth or two off that time. The EPA rates the automatic-equipped Elantra GT at 37 mpg highway, 27 mpg city and 30 mpg combined, with the 6MY coming in just one mpg worse in city driving.
On paper, the Elantra GT sounds slow, but the car feels livelier than its numbers would indicate. Hyundai does what it can to add some sport to the car, offering a Sachs-damper equipped sport suspension and a variable-feel steering system that increases the effort without changing the ratio. We like the suspension, but could honestly due without a variable-effort steering, since it serves no useful purpose. We’re not fond of the automatic transmission, either, as it suffers from the same malady as other Elantra models: in manual mode, it refuses to hold a gear to redline. We’ve complained to Hyundai about this in the past, on other models, so we’ll keep it short here: it’s pointless to include a manual shift mode in your cars if the transmission over-rides the driver’s input. We don’t care how Toyota does it.
Aside from that, we have zero complaints about the Elantra GT’s performance, ride or handling. It’s a light car, so it turns in quickly while the sport-tuned suspension (part of the Style package) limits the body roll in corners. It’s no hot hatch, to be sure, but its handling rivals that of the standard Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. In fact, we’d call the car’s biggest limiting factor its all-season tires mounted on wheels that strike us as on the heavy side.
If you found the old Elantra Touring Wagon to be too bland, and the new Veloster to be just a bit too trendy, we suspect you’ll find the Hyundai Elantra GT to be just right. If you’re in the market for a five door hatchback that’s fuel efficient, feature packed and relatively entertaining to drive, the Elantra GT is worthy of your consideration.
Hyundai supplied the 2013 Elantra GT four our review. Base price on our press-fleet tester was $20,170, including a destination charge of $775, and options included the $2,750 Style Package (17-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, panoramic sunroof, side-mirror mounted turn signals, leather seating surfaces, leather steering wheel and shift boot, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, aluminum pedals, driver’s window auto-up), the $2,350 Tech Package (navigation system, rearview camera, automatic headlights, automatic dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, push-button start) and the $95 floor mats for a total sticker price of $25,365.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Ford Focus Titanium would sticker for $27,180, while a comparable (but AWD) Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Limited would price at $26,529.