Last year I recommended the Hyundai Elantra Touring for those who “want a simply designed car that’s easy to see out of, capable of toting a bunch of stuff, solidly constructed, and fun to drive.” A replacement was on the horizon, and I wondered if it would retain the ET’s increasingly uncommon strengths. Well, the 2013 Elantra GT is now here, and it performs well enough to rank above other new compact Hyundais. But what about its predecessor?
The Elantra Touring’s styling was “subtle” and “clean” if we’re being charitable, “plain” and “generic” if we’re not. Neither set of terms applies to the new Elantra GT, which adapts Hyundai’s current design language (XL hexagonal grille, headlights that stretch much of the way to aggressively raked A-pillars, undulating body sides) to a compact hatch package. Far more people will notice the new car, and many will find it attractive (at least from the side). But fans of the old car might think it overdone.
The interior of the Elantra GT is more stylized than that of the Elantra Touring, with a “piano black” faceplate on the center stack and far more Acura-like silver plastic elsewhere, but it’s more restrained than that in the Elantra sedan. The controls aren’t as close at hand or as simple to operate as those in the Touring, but this is partly because the 2013 car has far more infotainment features, including Hyundai’s new “Blue Link” telematics system.
The view forward from the still comfortable driver’s seat, all but guaranteed to change dramatically with the redesign, has. The old car’s relatively upright windshield, compact instrument panel, and large side windows are gone, gone, gone. The Elantra GT’s instrument panel doesn’t appear as deep as it is. And Harrison Ford doesn’t look like he just cracked 70. The view rearward? Well, if you spring for the top option package you’ll get a rearview camera niftily concealed under the badge on the hatch. Not that any of this is worse than the current class norm. But I recommended the Elantra Touring specifically because it wasn’t au courant. Instead, it was a throwback to the days when compact hatches were easy to see out of and visually didn’t put a lot of car in between the driver and the road.
Like the Elantra Touring, the Elantra GT is heavily based on the European-market i30. The i30 is offered in two lengths, a hatch and an estate (the Queen’s English for “wagon”). Last time around we got the estate. This time, because not enough of you bought an Elantra Touring (yes, it’s your fault), we get the hatch. Combined legroom shrinks by over three inches and cargo volume drops from 65 to 51 cubic feet. The rear seat remains adequately roomy and, owing to a healthy height off the floor, more comfortable than most, but adults no longer have room to stretch. Cargo volume is competitive with other hatches but no longer rivals that of compact crossovers.
The Elantra Touring’s 138-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine didn’t win any straight line competitions, but paired with a five-speed manual transmission it delivered sufficient midrange grunt to seem peppy in day-to-day driving. Despite ten more peak horsepower charged with moving two hundred fewer pounds (2,745 vs. 2,937), the Elantra GT’s port-injected 1.8 feels downright gutless. At one point my co-driver turned to me and asked, “Did you have any idea I’ve had my right foot planted to the floor for the past five seconds?” No, no I did not. The manual shifter picks up one cog, and the automatic picks up two, such that both now have six. But at least in the case of the stick the benefits accrue entirely to fuel economy (up from 23/31 to a far more competitive 27/39). Between the engine, the ratios, and the deletion of the ET’s B&M-supplied short-throw shifter, there’s little grief but also little joy to be had rowing your own gears in the Elantra GT.
Hyundai USA CEO John Krafcik promises we’ll be happy with a future engine upgrade. He provided some hints: no turbo and no 2.4. My money’s on the 165-horsepower 2.0-liter four currently offered in the Tucson and Kia Soul. Hardly a lusty engine, but far better than the 1.8, which doesn’t remotely deliver on the promise of the “GT” appellation.
The Elantra sedan rides so busily and handles so vaguely that I can’t fathom what Hyundai’s chassis engineers were trying to optimize. The Elantra Touring’s Euro-tuned suspension provided more athletic handling and a much more composed ride. Add firm and well-weighted (if less than quick) steering to the mix and the car entertained. The Elantra GT’s Sachs-supplied dampers are likewise better tuned than the Hyundai norm, and in purely technical terms the new car likely handles better (though the Touring’s independent rear suspension has been replaced with a torsion beam). But the GT’s steering supplies less of a connection despite the new ability to vary the level of assist. The firmer “sport” setting doesn’t feel firm…until you try the other two.
Hyundais are no longer downright cheap, but they continue to be priced below the competition. The Elantra GT starts at $19,170. Add $2,750 for a Style Package that includes 17-inch wheels, a huge panoramic sunroof, 10-way power driver seat (not available in a Genesis Coupe), and heated perforated leather. Add another $2,350 for a Tech Package that includes nav, rearview camera, and automatic climate control. The Elantra Touring listed for $1,650 less than a Style Pack 2013. But adjust for the new car’s additional features (infotech, larger sunroof, power driver seat) using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and it emerges with a nearly $400 advantage. Similarly equip a Ford Focus SE, and it lists for about $1,300 more than the Elantra GT with Style Package. Adjust for remaining feature differences, and the Hyundai’s advantage doubles. A Mazda3 Grand Touring costs about $2,000 more than the Hyundai.
The Elantra GT is far more stylish than the Elantra Touring, and includes many additional features. But while there’s more show, there’s less go. The suspension remains well-sorted, but the steering and shifter feel less direct and the driving position is less confidence-inspiring. Rear seat legroom and cargo room are both less generous. In sum, the new car is better looking and better equipped but less fun and (aside from its superior fuel efficiency) less practical. I’d rather look at the new car, but I’d rather drive the old one.
But, again, not many people bought the Elantra Touring, so Hyundai rejoined the crowd. Consequently, the new car potentially appeals to a much larger group of buyers, but faces much more direct competition for them. The Elantra GT doesn’t drive as well as the Ford Focus, much less the aesthetically-challenged Mazda3, but it’s close enough that a GT-worthy engine would greatly reduce the gap. Until then, it does most things fairly well and you get a lot of style and stuff for the price.
Hyundai provided the cars, fuel, insurance, and two meals.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability information.