By on June 28, 2012

I may occassionally mock the enthusiast infatuation with wagons and hatchbacks, it’s only because they’re not such a big deal to me. Two-box compact and midsize cars (not crossovers or SUVs) are everywhere in my locale, to the point where they go unnoticed. But this is one worth getting excited about.

The Elantra Sedan and Coupe are nice vehicles, but driving one is like listening to Tyler Cowen talk about sex.Driving the Elantra GT elicits the same kind of titilation that women must feel when reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Not that I’d know…

The basic guts of the Elantra GT are shared with its two siblings, including the solid axle rear suspension, but the whole package works so much more proficiently in the GT than the other two cars – like how Khloe and Kim Kardashian come from the same lineage despite their wildly different physiques. While the other two cars resist being pushed hard (and don’t really prod the driver to do so), the Elantra GT is as comfortable motoring down the freeway as it is being grabbed by the scruff of its neck.

Hyundai had us drive the Elantra GT up and down a 5000 foot mountain pass, which did a good job of exposing both the highlights and the flaws that live within the car. The biggest impediment to going fast is the strange gap between second and third gear, no doubt a concession towards fuel economy. Running up and down the mountain at a spirited pace meant the car was often close to the rev limited in second. An upshift to third would bring the engine way out of the powerband, sapping whatever precious momentum we could extract out of the Elantra GT and its 148 horsepower 4-banger.

If you’re willing to keep it in second and let the revs fly, the Elantra GT is immensely rewarding. The chassis is responsive in a way that the Veloster and Elantra Coupe could only dream of. The brakes remained firm fade free during the whole route and the chassis inspires a ton of confidence, allowing you to push the car harder than the other two Hyundais driven that week. The steering, long a sore spot for the Koreans, is much crisper than any front-drive Hyundai vehicle in recent memory.

There was a lot of hoopla over the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, a steering wheel mounted button that lets you adjust the weight and resistance of the electric power steering. Many of my program participants insisted that the Sport mode (which did feel great) was the only way to go. There is a noticeable difference in weight between Comfort, Normal and Sport, but feedback remains the same no matter what. It’s ultimately a gimmick, though one that makes the driving experience better. It still can’t quite match the Mazda3 in sheer driving pleasure; the steering is just a little bit duller, the chassis slightly less enthusiastic (even though the Hyundai is 150 lbs lighter). But there are other benefits that make the Elantra GT a serious contender.

The Elantra GT is an elegant, mature looking vehicle without being dowdy. The Mazda3 looks absolutely heinous. Despite its many charms, the Mazda’s looks are enough to dissuade me from owning. The interior of the Elantra GT is also a much more pleasant place to be, with higher quality materials and a much more sophisticated design, which also manages to avoid being overly complex. The rear seats fold completely flat like a minivan, and the back seat is more spacious than one would expect.  Up and down the mountain pass, with elevations reaching 5000 feet, the Elantra GT could handle whatever was dished out. Mid-corner bumps were absorbed gently without upsetting the car, and the brakes felt consistently strong despite substantial use. It was genuinely a joy to drive, despite being saddled with a gearbox that doesn’t flatter the engine’s modest output. The chassis is the real star of the show here, giving the driver lots of feedback, a high threshold for mistakes and the feeling that you’re going much faster than you really are.

Our tester was the $21, 145 Elantra GT equipped with the Style Package., The extra $2,750 nets you a large panoramic roof, leather seats, a power driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels and interestingly, stiffer rear springs. There were only a couple of base model Elantra GTs available at the event, so it was impossible to tell how much of an effect the Style Package has on handling.

Although the Elantra GT was sampled before the Veloster Turbo, not even the extra power and the supposedly sporty nature of the boosted hatch was enough to sway the decision.

It would be foolish to think that the Elantra GT will turn the tide on hatchback sales in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that Hyundai’s offering is any less competitive than the Focus, Mazda3 or even the Volkswagen Golf – which the Czech-built Elantra GT is arguably closest to in terms of overall character.

The Elantra GT wins not just on performance, but by offering an affordable yet mature looking proposition that works anywhere, whether it’s a golf game with someone important, a first date or hauling mountain bikes or skis. There are no extra options, engines or equipment packages needed to extract maximum fuel economy, and even though it’s a great value, you never feel like you’ve compromised on your vehicle due to your budget restrictions. The sedan and coupe versions should be this good.

N.B. our tester was black and the photos came out quite poorly. Hence the use of press photos.



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44 Comments on “Hyundai Generation Why Intramural League, First Place: 2013 Elantra GT...”

  • avatar

    It’s definitely competitive and cross-shoppable.

    >tester was black and the photos came out quite poorly.

    Not going to chide you too much for this because a lot of tech blogs (cough*engadget*cough*gizmodo*) can produce some surprisingly poor pictures at times but…

    If you haven’t already, make sure everybody is using a dSLR, it doesn’t have to be a new one, but it should be the minimum. (Terrific web output even with older gear like the Nikon D80/D90, Canon 30D/40D etc) A few of your indoor pics suffer from noise and lack of dynamic range, not surprising considering you’re shooting dark cars indoors.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a DSLR, but I wasn’t satisfied with them. The indoor stuff is iPhone photos that tend to be spur of the moment cool stuff I see. The real remedy would be learning about photography.

      • 0 avatar

        The single most effective thing to do with dark cars is to switch the camera from matrix meter (wide area) to center-weighted or spot. With the wide area auto-metering modes (the default), the camera is try to weight exposure for the whole scene, but because the car is dark and presumably the background is light, the range in light intensity is too great for the camera. By using spot or center, you are making the camera meter just dark instead of trying to average light and dark. The backgrounds will blow out, but that doesn’t matter, the subject will be in better exposure and you’ll get better detail and texture in the dark areas.

      • 0 avatar

        Totally agree with Stuntmonkey on photography.

        Also, learn to shoot in RAW and use a RAW editor to adjust stuff once home.

        If you look at the press photos, they were doctored in something like Photoshop to bring out details from light to dark so as to not blow out the background so it can be a nice foil for the car they are trying to portray.

        I have a Nikon D90 and use Nikon Transfer and View NX to edit my RAW photos and for more manipulation, I have Photoshop CS4 to play with as well.

        Another thing, for dark colored cars, try to shoot them in bright, preferably even light, with a background that’s a little darker than the car so if you expose to the car, the background won’t be totally blown out.

        Also don’t be afraid to use reflectors if necessary and remember to manipulate your photos if you need to.

        It never hurts to manipulate the lights and shadows by using their restoration features when manipulating RAW photos as that’ll help and keep your ISO to no more than 600-800 range to keep noise levels down as much as possible. You CAN do this with Jpgs, but not as easily as in RAW since you aren’t doing destructive changes at this point in the process.

        With much newer cameras like the D90, you can go as much as 1200 ISO and still keep a pretty clean photo as far as noise is concerned if you must to gain more flexibility of your exposures when adjusting your aperture and shutter settings for proper exposure.

    • 0 avatar

      Being black is no excuse for taking bad photos. Plenty of other black people do just fine.

  • avatar

    “Hyundai had us drive the Elantra GT up and down a 5000 foot mountain pass, which did a good job of exposing both the highlights and the flaws that live within the car.”

    Cool, which mountain pass?

  • avatar

    Great looking car, nice to know they drive as good as they look.

    Importing them from the Czech Republic? Really? If only VW would do so with Skodas!

  • avatar

    Hmmmm…interesting. How much bigger is the GT compared to the Fiesta hatch? I would up with a Fiesta rental (admittedly with the AT) and was very impressed with the over-the-road mannerisms of the Ford. Very composed and seriously quiet on the highway, even at (over) 70 MPH. How does the GT fare at higher speeds?

    I’m surprised that the GT handles that much better than the sedan with virtually the same set up (ok…the GT with the upgraded package does have stiffer rear springs).

    I am a fan of the styling…same as I like the styling of the Kia Rio5.

    Interesting options that “might” make my replacement choice for my Lancer Sportback Ralliart…I’m still loving the Abarth, but there are other tasty choices…

    • 0 avatar

      The Elantra is Focus/Mazda 3 sized, whereas the Accent is Fiesta sized.

    • 0 avatar
      Adrian Roman

      “How much bigger is the GT compared to the Fiesta hatch?”
      The Elantra GT is the same size as a Ford Focus hatchback, so one class higher than the Fiesta.

      Here in Europe this thing is marketed as the Hyundai i30

    • 0 avatar

      > I’m surprised that the GT handles that much better than the
      > sedan with virtually the same set up (ok…the GT with the
      > upgraded package does have stiffer rear springs).

      It is hardly “virtually the same set up” with different chassis, size, wieght, suspension, etc. It is pretty much a completely different car. It is like comparing Saturn Ion and Saturn Astra.

  • avatar

    Even being the lightest in the class it seems like too heavy a car for the displacement of the engine. Still hoping they decide to put the Veloster turbo’s engine in it as was rumored.

    • 0 avatar

      They are considering a performance version but apparently the 1.6 GDI didn’t meet some of their requirements.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe that means they will use the 274hp 2.0 liter turbo. Yeah, I know, keep dreaming…

      • 0 avatar

        According to the display I saw at the Chicago auto show it had ’16 – inch alloy wheels with P205/55R15 tires.’

        And it looked pretty good in red, too, though with the suspension and power I don’t think it’s coming close to the 91 SE-R, which is my benchmark for a sporty version of high volume compacts. This is more like the old SE, so I guess there’s room for a 2.0 turbo at the top of the range.

      • 0 avatar

        The new Kia cee’d (not sure if it will just be the new upcoming pro cee’d) will be getting the “hot hatch” treatment.

        Likely, the i30 hatch will too, at least in Europe, but it remains to be seen Hyundai USA will opt for power boost considering that they already have the Veloster Turbo (yes, Europe has it as well, but Europe is a big market for hatches).

  • avatar

    ” like how Khloe and Kim Kardashian come from the same lineage despite their wildly different physiques. ”

    yeah, about that.. that’s a 50% shared lineage. was the GT sourced from another parent company? an outside joint venture? :)

  • avatar

    Did you manage to sample a GT with automatic transmission? There seems to have been a lot of complaint from various reviewers that the shifts are slow and erratic?

  • avatar

    It’s my understanding that the i30 marketed in Europe is a different car–larger in all dimensions and sold with an assortment of engine options. It’s based on a different platform, similar to the different (and larger) platform of the previous Touring sold in N.A.

    From my perspective the European model is a more appealing vehicle–no idea why it wasn’t imported to N.A.

    I would have thought that the American aversion to hatchbacks would be better assuaged with a larger rather than smaller vehicle.

  • avatar
    Adrian Roman

    The i30 is identical to the Elantra GT, apart for two minor details: the shape of the foglights and front grille with the badge.

    Indeed there’s more engine choices (1.4 and 1.6 diesels and gasoline for the time being), but the car is the same.

  • avatar

    I beg to differ–google the i-30 and you will note that the rear quarter windows are larger and the car is longer after of the rear wheels.

  • avatar

    Is the back seat of this new GT as roomy as that of the current Elantra sedan? Is so, it will easily outclass the Mazda3 and Focus hatches for taller folks. I was shocked at the lack of room in the back seat of the Ford/Mazda cousins. At 6’3″ it was literally impossible for anyone sit behind me in the Mazda3 – not much different than a mustang. The Elantra, on the other hand, can sit real humans in the back seat easily… I hope the same is true with this rendition.

  • avatar

    My apology, I was looking at the i30 WAGON which is apparently not due for importing to NA. It seems to have been well received in Europe–our loss.

  • avatar

    I can see a wide audience for this. The Focus was first with this type of hatchback and will still be, too many, the first place to look, however this is a credible alternative.

    1) Styling is modern and not to funky
    2) Nicely done interior
    3) Great price, competes with it sister the Forte Koup
    4) Enjoyable drive

    Most will be the automatic and if it appears clunky that will hurt sales. The lack of puff going up a hill once in third is no big deal, most of the US is not that hilly and folks almost expect that with small cars.

    Could you see GM building something like this?

  • avatar

    Is the engine tuned any differently? I remember the Elantra’s engine being tomb quiet and characterless. Prob my biggest gripe… bigger than the suspension, which I didn’t find to be bad or good.

  • avatar


    The Toyota Corolla didn’t win?

    An outrage I tell you, an outrage!!!

  • avatar

    Nice car, but this constant barrage of ‘Gen Why?’ speak is getting worse than GM!

  • avatar

    I wonder if this car has better weight balance (less front-heavy), and therefore has better handling/steering characteristics.

  • avatar

    “like how Khloe and Kim Kardashian come from the same lineage despite their wildly different physiques”


    I’m taking away your man card for this comment. Give me a break!

  • avatar

    It’s not surprising the GT won this comparison since it was developed for the European market (hatch version of the i30).

    Same reason why the Euro Accord (aka Acura TSX), the Hyundai i40, the Euro Passat are better than their USDM counterparts (having better handling characteristics and a nicer interior).

    It’s a shame Hyundai didn’t keep the IRS in the GT, opting for the rear beam.

    While the Mazda3 is the better handling hatch, reviews have stated that the GT has the more composed ride – so the GT will appeal more to the general market looking for a compact hatch while the Mazda3 will appeal more to enthusiasts.

    Kia should really bring over the new cee’d (having the better/sleeker sheetmetal than the GT); maybe they’ll bring it over as the hatch version to the new Forte which is due next year.

  • avatar

    It seems that the rear suspension got some flak in a review (sorry, system doesn’t seem to let me post the URL – this is edit #2).

    Derek, confirm/deny re: handling on bumpy surfaces?

    • 0 avatar

      OK, just re-read the review more carefully :-)

      This car is at the top of our (very)short list. As soon as one is available for a test drive I’ll make sure to find some bumpy turns/{off,on}ramps of my own.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the stiffer rear suspension was due to the panoramic roof, which adds a lot of weight & roll, almost all of which needs to be countered by the rear suspension. It’d be less of a “sporty” option than an effort to keep the ride & handling degenerating b/c of the gigantic moonroof.

  • avatar

    This is a little off topic, but I’ve been meaning to ask. The other day I saw an Elantra sedan parked next to what looked to be ’round about a ’96 Accord, and I’d swear that the Elantra looked at least as big if not a hair bigger than the Accord. Was this just an optical illusion?

  • avatar

    I’m a Hyundai fan but every review I’ve read on the GT mentions the 2nd to 3rd dead spot…I need to drive one to be fair (which I will do as soon as available). All that being said, I think I’d find the extra pennies for a Golf. TDI preferably but even the venerable 2.5 is not as bad as people say. It has a ton of torque with a nice gearbox whether you go auto or MT. The new Mazda 3 Skyactiv is craptastic in my opinion (and I HAVE driven it recently). Handling is great but still nowhere never VW or Hyundai for interior quality. The ride/handling combination is also light years behind VW.

  • avatar

    I’ve loved driving my 1992 Volvo 240 wagon for 12 year now, but the low MPG and general age of the vehicle have me considering something new like this GT or perhaps a Ford Focus or C-Max.

    My question is–would you rather be in a major accident in one of these modern cars with advanced safety science, or in my 240 with its heavier-duty steel?

    Lots of online wisdom says newer vehicles are safer, but most of the volvo techs I’ve talked to say they’d rather get creamed in a 240 than in an Elantra or Focus.

    What do you think?

    • 0 avatar

      If it were me, I’d be in a more modern vehicle when in an accident, not just because of its safety equipment, but due to how it’s constructed these days.

      That is, the structural integrity of the car means as much as the safety systems such as airbags and the like to reduce injuries while in an accident.

      Yes, a Volvo of your vintage will have crumple zones to help dissipate the energy created by the impact to help protect you in a crash, but back when your Volvo was built, there were no additional load carrying beams to help dissipate those energies, other than the collapsible front ends. I also think many people are mistaking heavy gauge steel for structural strength when today, the wider use of high strength structural steel is now used to help save weight, but to also increase the rigidity of the vehicle in every day driving, but also when hit.

      That means the cab structure, the cage if you will that envelopes the driver and passengers in many cars today will remain intact to the point that some cars, such as the Fiat 500, you can still open the door on the damaged side in many cases, even in a sever frontal collision. Most cars back in 1992 didn’t have this and thus are less likely to remain intact, but will collapse, fold when hit. What this means is less cabin intrusion of things like the motor when in a head on collision and less likely for you to be impaled by something in the cabin with airbags and belts as it’s been found that the less jostling of the passengers in an accident, the less likely for internal injuries.

      That alone is why I prefer more modern cars for daily driving. The rest of the safety features just makes it even more likely you’ll come out of the accident unscathed.

      Yes, it also means that a modern car is more likely to be totaled out in an accident, but it’s been designed that way for a reason, safety being the primary one.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the reply ciddyguy.

  • avatar

    We’ve had ours (GT, SE, Tech, Auto) for about a week now (in Canada). Wife’s car to replace a 2010 Civic. Drove all the current crop of equivalents including Focus, Honda Fit & Civic, Kia Soul, etc. The GT & Focus were heads above the rest. Aside from the fact that the GT was the only car that grabbed her, the Hyundai GT is at least $5k less than the Focus and had more content. She is v. happy so far.

  • avatar

    I test drove an Elantra GT a couple of days ago and liked the car. However, the back seats most definitely DO NOT fold flat.

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