Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hyundai Elantra GT - The Right Recipe

The Elantra GT is another example of Hyundai's successful approach to marketing cars in the United States (and presumably, elsewhere). Each time they introduce the next generation of a model, it's notably better than the previous one.

The GT is the third model of Hyundai's compact Elantra lineup. The Elantra now comes as not only a four-door sedan but a two-door coupe, and the GT takes the place of the previous Touring model, which was more a station wagon design.

The GT, like other Elantras, now flaunts the swoopy lines that are part of the company's "Fluidic Sculpture" design motif. This dramatic look has helped make the midsize Sonata a huge success, and has given more charm to the modest Accent and other new Hyundais, including the Tucson and Santa Fe crossovers.

The car is very much in the thick of the marketplace, with plenty of competition. And Hyundai's information packet is eager to compare its new five-door hatch to others. These include the Toyota Matrix, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza and Volkswagen Golf. Interestingly, in pretty much every category, the car is equal or better than the others. And that's really the point--this Korean brand wants to be seen as a direct competitor to the mainstream companies--not a bargain version. I think we've seen Hyundai and it's sister brand, Kia, achieve parity in the latest generation of its products.

The GT, despite a name that sounds like it could be on a Ford Mustang V8 or even an Italian exotic sports car, is a five-door hatchback. But that's just fine. It offers more interior space than most of its competitors (at least last year's versions) and is lighter than the others, at 2,784 pounds. That means that its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, one of the smaller ones of the aforementioned comparative vehicles, gets the most power per liter of displacement (82.2). The GT is at least 100 pounds lighter than the other cars, thanks to greater use of high tensile steel among other things.

The 1.8 liter engine puts out 148 horsepower and 131 lb.-ft. of torque--at the smaller end of the field, but still enough to permit some spirited driving. My Black Noir Pearl tester had the six-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual is also available, and I expect would be even more fun.

Fuel economy figures are class-competitive, at 27 City, 37 Highway (30 Combined) for the automatic version. The EPA numbers are very good--Elantras have been near the top of the list for a while now. For cars sold in California, the Smog score is 6 and the Greenhouse Gas number is 8. There's a PZEV version of the automatic version that gets a 9 for its smog score. Those are hybrid level numbers. All Elantras get SmartWay designation from the EPA.

Like most cars of its category, the Elantra GT employs MacPherson struts up front with coil springs and gas shock absorbers, and torsion beam and monotube struts in back. Compared to the sedan version, the GT's higher spring rates and other tuning give it a more athletic performance. The GT's optional 17-inch wheels impart a sportier look and receive special sport tuning to dial in even more of the fun factor.

Like all the new Hyundais, the high-energy personality isn't reserved for just the body styling. The interior is lively, with exuberant swirls along the dash and doors. The door-mounted window controls are at a 45-degree angle, for example, not on the straight horizontal. Shiny trim and handsome double gauges give a surprisingly upscale appearance. I was impressed that the fully featured audio system displayed the entire artist name and song title. Some more expensive cars I've tested don't.

The Elantra is not an expensive car, but you can boost its price by about 25 percent by adding the Style and Tech packages. My tester had them. The Style package adds the 17-inch wheels and sport suspension, as well as a panoramic sunroof and leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob. The driver's seat has power adjustments, including lumbar. You get racy looking aluminum pedals, too, and the convenience of an automatic-up driver's side window (handy for sprinting away from toll booths).

The Tech package adds a navigation system, something that's nearly as common today as a radio was a generation ago. You also get dual automatic temperature control, keyless entry and a neat hidden rearview camera.

The car's versatility, with folding seats and handy rear hatch, make it a good choice for active lifestyles and small families looking for economy without boredom.

Prices start at $19,160 for the manual-equipped model. Add in the automatic transmission, the Style package ($2,750) and Tech package $2,350) and you get my tester, at $25,365 (including floormats). All prices shown include shipping.

The Elantra GT blows away the old Touring wagon, which was a nice little car but didn't have much pizazz. With the looks and youthful driving personality, it should continue to boost the brand. You can get one for barely more than a commute mobile or spice it up and have a real hot hatch.


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