One of the best compact cars on the market, the 2013 Hyundai Elantra continues to be a winning combination of compelling styling, able performance and interior comfort. For 2013, there are more variants to love.
The 2013 Elantra Coupe two-door and 2013 Elantra GT five-door hatchback join the Elantra sedan four-door. With unique styling cues and driving characteristics, the Elantra Coupe and Elantra GT are positioned as sporty alternatives to the traditional sedan.
The Elantra Coupe is fun yet practical, and fits between the Elantra sedan and the more enthusiast-oriented Genesis Coupe. The Elantra GT replaces the old Elantra Touring model. The GT offers versatility and plenty of cargo space with European-inspired features and styling.
In addition to differences in dimensions and styling, the new Elantra Coupe and GT use unique suspension components for a stiffer ride. A V-beam rear suspension, instead of the torsion beam found on the sedan, gives the coupe and GT a firmer, more planted feel, and helps to reduce body roll around corners. Suspensions are tuned differently between models with standard 16-inch and optional 17-inch wheels, with the larger wheels receiving an even sportier treatment. The GT also offers three selectable steering modes, which offer heavier or lighter steering feel depending on preference.
Meanwhile, trims and pricing have been restructured slightly for the 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan. Although the base 2013 Elantra GLS model starts at more than $1,000 over the 2012 model, it gets more standard features including air conditioning, a telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, and 16-inch (instead of 15-inch) wheels. On GLS models equipped with the automatic transmission, heated front seats are included with the optional Preferred Package.
We found all Elantra variants enjoyable to drive. The sedan's smooth ride and responsive handling make for a plush, but not numb, driving experience. The Coupe and GT models feel more connected to the road, without sacrificing road-trip comfort.
Inside, the Elantra sedan is roomy all around, especially by compact standards, with interior measurements comparable to those of a small midsize car. The coupe and GT, however, suffer from a lack of rear headroom due to the steeper rake of their rooflines. All Elantras offer top-of-the-class cargo space.
All models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Like most compacts, Elantra is front-wheel drive. Using lighter materials such as aluminum and plastic on engine parts helps to keep the Elantra family relatively lightweight, around 2,700 pound for the Coupe and a bit more for the GT. The sedan weighs in at around 2,900 pounds, which is good for a compact sedan. These lower curb weights help Elantra achieve solid performance and excellent fuel economy.
EPA ratings for all Elantra variants are some of the most competitive in the industry. Sedans are rated at 28/38 mpg City/Highway with both manual and automatic transmissions. That's better than the Ford Focus (26/36 mpg), Chevrolet Cruze (26/36 mpg), or Honda Civic (28/36 mpg). The Elantra Coupe is EPA-rated at 29/40 mpg with the manual and 28/39 mpg City/Highway with the automatic. The Elantra GT gets 27/39 mpg with the manual and 28/39 mpg with the automatic.
The Elantra four-door competes in the crowded compact sedan segment against the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, and Mazda3 sedans. The Elantra Coupe takes on the Honda Civic coupe and the Kia Forte Koup, along with larger, more expensive two-doors such as the Honda Accord. The five-door Elantra GT goes up against popular hatchbacks such as the Mazda3, Ford Focus and Toyota Matrix, as well as the Subaru Impreza hatch and Volkswagen Golf.
The Hyundai Elantra sedan looks striking with crisp, edgy styling. It has presence among four-door compact sedans. Most of the rest of the class looks dated by comparison. Viewed from the front, the hexagonal grille presents a more sinister grin than that of the Mazda 3. The headlight housings wrap into the fenders, the trailing edge back as far as the centerline of the front wheels. This is in-your-face styling as far as commuter compacts go.
In side view, the four-door echoes the styling of the Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan, with a raked windshield, roofline flowing into the trunk, coupe-like rear side window shape, and a forward-leaning shape. The crease that runs a rising arc from the front wheel, through the door handles and over the rear-wheel openings into the taillights mirrors the shape of the old British-built Triumph TR7 sports cars.
From the rear, the Elantra sedan is very similar to the larger Sonata, so much so that in the distance or without anything for scale you have to be well-versed on your Hyundais to tell the difference. The tail lights are long, wavy wraparound fixtures echoing the curves that lead in to the rear bumper and promote airflow to help keep the lights clean; on a dirty road surface the license plate should be the first part shrouded in muck.
The Elantra Coupe has a sleeker, wedgier shape, without infringing too much on Genesis Coupe territory. In front, the wide-mouth hexagonal grille is framed by more swept-back headlamps, while the side view reveals more angular A- and C-pillars. Because the coupe is still decently sized, its doors are awfully long, which is most noticeable when getting in and out in tight parking quarters. In back, the integrated spoiler, wraparound taillights and dual chrome exhaust tips accentuate the sportier character.
The hatchback Elantra GT design began in California, then was finished off in the studios of Europe, its biggest market. The five-door hatch has a slightly friendlier look, with a large black insert across the signature Hyundai hexagonal grille turned upward into a faint smile. The overall length of the GT is nine inches shorter than the sedan, and also several inches shorter than the Limited model it replaces. But it doesn't by any means look diminutive. Although still a compact hatch, the lines and proportions of the Elantra GT resemble those of larger, more luxurious crossovers. It, too, uses fluid shapes such as wraparound head- and taillights that make it clear the GT is part of the Elantra family.
Hyundai Elantra's interior doesn't resemble that of cost-cutter compacts, instead marrying style with interesting materials. For example, the headliner employs a mix of material that includes volcanic rock to an interesting effect more attractive than fuzzy cardboard or plastic. We think the nice interior is part of the value proposition offered by the Elantra. It has neither hint of cheapness nor pretense of luxury.
The sedan has a lot of passenger volume, and particularly roomy up front. Both of our 6-foot, 3-inch test dummies fit fine, even with a sunroof, and neither had the seat all the way back. Front seats proved comfortable for hours with a decent range of adjustability. Rear seats are also comfortable, with a center floor that's nearly flat and a well-padded center seat that sits slightly higher.
On the coupe and GT models, drivers and front passengers of just about any size will be comfortable, but a steeply raked roofline significantly reduces headroom in the rear. As such, backseat passengers taller than 5 feet, 7 inches will most likely find the tops of their heads rubbing against the volcanic-infused headliner.
The sedan and GT versions offer good outward visibility, despite wide D-pillars, which are a function of new safety regulations. However, rear visibility on the coupe is significantly reduced due to its radically sloped rear window.
The instrument cluster and center stack design on all Elantras are clean and simple. Both versions of the center display (the one that comes with with the standard audio system, as well as the 7-inch touchscreen with navigation) are easy to read, even in bright sunlight. Both user interfaces are mostly intuitive, save a few functions that seem to take more steps than necessary, such as changing the EQ on the audio system. On base models with the manually operated air conditioning, we found the lowest fan setting a bit too windy. We prefer the wider range of adjustability offered by the dual-zone automatic climate control.
All variants of the Elantra boast interior storage that is ample and conveniently located. Door pockets are practical but not cavernous, cupholders will carry everything except Big Gulps, and electronics plugs aren't right next to the cup holders waiting to fill with spilled coffee or cola. Those who prefer to keep their iPods and phones concealed will like the coupe's covered storage area aft of the shifter, while the GT's open console space offers quick access.
Although plastic is used on many surfaces on all Elantras, it is mostly attractive and well-executed. We were pleasantly surprised to find the center AC vents were color-matched to the surrounding trim, which not always the case on even more expensive cars. Leather upholstery on models so equipped was a bit disappointing and was more akin to vinyl than butter. In some areas, stitching appeared to buckle ever-so-slightly in certain places on seat cushions. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find real cowhide on other cars for the price.
Trunk space in the sedan and coupe measures nearly 15 cubic feet, more than the Civic or Kia Forte, but shy of the Chevrolet Cruze and Mazda3. The trunk opening on both cars is not huge but sufficient, with 60/40 folding rear seats that increase capacity, although they do not fold completely flat.
The Elantra GT's hatch shape gives allows for a roomy 23 cubic-feet of trunk space, with a max 51 cubes with the seats folded down. That's more than the five-door versions of the Ford Focus and Mazda3, but falls just short one cubic foot short of the Subaru Impreza.
Its solidity and driving dynamics make the Hyundai Elantra feel fully competitive with anything in its class.
All models use a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 131 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. (That's for the regular ULEV, or Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. It's 145 hp at 6300 rpm in PZEV states).
Like most cars these days that make fuel economy a top priority, the vehicles in the Elantra lineup don't have a lot of oomph right off the line. This engine must be revved to get the most out of it, and it's fairly happy and unobtrusive doing so. Peak power is at 6500 rpm, though there seemed no point in going beyond 6300 to extract maximum performance.
The 6-speed manual is easy to shift, yet isn't too slushy. The 6-speed automatic is just as good, holding gears as needed in most driving applications. However, we found that on demanding uphill roads, the transmission often settled on a higher gear than we'd like, prompting us to slide the shifter over to manual mode to find sufficient thrust. For the GT and Coupe models equipped with the larger wheels and sport-tuned suspension, we'd like to see the addition of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Electric-assist steering points the car where you want to go with minimal effort, reasonable feedback and U-turns in less than 35 feet. On GT models, a selectable steering feature allows drivers to choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport. In Comfort mode, the steering feels lighter at higher speeds but doesn't feel much different otherwise. In Sport mode, steering becomes more weighty, and almost too heavy when logging miles on twisty roads. Like Goldilocks, we weren't fully satisfied with any of the settings, and wished for a feel that was somewhere in between Normal and Sport. In addition, we found it odd that the Sport mode modified steering feel only; we longed for a true sport mode that combined steering adjustments with enhanced throttle response and shift patterns.
Disc brakes all the way around come standard on all models and are more than capable of slowing down anything the 1.8-liter engine gets going. Brakes feel a bit grabby at slow speeds, but require a firm, planted foot from highway velocities. Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard across the board, as is steering assist. The latter won't steer for you in case of a slide, but will help you steer in the correct direction.
The Elantra's structure is very stiff so the car feels solid, tight and squeak free. Suspension on the sedan is tuned more for ride comfort than outright speed, but it still does a commendable job on twisty roads and glides down the highway. The four door exhibits some body lean in hard cornering, but it remains controlled and makes the driver aware the car is working near its limits.
The Elantra Coupe and GT use a rear V-beam suspension, as opposed to the torsion beam setup found on the sedan. This makes for a stiffer chassis and reduces body roll (lean) around corners compared to the four-door version. Two-and five-door models equipped with the larger, 17-inch wheels are tuned for an even sportier feel. Although it's a little firm, it won't make your teeth chatter, either. Still, those who like a cushy ride might wish to stick with the traditional four-door. On the other end of the spectrum, enthusiasts looking for a two-door sports car might be more titillated by the Genesis Coupe, while those who want a utilitarian compact that's both practical and peppy might like the new Veloster Turbo.
EPA fuel economy ratings on the Elantra sedan are 28/38 mpg with both transmissions. During our test drive, the onboard computer showed a best of 40.3 mpg and a worst of 30.9 mpg in various traffic and terrain. Coupe models are EPA-rated at 28/38 mpg with the manual and 27/37 mpg with the automatic. The Elantra GT is rated 27/37 mpg with the manual and 26/37 mpg with the automatic.
The Hyundai Elantra is among the best in the compact class with stylish exterior design, plenty of standard interior features and excellent fuel economy. The addition of a sporty coupe and a roomy GT model make the Elantra lineup even more desirable.
New Car Test Drive correspondents G.R. Whale, Mitch McCullough and Laura Burstein contributed to this report.