Years ago, few people would have even glanced at a Hyundai model in our driveway.
But last week, I must have answered questions from half a dozen neighbours about the bright red 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT sitting outside the house.
That confirms for me that Hyundai is well past the days when it sold vehicles on price alone.
That’s not to say that price is not a factor in the phenomenal sales success the South Korean automaker has enjoyed, but it is only part of the story.
Styling has made the Elantra, and others in the Hyundai model lineup, vehicles that people WANT to buy, not just HAVE to buy because they are inexpensive.
Hyundai now has three variants of the Elantra on the market with the introduction of the five-door GT hatchback this year as a 2013 model along with the Elantra Coupe and Sedan. This has made the Elantra nameplate one of the top selling models in Canada with record sales of 5,054 units in August alone.
The fourth-generation Elantra sedan has a great track record already and has won numerous accolades, including the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Car of the Year and North American Car of the Year for 2012, so the addition of the GT and Coupe only add to the already impressive sales numbers of the model.
The Elantra GT replaces the Elantra Touring in the model lineup and adds a great deal more flair to the five-door variant. The Touring was more of a wagon, while the GT is a sleek-looking five-door hatchback.
Using the ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ styling that Hyundai has adopted as a brand, the GT has a European heritage in that it is based on the i30 model sold overseas. It has a slightly shorter wheelbase than the sedan, but the corporate styling is evident with the large hexagonal grille and the dual character lines that flow upward from the front fenders.
These design elements help create a slippery aerodynamic profile with a coefficient of drag of 0.30, bettering or on par with all but the Mazda3 Sport in the segment.
The Touring model was already a solid seller and Hyundai expects the GT to account for about 25 per cent of all Elantras sold here in Canada.
It sits, however, in an extremely competitive segment, facing off against cars like the Mazda3 Sport, Kia Forte5, Ford Focus, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Golf and Subaru Impreza among others.
This is where price comes into play and the GT is very well priced, starting at $19,149 for GL with six-speed manual, rising to $26,349 for the SE with Tech Package and six-speed automatic.
All Elantra GTs are well outfitted, boasting seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees. The electric power steering features a segment first for Hyundai with the Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) that provides three steering modes—Comfort, Normal and Sport, accessed by a button on the steering wheel.
Comfort is best for city driving, offering the greatest ease of steering, making it ideal for tight city maneuvers. Sport mode is designed to offer a more sporty response on winding roads and on-centre stability for high-speed highway driving. Normal is the default mode and it presents a balance between Sport and Comfort for everyday driving conditions.
The front-wheel drive GT is powered by Hyundai’s Nu-series 148 hp, 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that is shared across the Elantra lineup. It is available with a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual control.
The engine has an aluminum block, resulting in a 30 per cent weight saving or an iron block.
Fuel consumption is rated at 7.8/5.3/6.7L/100 km city/highway/combined with the manual and 7.6/5.3/6.6L/100 km for the automatic.
The European-tuned suspension of the GT means it is calibrated more for increased responsiveness and handling (i.e. better driver involvement), whereas the sedan is tuned in for more comfort.
With its hatchback design and fold-flat second-row seats, the Elantra GT has one of the roomiest cabins in the segment.
Cargo volume is 651 litres with the rear seats upright and 1,444 litres with the seats down.
Adding to the family-friendliness of the GT is the number of convenient stowage and storage features throughout the cabin.
We tested the top-end SE with Tech Package that came loaded with everything the GT can throw at you, including a neat rear view camera hidden behind the Hyundai emblem on the trunk lid. When the shifter is popped into reverse, the emblem tilts out to expose the camera. Cool!
At $26,349 the SE with Tech also features leather seats and door trim, seven-inch touch screen navigation screen, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rear view mirror, proximity keyless entry with push button start, alloy pedals, 360-watt sound system and mirror mounted turn signal indicators.
The GLS version, priced at $21,349 is expected to be the volume leader and it adds power adjustable driver’s seat, panoramic sunroof, fog lamps, 16-inch alloys and leather-wrapped steering wheel to the base model. The six-speed automatic is a $1,200 option.
On the road, the GT feels like much more of a driver’s car than the sedan, largely because of the European tuning, which gravitates to the sportier side of the equation.
Inside, wind and road noise is negligible at cruising speed, but engine noise picks up when you accelerate rapidly or on steep inclines.
Otherwise, the car is comfortable, quiet and easy to drive. All in all, the GT is a great family car at a reasonable price.
No wonder Hyundai is selling Elantras in record numbers.
Hyundai Elantra GT 2013
Body Style: Compact five-door hatchback.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
Engine: 1.8-litre DOHC four-cylinder (148 hp, 131 lb/ft of torque).
Fuel Economy: manual, 7.8/5.3/6.7L/100 km city/highway/combined; automatic, 7.6/5.3/6.6L/100
Cargo: 551 litres behind back seat, 1,444 litres seat flat
Pricing: Elantra GT: GL 6MT, $19,149; GL 6AT, $20,349; GLS 6MT, $21,349; GLS 6AT, $22,549; SE 6AT, $24,349; SE 6AT Tech, $26,349.