Niche is the new normal these days in the automotive marketplace.
Years ago, the cost of the research and development needed to bring out a new model meant that automakers were very choosy about what vehicles they introduced.
Today, however, automakers are finding that spinning off several models from one platform is the way to go—it’s all about economies of scale and niche vehicles are becoming much more common.
Even relatively modest sales of a particularly model can still be profitable because the flexible assembly lines allow manufacturers to produce more than one model at a time.
Take for example Hyundai and its best-selling Elantra. It has not just one or two, but three versions of the Elantra now on the market.
The sedan, which is manufactured in the U.S. at a plant in Alabama, has been a huge success for the South Korean firm, winning both North American and Canadian Car of the Year honours in 2012.
Hyundai also had an Elantra wagon variant sold in North America (called the Touring edition) that was getting near the end of its shelf life, so they brought out a replacement—the Elantra GT—for 2013, based on the i30 model that is sold predominantly in Europe.
The GT is more of a crossover than a wagon and all this vehicle has done so far is win Best New Small Car over $21K in the recent Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) 2013 Car of the Year voting. It is now up for the same Canadian Car of the Year honours that its sedan sibling won last year.
But, Hyundai was not done yet. It has added a third model to the Elantra lineup for 2013—the Elantra Coupe, built in Korea at the same plant as the GT.
In Canada, sales of the Coupe are not expected to be huge (perhaps five per cent of the Elantra total), but it offers another variant that will bring new customers into the Hyundai fold, competing against cars like the Honda Civic Coupe, Kia Forte Koup and the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S sporty coupes.
The Elantra Coupe is similar to the sedan mechanically with the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 148 hp and 131 lb/ft of torque. Standard is a six-speed manual transmission with a six-speed automatic a $1,200 option. The “Nu” DOHC 16-valve engine is not new, but it is improved with enhanced Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-CVVT) that improves fuel economy and burns cleaner to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Elantra Coupe is built in Korea at the same plant as the GT and has a suspension featuring MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear. This is similar to the sedan, but the suspension has been tuned for a sportier ride.
Since I didn’t drive the two back-to-back it’s difficult to really compare both cars, but I didn’t find the ride in the coupe overly firm or rough.
The car handled well in both urban and rural environments. With a wheelbase the same as the sedan, and with a very light steering feel, the coupe is easy to manoeuvre in tight parking lots.
For a vehicle priced under $26k, the Elantra Coupe has a very nice-looking interior with room for four adults. Getting in and out of the back seat is made easier by the generous fore and aft travel of the front seats and rear headroom is fine even for a six-footer like myself. Rear seat legroom is on par with the sedan version.
Up front, seating is comfortable, although I would have preferred an inch or two more of length in the bottom seat cushions.
The Elantra Coupe’s 148 hp engine is no match for the 201 hp of the Honda Civic Si Coupe, but the car does move out nicely from a stop, albeit a bit noisily until speed is generated.
Hyundai has revised its fuel economy numbers for the Elantra Coupe. They now read 7.2/5.2/6.3 L/100 km hwy/city/combined for the six-speed manual and 7.6/5.3/6.6 for the automatic.
The trunk is roomy with 420 litres of cargo space and the 60/40 split rear seats fold down for added space if needed.
Styling wise, the Elantra Coupe mimics the sedan with the same ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language featuring a hexagonal grille and upward flowing double character lines along the side that arc up to the rear with its integrated spoiler.
Two trim levels are offered, GLS and the SE model which I tested. Prices start at $19,949, rising to $25,199 for the SE, which only comes with an automatic. The GLS with automatic is $21,149.
Even the GLS is well-equipped with features such as a power sunroof, heated front seats, six-speaker audio system, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, Bluetooth hands free phone and power windows/door locks.
The SE gets 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery, aluminum pedals, intelligent key system, automatic climate control and a navigation system with seven-inch touchscreen and rearview camera and an upgraded 360-watt sound system.
The compact segment is where it’s at in Canada and Hyundai has the market covered with three different versions of the Elantra.
Hyundai has found a niche market with the Elantra Coupe, appealing to those who want a sportier, two-door look rather than the family sedan.
There’s something for everyone now in the Elantra lineup.
Hyundai Elantra Coupe 2013
Body Style: Compact sports coupe.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
Engine: 1.8-litre DOHC four-cylinder (148 hp, 131 lb/ft of torque).
Fuel Economy: six-speed manual, 7.2/5.2/100 km city/highway; six-speed automatic 7.6/5.3L/100 km city/highway
Cargo: 420 litres
Tow Rating: Not recommended
Price: GLS manual, $19,949; GLS automatic, $21,149; SE automatic, $25,199.