If you're having a hard time keeping Hyundai's latest offerings straight, you're not alone. The Korean juggernaut has been bombarding the market with new vehicles as of late, including no fewer than three different versions of the compact Elantra. The Elantra sedan came first, featuring perhaps the most cohesive execution yet of Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design language, and it's joined this year by both a coupe and the subject of this review, the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback. Don't look now, but Hyundai suddenly has one of the most competitive compact-car portfolios in the industry.
Let's delve deeper into the Elantra GT, because there's more here than meets the eye. Although the dynamic exterior styling is a natural extension of the Elantra sedan's, from the swept-back headlights to the crisply cut taillights, the GT is actually a transplant from Hyundai's European fleet. As such, it's got a dashboard all its own, featuring a more conservative look that's designed to steal the hearts of Europe's legion Volkswagen Golf loyalists. It also has the hatchback versatility that our friends across the pond crave, boasting an adult-size back seat, 23 cubic feet of trunk space, and an impressive 51 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down.
Now, Hyundai connoisseurs will note that the outgoing Elantra Touring, which is more of a traditional wagon, offered more than 65 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. But trust us: that's the only advantage the old car enjoys. What the Elantra GT gives up in pure hauling ability, it more than makes up for with its impressive equipment roster and satisfying feel from behind the wheel.
Indeed, standard features are characteristically generous, including 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, and a six-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth integration. You even get three-way adjustable steering effort right out of the box. But we're more impressed by the available options, especially the dual-pane sliding panoramic sunroof with its nifty power-operated sun shade. Other notable add-ons include 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery, an excellent power driver's seat with inflatable lumbar, a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control and keyless entry with push-button start.
And when it's time to focus on the road ahead, the Elantra GT doesn't disappoint-except that, if there's one thing the GT could use a little more of, it's power. On our evaluation drive up San Diego County's Palomar Mountain, the GT's 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower inline-4 struggled to keep a spirited pace, and the six-speed automatic transmission was constantly on the hunt for a lower gear. In normal driving, however, there's adequate zip, and the standard six-speed manual makes the most of the motor's meager muscle. Plus, we can't argue with the fuel economy, which is an estimated 37 highway mpg with either gearbox.
As for the suspension, it strikes an excellent balance between quiet comfort on the highway and Euro-style precision on winding roads. We would only ask for a bit less bounciness from the back in bumpy corners. Expect a slightly softer state of tune with the standard 16-inch wheels, as the 17s get sportier dampers. The adjustable steering effort is a novel offering at this price point, incidentally, and we appreciated the tighter feel of the Sport setting on that mountain drive.
Speaking of price, the base Elantra GT with the six-speed manual transmission will start at $18,395, with a fully loaded automatic version checking in at $24,495. That ain't chump change, but if you compare the Hyundai with its competitors, feature for feature, you'll find that there's a lot of value here. Bottom line? Hyundai's got another winner on its hands. Don't buy a compact hatchback without sampling the 2013 Elantra GT first.
In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.