Pros: Excellent fuel economy, strong value, bold styling, plenty of passenger space, available coupe model, long warranty.
Cons: Not as quick or refined as some rivals.
What's New: The big news for the 2013 Hyundai Elantra is the arrival of a Coupe variant with its own trim-level structure. Also, the GLS sedan gets a number of new standard features compared to last year.
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra is proof positive that Hyundai is out to beat the Honda Civic at its own game. We already had our suspicions when the current Elantra debuted a couple years ago with Civic-like proportions and fuel economy that even Honda couldn't match. But the clincher is the latest addition to the Elantra family: the all-new 2013 Elantra Coupe. There's only one non-Korean economy sedan that's also sold as a coupe. Any guesses?
That's right, the Honda Civic Coupe no longer has this segment to itself. In fact, the Elantra's corporate cousin over at Kia, the Forte, offers a "Koup" version of its own. So if you're keeping score at home, it's now Hyundai/Kia 2, Honda 1, and everyone else zero. We imagine Hyundai has a company dartboard somewhere with a photo of the Civic Coupe right in the middle.
Of course, the sedan will continue to be the top seller, and it remains one of our favorites. The dynamic styling looks as fresh to our eyes today as it did back in the 2011 model year, and Hyundai's value proposition and lengthy warranty are hard to beat. What's more, both sedan and Coupe get the same robust 40 mpg on the highway, an achievement that other automakers still struggle to replicate without extra-cost modifications.
In sum, the Elantra is once again an exceptionally appealing option for 2013, and now you can specify two doors or four. What's not to like? Unless you're the folks over at Honda, that is.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan keeps it simple with just two trim levels: GLS and Limited. The Elantra Coupe, meanwhile, is offered in GS or SE trim.
In a welcome change for 2013, the base GLS sedan is no longer what we'd call a stripped-down model. Its standard equipment now includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, as well as carryover features like a height-adjustable driver seat, full power accessories, a trip computer, and a 6-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity. Among the GLS's options are Bluetooth connectivity and heated seats.
The Limited sedan steps it up a few notches, providing 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a sunroof, leatherette door trim, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, a power driver seat with power lumbar, heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth, and a sliding center armrest. Options include a Technology package that tacks on push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 7-inch touch screen with a rearview camera, a navigation system, and a 360-watt sound system.
Turning to the Coupe, the GS comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air conditioning, heated front seats, and the 6-speaker stereo with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Stepping up to the SE nets 17-inch alloys, a sport-tuned suspension, a sunroof, and leather upholstery, as well as eligibility for the same Technology package as the Limited sedan.
In our interior evaluation, we found that the seats vary widely depending on whether you select cloth or leather. The cloth seats are supportive enough but a bit squishy, while the leather-trimmed versions are Euro-firm-a boon for long trips. Note that the Coupe has more substantial side-bolsters in front, although the difference is subtle. Now that a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel is standard on every Elantra, dialing in a comfortable driving position should be a piece of cake.
The Elantra's gauges employ Hyundai's trademark crisp white illumination with blue trim, and an eye-catching LCD trip computer comes standard in every Elantra. Ergonomics are generally sound, but the swoopy dashboard design clearly left the engineers scrambling to figure out user-friendly locations for the controls. Materials quality is average-plus, and notably higher than what Honda serves up in the de-contented latest Civic.
The Elantra sedan's back seat reveals its compact roots in the form of limited headroom for tall folks, but legroom is very generous by segment standards. Trunk space, too, is generous at 14.8 cubic feet.
As for the Coupe, its back seat is surprisingly livable-a couple adults will fit just fine on short trips. Remarkably, the Coupe's trunk checks in at an identical 14.8 cubic feet, which is some serious cargo space for a 2-door.
Although we'd like to see standard Bluetooth on the base GLS, we have to give Hyundai props for the decent base stereo, which boasts six pleasant speakers and iPod/USB connectivity. Given a more flexible budget, though, we'd be tempted to spring for the optional touch-screen navigation system. The Elantra's navigation features an attractive and intuitive 7-inch display, a rearview camera, and a pretty punchy 360-watt audio upgrade (the base system has 172 watts). It's a surprisingly upscale offering for this class. Too bad it's only offered on the Limited, which sells for Sonata money.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Every Elantra comes with a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. No one would call the Elantra quick, but this motor does have some personality, emitting a vaguely sporty growl above 5,000 rpm. A 6-speed manual is standard, but most Elantras will have the optional 6-speed automatic. Honestly, we prefer the automatic, as it serves up some of the most responsive downshifts you'll find at any price. That's especially impressive given that the Elantra sedan returns a whopping 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway with either transmission, while the automatic Coupe drops a smidge to 27/37 mpg.
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra comes with standard stability control and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes. Those brakes are a notable perk, as economy cars often employ inferior rear drum brakes. The Elantra also has six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain).
In government crash-testing, the 2013 Elantra sedan scored five stars out of five overall, including four stars in frontal impacts and five stars in side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concurred, awarding the Elantra its highest rating of "Good" in all categories.
The Coupe had not been crash-tested as of this writing.
The Elantra doesn't weigh much, even by economy car standards, and that cuts both ways. On one hand, the car feels nimble on the road, carving through corners with unexpected grace-particularly atop the SE Coupe's sport-tuned suspension. But on the other hand, the Elantra's chassis quivers on rough pavement, and there's more road noise than we prefer. It's not a big deal, but it does take a bite out of the car's otherwise refined character. Overall, though, we find the Elantra's driving dynamics quite agreeable.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Cruze - The significantly heavier Cruze has the solidity that the Elantra lacks, and it handles like a more expensive car. However, it's hampered by a lower-quality interior and marginally worse fuel economy (except the manual-transmission Eco model).
Dodge Dart - Featuring a chassis from Alfa Romeo and an available turbocharged engine from the FIAT 500 Abarth, the all-new Dart catapults Dodge back into the economy-car conversation.
Ford Focus - The Focus is arguably the cream of the econo-car crop, featuring a fancy Euro-style look and feel along with great fuel economy and performance. But it's expensive, and cost is king in this class.
The Elantra GLS sedan with the Preferred Equipment package (including Bluetooth) is our 4-door pick. The Limited is nice, but it busts through the $20,000 barrier, and that's a lot of coin for an economy car. If we wanted the Coupe, though, we'd probably ante up for the sportier SE.
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.