First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT SE Tech. Click image to enlarge
First Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring
Test Drive: 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring GL SportManufacturer’s web site
Hyundai Canada

Originally published July 3, 2012

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

Hyundai’s Elantra sedan has been a hot seller since its introduction in 2011, for its combination of budget pricing and eye-catching styling. For 2013, Hyundai hopes to expand the appeal of its compact model with the addition of two new variants: a coupe (which we’ll profile here soon) and this car, the GT hatchback.

The idea, as it is with any automaker offering a variety of body styles, is to attract a wider range of potential buyers. In the case of the hatchback, shoppers who’ve skipped Hyundai in favour of a Mazda3 Sport, Toyota Matrix or Ford Focus, the cars Hyundai Canada identifies as key competitors. On paper, the GT is an interesting proposition, based on the i30 sold in overseas markets. (The outgoing Elantra Touring was a copy of the previous-generation i30 CW, a wagon version of the regular i30, and offered a notably different driving experience next to the Elantra sedan of the day.)

First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT SE Tech. Click image to enlarge

The GT is recognizable as an Elantra (though the rear bears a resemblance to certain recent Kias) and uses the same 1.8L engine (148 hp/131 lb-ft of torque) and six-speed transmissions, but the bits that keep it shiny side up were designed by Hyundai’s European engineering squad. The rear springs are firmer than the sedan’s, and the dampers (shock absorbers) are upgraded for better body control. The GT’s rear suspension is a different design, a torsion axle design with a stabilizer bar, in place of the sedan’s less sophisticated torsion beam setup. The result, promises Hyundai, is a car with a distinctly European road feel.

We’ve heard that before, so even as we looked forward to driving the Elantra along the winding backroads of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, we weren’t holding our breath expecting this car to be some Euro-smash wunderkind.

First impressions were positive. The GT preserves the i30′s interior, which I prefer to the sedan’s overwrought dashboard styling. My hope was that this car’s suspension would do away with the easily unsettled ride that keeps me from loving the way the sedan goes over the road. To some degree, there is an improvement here, but it’s not a complete cure. We drove the top-end SE model (complete with standard automatic transmission), which gets an uprated (read: stiffer) suspension and 17-inch wheels in place of 16s on GL and GLS models.

First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT SE Tech. Click image to enlarge

While I often cringe at the mention of a “sport” suspension in a compact car (the result is normally a nearly unbearable ride), Hyundai got the balance between sport and comfort right, here. The suspension’s performance over broken highway pavement is better, but not perfect; the rear end still dances around a bit on rough roads, of which there are plenty in and around Montreal, the starting point for our day-long drive. The GT, perhaps, isn’t quite the handling equal of a Mazda3, but it boasts a better balance of road-holding and ride comfort, where the Mazda’s ride tends to be rather harsh. It’s also the best handler of the Elantra line. This hatch is a closer match with the Ford Focus or Chevrolet Cruze, only without the Germanic bank-vault road feel of those cars.

The GT, meanwhile, has a nominally larger passenger cabin than all of its main competitors, save for the Subaru Impreza. Cargo space under the hatch is 651 L, or 1,444 L with the rear seats folded. The seatbacks can be simply folded forward, but the bottom cushions can be flipped out of the way to allow the seatbacks to further fold flush with the cargo floor.

The GT’s transmissions (base and GLS models start with a six-speed manual that can be optioned to an automatic; the top-trim SE comes only with the six-speed auto) are the same ones used in the Elantra sedan. The automatic does its job well, keeping the peaky engine in its sweet spot in the hilly roads south and east of Montreal. The manual’s shifter and clutch both work with a light, easy feel and are pleasant to use. You’d better like shifting if you choose the stick shift, though, because keeping the motor on the boil requires a lot of work on the driver’s part.

First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT reviews hyundai first drives
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT SE Tech. Click image to enlarge

What’s interesting about the Elantra sedan is that it seems nicely sorted and quite refined when taken on its own, but tends to feel cheap when lined up next to some of its competitors, as it was in Autos.ca’s recent nine-car Compact Car Comparo. The GT is a different car, though, and feels more refined going over the road than the sedan-based coupe that we drove at this same event.

Unlike the Elantra sedan, there’s no budget model to be had in these new body styles. A base GT hatch is worth $19,149 (standard with stuff like heated front seats, cruise, air conditioning, Bluetooth and trip computer), while the GLS adds a panoramic sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-trimmed wheel and shifter and 16-inch alloy wheels (in place of steelies), for $21,349. Add $1,200 to each of those for the automatic transmission. An SE trim comes only with the automatic, as well as leather seats, automatic air conditioning, windshield wiper deicer, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and 17-inch alloy wheels, for $24,349. Topping it off is the SE Tech package that adds proximity key and push-button start, navigation and a backup camera, (hidden behind the Hyundai badge, which flips out electrically when the car is shifted into reverse), for $26,349.

Small hatchbacks are very important in Canada, and the combination of this body style with the Elantra’s aggressive pricing certainly won’t hurt the nameplate’s sales numbers. It’s not a stretch to predict that the GT will be a popular car once the general public gets wind that it’s in showrooms now. It deserves that attention, too, for on-road behaviour that cuts a notch above the sedan.