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It's no secret that I'm a wagon fan, so one might have expected me to be upset when I found out Hyundai would be discontinuing its Elantra Touring wagon and replacing it with the GT hatchback.
But, based on looks alone, I'm instead congratulating Hyundai on offering something that's a whole lot more appealing for 2013.
The only downside to the change, really, is a loss in maximum cargo capacity -- GT owners will only be able to stuff 1,440 litres of their stuff with the rear seats folded flat compared to 1,848 litres in the old Touring.
But that's it for negatives. The rest of the story is all good news.
Starting at $19,149, the Elantra GT GL comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, driver-selectable steering (more on that later), disc brakes all around, keyless entry, 16-inch steel wheels, heated and power-adjustable mirrors, six-speaker audio with auxiliary inputs, air conditioning, power windows, a trip computer, a rear-seat centre armrest, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, and a cooled glove box. A six-speed automatic adds $1,250.
That's a whole lot of kit for 20 grand.
The $21,349 GLS picks up fog lights, a panoramic glass roof, alloy wheels, a front centre console, leather wrapping for the steering wheel and shift knob, and an eight-way power driver's seat. Again, a six-speed slushbox is optional.
Our tester was the SE which stickers at $24,349, including the automatic. Other notable equipment includes mirror-mounted turn signals, 17-inch alloys, automatic headlights, windshield wiper de-icers, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and leather upholstery.
The Tech package commands $26,349 and adds push-button start, a seven-inch touch-screen navigation system and rear-view camera.
As a whole, the Elantra GT range offers substantial value in its class. The only item that gives me pause is the $2,000 hit for the tech package. There's some value in that number, since the display and camera are pieces of hardware not offered on lesser models. But the cost of navigation systems has gone down considerably in recent years and a figure half that amount would seem more appropriate.
Aesthetically, everything that was wrong with the Elantra Touring is right with the GT. While there are some pretty wagons on the market, the Touring was not one of them. Its exterior styling was likely a deal-breaker for many because it just looks too utilitarian and not sporty at all.
But that has all been fixed this year. The GT joins the Elantra coupe and sedan for 2013, and all three models have striking styling that belies their modest price-tags. The GT looks good from every angle, thanks to short overhangs, aggressive front and rear detailing, and wheels and tires that do a much better job of filling the wheel wells.
The swoopiness continues inside, but it's still a fairly clean design and not as busy or intimidating as that of the Ford Focus. The seats are comfortable and supportive and the deep-set gauges reinforce the sporty nature of Elantra's styling. There are buttons on the wheel a-plenty, including those for cruise control, audio, telephone and trip computer.
There's also a little button on the lower right steering wheel which allows driver control of steering effort. Choosing between comfort, normal and sport results in a progressive increase in the amount of effort required to turn the wheel.
Now, it should be noted that there's no difference in steering feel, feedback or ratio -- how tight the car turns in response to a specific turn of the wheel. It's just for adjusting how much assist the electric power-steering system provides. A little gimmicky, I think, and that button will see very little action once an individual decides how much effort is just right for them.
The centre-stack arrangement is very straightforward, with an open bin just ahead of the shift lever along with two power points and auxiliary audio inputs just above. The climate-control buttons are large and easy to get used to, and the same goes for the audio controls and display that top the centre stack.
I was impressed with the comfortable and supportive seats, just one of the things that makes the GT feel like it's worth more money than many of its similarly-priced competitors. In short, the driver's seat is a fine place to be even before the engine is fired up.
So, the car looks good inside and out, but that means nothing if it's not a great drive. And this is where the Elantra surprised me the most.
Driving down that evil stretch of McGillivray Boulevard westbound between Pembina and Waverley is where most cars' suspensions will give up and say 'uncle'. This is where each and every pavement joint sends shudders through the passenger compartments of cars with less-than-solid underpinnings. But the Elantra took this challenge in stride and cruised through it without breaking a sweat. That's where this car's premium aspirations became more than just pretense.
This point was driven home the following week when I was behind the wheel of Toyota's aging Corolla -- a car that's inferior in nearly every way to the Elantra, but commands a higher price. It it couldn't find its stride on that same stretch of road. If you can believe it, I was driving the Toyota wishing I'd been behind the wheel of a Hyundai.
That the Elantra achieved such laudable performance with a torsion beam rear axle (rather than an independent setup) makes it all the more significant.
Power from the Elantra's 1.8-litre engine is measured at 148 horses and 131 lb-ft of torque, and it moves the 1,300-kg hatchback without a problem. Engine power is smooth and refined, even when pushed. And while the manual version of this car would have been fun to try, the truth is that slushboxes are where the volume is -- and they're now achieving lower fuel consumption than their three-pedal counterparts, as is the case here.
After a week of city driving in heavy traffic, the Elantra consumed an average of 10.5 L/100 km. That's nowhere near the car's published city rating of 7.6, but this was in real-world winter conditions and anything less than 11 in those conditions ranks as thrifty in my books.
Hyundai has a winner here, and those who give it a chance are in for a treat.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
Type of vehicle: front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.8L four cylinder
Power: 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm; 131 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Length: 430 cm
Wheelbase: 2650 cm
Cargo volume: 651L/1,444L (rear seats up/folded)
Transport Canada fuel rating (L/100): 7.6 km city, 5.3 highway
Base price (GL): $19,149
Base price (SE): $24,349
Price as Tested: $25,944 plus taxes