One day in the recent past, I woke up knowing that I had a sticky situation ahead of me. I had scheduled not one, but two blind dates with two separate “girls”. To make my upcoming romantic comedy even more interesting, the ladies in question weren’t just any girls but sisters. Like most siblings, they looked, walked and talked similar enough that either one would make a quality paramour. In all honesty, I didn’t put much effort into deciding on who I wanted to meet first. Like any guy who is secretly shallow, I picked the more elegant girl and spent the majority of the afternoon getting to know her. She was nice, soft-spoken, intelligent, very pretty and I could tell she held a very caring soul. As I shook her hand and watched her leave, I put the experience in the back of my mind so I could move on to my next date. I approached the other sister a bit differently; her subtle and casual looks put her off as being a bit of a tomboy - someone not afraid to get stuff done. As similar as the two girls seemed to be, especially given their parents, I was simply unprepared for what happened next. The second I shook the hand of the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, my heart melted for one of the sweetest girls I have ever met.
How the GT came to be isn’t as cut-and-dry as the Coupe. While it may use the Elantra name, it isn’t, like the two door, based on the Sedan’s platform. To make the namesake complete, Hyundai dipped into its oversees market to get the underpinnings of their i30 hatchback for American use. Riding on a shorter 104.3 inch wheelbase than the Sedan and Coupe, the GT shares a lot of its equipment with the global hatch and thus, appears ever so slightly different from the other Elantras. It is still compact and front wheel drive, but its face, interior design and layout as well as its chassis tuning separate it from its siblings. Like the Touring it is replacing, the GT is set as the utilitarian Elantra with fold flat seats, a load friendly rear door and a larger variety of storage cubby holds. With its sights set on the likes of the Mazda 3, Toyota Matrix and Ford Focus, the Hyundai follows a similar build philosophy. As it hits the market, the GT promises to be inexpensive, efficient, useful and most importantly, fun.
To sample Hyundai’s latest hatchback offering, we traveled to Austin, Texas to get behind the wheel. Like all other Elantras, the GT starts under $20,000. With three trims to pick from and two transmissions to go along with each, there are currently six GTs to pick from. The least expensive offering features a six speed manual and a MSRP of $18,395. Standard features include such items as unique 16 inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, cooled glove box, heated front seats, BlueLink Telematics, power windows, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio and fog lights. Upgrading to the Style Package costs $2,750 and earns drivers 17 inch wheels, a sport tuned suspension, panoramic sunroof, leather seats, power driver’s seat and leather wrapping for the steering wheel and shift knob. The difference between the base and the loaded-out Tech Package is $5,100 but for that amount, the GT gets navigation, rearview camera, dual zone climate control, push button start and automatic headlamps. The most expensive version will go for $24,495, comes with a six speed automatic and features items usually reserved for vehicles costing thousands more.
To make itself justified, the GT needs to be able to haul with the best of its wagon-oid rivals. Instead of just fitting in, the Hyundai out does. Total interior volume is 119 cubic feet: better than the Focus, 3 and rather big Matrix. Max cargo space is a stout eight cubic feet more than the Mazda and garage sale trinkets won’t be the only items comfortable as passenger volume sits at a spacious 96 cubic feet. The GT’s seats fold flat with ease and unlike crossovers, the Hyundai is low enough that loading antiquarian objects isn’t unnecessarily difficult. This is everything a hatchback should be and to make matters more appealing, the interior layout is just right. Unique compared to the other Elantras, the GT features a “Y”-shaped dash with center controls that cater to both front occupants. The position of the shifter, steering wheel and pedals is adjustable enough to fit any type of driver and while it may seem similar, the GT’s positioning feels higher, safer and more driver friendly than the Coupe. As welcoming as it may be, there was a bit of an issue with the stereo’s tuning knob that makes the task of changing radio stations better left to the passenger than the driver.
Just like its brothers and sisters, the GT shares the Elantra namesake’s powerplant. Displacing 1.8 liters, using dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing and traditional multi-port fuel injection, the Nu engine in the hatchback is no different from the Coupe or Sedan. That is however, only on paper as within the first few seconds of our meeting with the GT, something is definitely different. While it may produce the same 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque as the two door, the hatch feels lighter, quicker and much more eager to rev. Bringing the little straight four up to redline is an utter delight and banging off upshifts from the six speed manual transmission is only limited by your actual ability. Somehow, the GT feels faster and much more driver focused than its Coupe sibling all while sounding more pure and raw than its counterparts. It is still low on torque and not overly powerful, but like an old Honda, the Hyundai is charming enough to drive hard that its shortcomings seem to be forgiven. In regards to powertrains, it may seem stupidly similar to the other Elantras but for some reason, the GT feels quite different.
The basic layout of the GT’s chassis is fairly par for the course but it features just enough unique items for it to stand out. Easily the most innovative is attached to the electric steering which features a segment exclusive feedback adjuster. Named Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM), the system is controlled via a small button on the wheel that can cycle between three steering modes. The default setting is “Normal” but “Comfort” and “Sport” can be turned on at any given moment. In all honesty, the difference between the settings is miniscule enough that we had to seriously explore their limits to find out. The “Sport” mode does offer the most weight and feedback but no real disappointment was felt in the other two settings. Bombing around the broken city asphalt of Austin proved easy, comfortable, agile and fun. The damping is tuned just right for quick reactions and various types of terrain and it isn’t so sporting that it becomes jarring. The big 22mm integrated rear stabilizer bar offers solid rotation for highway on ramps and despite their size, the Style Package’s 17 inch wheels never made themselves known inside the cabin. Perhaps due to its shorter wheelbase, the GT feels sharper and more willing around corners than the other Elantras.
As impressive as today’s automotive world is, there is still an aspect that seems to be growing rarer with each passing day. Breaking records and shattering numbers is worthy of a spot light but downright charm usually isn’t. You won’t be seeing the Hyundai Elantra GT on the cover of every magazine anytime soon as on paper, it’s fairly run-of-the mill. It’s spacious, inexpensive, loaded with features and rather handsome but then again, so is the Mazda 3. It’s for that reason why when given the opportunity to drive three Hyundais in one day, we picked the more “cover shot” friendly models first. Here’s the truth: if this driver could go back and do it all over again, he would have spent the entire day with the GT. The charm that oozes from this little hatchback is so intense that within the first few seconds of driving, it will surely grab any living person’s attention. As heavy as the traffic in Austin is, it never intruded as no matter what, the GT was willing. It won’t break records, it won’t win in a drag race too often and it won’t place first at an autocross event but at the end of the day, none of that seems important. While it may seem very similar to its competition, the Hyundai is a world all on its own. This is the happiest hatchback on the market and it will make friends with just about anyone. If purchased, be entirely prepared to not just house a 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, but a new member of the family.
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