2013 Hyundai 5-Door Elantra GT

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Who expected a 5-door hatchback to be this sleek?
Who expected a 5-door hatchback to be this sleek?

You and I may wonder just what “Elantra” means, but to Hyundai it means sales.

This year the Korean kolossus came out with a koupe—er, a coupe version (two doors) of its popular Elantra econo-sedan (four doors) plus this front-wheel-drive Euro-style hatchback, the 2013 GT, with five doors.

Or maybe seven, if we count the two huge sunroofs in the Style Package. But don’t go thinking that GT means “grand touring,” as it does at Bentley or Ferrari. In the left lane the Elantra GT’s 148-horsepower 1.8-liter motor has to be prodded hard.

After all, that’s only 110 cubic inches; plenty of motorbikes have bigger engines. Don’t go drag-racing for pink slips, either; you’ll lose.

At normal commuting speeds, however, the Elantra GT is composed, quiet and comfortable. Despite the number of times the words “European” and “sport-tuned” show up in the GT’s sales materials, the ride is soft enough to appeal to the vast majority of harried souls to whom cars are devices or maybe refuges rather than expressions of manhood-ness. That’s not to say it’s squidgy—structurally, the Elantra GT is wiggle-free, and one has to load the suspension moderately hard to make it do anything embarrassing. Again, though, pushing hard is not in the car’s job description.

There are buttons seemingly everywhere. Hyundai went to great lengths to load up the GT with conveniences and features, most of which come standard at the base price of $19,395. These include tire-pressure monitors, a 6-speed automatic transmission, front seat heaters, audio and cruise-control switches in the steering wheel, and a 172-watt, 6-speaker entertainment center that includes satellite radio, a USB port, MP3 and iPod hookups and a hands-free Bluetooth phone, plus Blue Link, Hyundai’s digital vehicle-to-the-outside-world connection. Every time we adjusted the rearview mirror, we accidentally dialed up Blue Link.

The Elantra GT has at least one mechanical feature that is unique, too: Driver Selectable Steering, via a button that calls up Comfort, Normal or Sport modes. At first we thought it was a steering-wheel heater. If the system changed the turning rate of the steering, instead of just the effort, it would be more interesting. Since it’s December, we’d leave the steering alone in favor of that heater.

Add $5,195 worth of options and the sticker price is still just $25,365, but now we have the aforementioned Style Package—which also includes leather trim, a power-adjustable driver’s chair, alloy wheels and pedals and a one-touch driver’s window—and the Tech Package. This adds a 7-inch touchscreen with the usual inscrutable menus, a rearview camera, satnav, keyless ignition, automatic headlights and automatic temperature controls for both driver and front passenger. Carpeted floor mats, too.

Clearly, Hyundai wants us to be pampered, not underprivileged. This is meant to be an economy car, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like one and it doesn’t look like one, either. Many people will prefer the flowing “architecture” of the Elantra hatchback to the more blocky look of a VW Golf or a Ford Focus.

Now here’s something interesting: Last week we drove the Elantra GT over the very same roads at the very same speeds and in the very same conditions that we’d traveled in a Boxster S the very day before—240 miles at an average of 66 miles per hour. According to their respective computers, the economy car, the Elantra GT, did this at 26.4 miles per gallon (in ECO mode) while the high-performance Porsche achieved 30.2 MPG. The two cars weigh very much the same but the Porsche is a bit more than twice as powerful, yet it’s geared to let the engine run at much lower revs on the highway, which consumes less fuel. Mind you, the Boxster cost three and a half times as much as the Elantra, so don’t think you’re going to pay for it on gas savings alone.