By Al Vinikour and Christopher A. Sawyer
What would be the natural progression from the Elantra sedan that was named North American Car of the Year?
Easy. You build a coupe to go after the Honda Civic Coupe, Kia Koup, Scion tC, etc, and you siphon off folks looking for the four-cylinder versions of the Honda Accord Coupe and Nissan Altima Coupe while you’re at it. It’s a no-brainer, really.
Which, I take it, is another way of saying it’s easy, even for you. But you’re right. A coupe is the next logical step. These are youthful buyers who don’t want to be saddled with the “family” image of that car. They want a trunk and real rear seats, and want to stay in the Elantra family. The sedan’s “Fluidic Sculpture” styling appeals to them, but not the extra doors.
And the Veloster is a bit too “Boy Racer” for this buyer. They want something sporty but not too flashy that can carry friends and stuff together or separately, and they want a trunk not a hatch. When Hyundai Motor America President and CEO John Krafcik showed us the car last Fall, I was surprised when he casually remarked that more than 50% of the buyers for the Elantra Coupe would be women. I thought it was the kiss of death to be labeling it as a “chick car” before it was ever shown to the public. Now that I’ve driven it, it is a bit more feminine than I expected, and way more feminine than the Veloster.
You make it sound like you lost facial hair, your grapes turned to raisins and you turned the stereo to play Celine Dion music when you drove it.
No, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just that, when compared to the Veloster, the Elantra Coupe comes off as a less overtly masculine vehicle.
Well, I think the sweeping shape, high beltline and swept-back jeweled headlights make it look like a big, beautiful Jelly Belly. And there’s nothing feminine about that.
Don’t be too sure. I’m certain Freud had something to say about that.
What did Freud know? Anyway, the Elantra Coupe comes in two flavors, GS and SE. Both come with a standard six-speed manual transmission, and a six-speed automatic is optional. Unlike the Veloster, there’s only one engine: a 1.8-liter DOHC four that puts out 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque.
Yeah, that engine has an aluminum block and head, dual continuously variable valve timing, a variable induction system, and roller rocker arms and hydraulic lash adjusters to reduce friction. The engineers even went so far as to offset the crankshaft to reduce friction between the piston and the cylinder walls, and this increases fuel economy by one percent. Like a lot of new engine designs, it has a timing chain instead of a timing belt for better reliability. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the Hyundai engineers use double-pipe plumbing to the interior heat exchanger. Apparently it improves cooling efficiency enough to let them downsize the variable compressor.
Enough of the tech-geek porn! To guys like you an engineering thesis from MIT is like reading Playboy! Let’s get back to the subject at hand, performance. I thought the automatic was a bit quicker off the line than the manual, and it would be my first choice, especially in an urban setting. Think about it, the automatic gets the same 40 mpg highway, and only loses one mpg city/highway (28/32 versus 29/33) compared to the manual. That’s not much of a tradeoff for easier around-town driving. And, with its 12.8-gallon gas tank, you’ll go far, despite what your scholastic guidance counselor might have told you.
Of course you did. Washing his car and mowing his grass did wonders for your class standing.
The suspension is very similar to that of the Elantra sedan, gas-charged MacPherson struts and a 22-mm anti-roll bar up front, and a torsion beam rear axle. Unlike the four-door, the torsion beam is V-shaped and hides an integrated 22-mm anti-roll bar the sedan doesn’t have. In addition, the steering rack has been modified for more responsiveness, the steering knuckles are stiffer, and the suspension has been optimized for both the 16-in and 17-in tires. Thankfully, the brakes carry over. They’re 11.0-in vented front and 10.3-in solid rear discs. And I’ll bet most of the new parts will bolt up to the sedan platform — which has exactly the same wheelbase as the Elantra Coupe — for those who want something a bit more sporty.
I’ll take your word on the differences. Personally, I don’t care what they’ve done as long as it works. And, for me, it works. The Elantra Coupe feels sportier, responds more quickly, and doesn’t make you pay a penalty in ride for better handling. I know you think the steering is better than the sedan’s, but still not good enough, while it’s just fine as far as I’m concerned.
The interior is relatively roomy — if you’re in the front seat. If you have a long trip ahead of you and think you’re going to be comfortable in the rear seat, you’d better be a Welsh Corgi puppy! Then you’d have a better chance to achieve some leg room. Trunk volume is an adequate 14.8 cubic feet, however.
I didn’t spend much time in the back seat. I was more intent on driving the car. However, I compared the interior dimensions of the four-door and Coupe, and there’s very little difference. Unless someone keyed in the wrong data, the Coupe actually has 0.2-in more rear seat leg room than the sedan. In fact, no dimension is more than 0.7-in smaller, making this a pretty capacious coupe, and explaining why I felt the car was quite a bit roomier than expected. I’ll admit, I’ve got short legs, but you’re no taller than me, Mr. Vinikour.
You’re probably right about that but it’s a proven fact that I’m smarter than you. Even though it’s brought over intact from the sedan, I think the instrument panel in the new Elantra Coupe is drop-dead gorgeous. Hyundai’s signature gauge housings really set the tone, and the data readout between the tach and speedometer is a great touch. For an inexpensive vehicle there are some very nice materials used in the dash, seats and door moldings. It doesn’t feel cheap, even in the GS model with its cloth seating surfaces. And the leather interior is pretty decent. There have been a lot of inexpensive cars that offered what it termed a “leather” interior, but it felt more like painted cardboard. You don’t have that problem here.
The standard sound system is a 172-Watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 unit with six speakers and iPod/USB/auxiliary jacks. Or you can order the optional 360-Watt unit. However, that also requires ordering the Technology Package, but in return you get a crisp 7-in touchscreen, navigation, a rearview camera (a must in my book), Bluetooth streaming audio, and an external amplifier. You can even upload photos via the USB port, and show them on the touchscreen unit.
No doubt the Elantra Coupe has a lot of “stuff” that buyers find attractive, especially for the price. And that’s one of the things Hyundai does well; provide a lot of perceived value. By limiting the number of choices, it can control the price of the packages by increasing the number of cars fitted with these items. The more you build, the lower your cost, and the greater the savings you can pass along to the customer without hurting the corporate bottom line. Personalization might not be as easy — about half the Elantra Coupes out there will be outfitted like yours, except for color — but you can always offer parts and pieces through the dealer network or expand the lineup with new models if this becomes a problem.
That’s pretty much what Hyundai did with the safety equipment. Just about every safety feature you can imagine is standard in the new Elantra Coupe. You get electronic stability control with vehicle stability management, ABS with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, and six airbags. To top it off, there’s the warranty: a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile fully transferable new vehicle warranty, and five years of complimentary roadside assistance. Prices start at $17,445 for a GS manual, and rise to $20,745 for the SE automatic. Yet with the optional $2,300 Technology Package, it’s hard to break $25,000, even with the $775 freight charge factored in.
Remember how we said the Elantra Coupe was for those folks who didn’t want to be saddled with the “family” image a sedan gives off? Well, there’s another Elantra, the GT, and it’s a bit different. First, it replaces the Touring model in the Elantra lineup. Second, it was designed in Europe for Europeans. Third, it is a four-door hatchback. That means it competes against similar models from VW (Golf), Ford (Focus), Mazda (Mazda3), Toyota (Matrix) and Subaru (Impreza). This is getting to be a pretty competitive slice of the market.
I was glad Hyundai didn’t call the Elantra GT a “Five-Door” like every other hatchback manufacturer does. If anything it more resembles a four-door coupe. Hyundai has grown the Elantra “family” with three vehicles that are visually significantly different from each other. No segment buyer is wanting when it comes to Elantra.
In terms of ride and handling, I like this Elantra best; something I could not say about the Touring model it replaces. The steering is the best of the Elantra family, and the suspension has the best combination of ride and handling, too. It has the same 22-mm front and rear anti-roll bars as the Elantra Coupe, but the GT features premium Sachs shocks. Hyundai claims the Europeans specified these shocks to improve body motion control and increase the feeling of sportiness without degrading the ride. It did. You start to wonder why Hyundai doesn’t just port this set-up to the other cars and be done with it.
I’ll have to defer to your engineering expertise. As a driver I had a blast whipping this vehicle around curvy roads and trying to get a competitive advantage in urban traffic when both lanes seemed to be occupied by other people who had nothing to do, and all day to do it in. I found it incredibly responsive which is a trait severely lacking in many vehicles in this segment.
The powertrain is exactly the same as the other Elantras, a 1.8-liter four with 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Even the brakes are the same. However, there are subtle differences. The wheelbase is 2.0-in shorter, at 104.3-in, making the Elantra GT as long from axle-to-axle as the Veloster. In fact, most of its dimensions are similar to the Veloster’s, though that car offers a pair of 1.6-liter engines under the hood. Then there’s the steering: the Elantra GT has something called a Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) that’s accessible via a button with a steering wheel icon on, of all places, a spoke of the steering wheel. You can choose from Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, with each getting more firm. Apparently, the DSSM adjusts the power assistance level, as well as the on-center feel and build-up curves throughout the steering range. I didn’t feel a tremendous difference between the three settings in my short time behind the wheel, but this is the best steering feel on an Elantra yet. Again, the Normal setting should be ported to the rest of the Elantra lineup, with the Elantra Coupe getting the addition of the Sport setting to reflect is image.
It’s interesting you mention the similar powertrain to the other Elantras and maybe it’s a subconscious thing, but it seemed like the power of the Elantra GT was substantially more, even though intellectually (a word seldom used when referring to me) I knew it to be the same. Also, even though I enjoy the “technology” of a manual transmission I have to admit the automatic is a better choice, and doesn’t diminish the driving experience of the vehicle one iota. As for the steering, I didn’t pleasure myself with the nuances of each setting like you engineering types do. The standard mode works just fine in my estimation.
The view out of the windshield is expansive, which is a nice way of saying that I couldn’t see the front of the car. Drivers of the New Beetle (not the new Beetle, the New Beetle… oh forget it) or GM’s first attempt at a minivan will be familiar with the feeling. There’s plenty of space between the instrument panel and the base of the windshield, and the nose slopes away from there. Shorter folk who park by ear may have to budget extra money to fix the inevitable dings and paint scrapes that will arise.
For a guy who appears taller than me you sure do have some surprising “shortcomings.” I didn’t notice an “over-the-cliff” view out the windshield. Maybe you should spend more time adjusting the vertical setting of your seat. You want to look out at a nose-down front end, you should try flying a B-1B like I did. It will give you a new “perspective” on external visualization.
The rear seat passengers will miss the two inches that were taken out of the wheelbase, but I think this car will be used by most buyers for hauling around kids and cargo. They actually are the size of Welsh Corgi puppies, though most small dogs are better behaved. When I set the front seat where I wanted it, there wasn’t a ton of room between my seatback and the front of the back seat.
I often refer to the rear seat room of vehicles in this segment as the “Lt. Dan Syndrome.” I don’t mean to be pejorative to those with infirmities. But those who are blessed with a normal pair of legs — be they kids or others — will not find a lot of comfort in a rear-seat setting. With the exception of putting actual kids in the rear seat, I always think of the back seat as a convenient storage facility with easy access via doors on each side.
The Elantra GT offers two packages, Style and Tech. The Style Package adds 17-in wheels and tires; a sport-tuned suspension; panoramic sunroof; turn signals integrated into the side mirrors; leather seating surfaces, steering wheel and shift knob; a power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support; aluminum pedal covers; and an auto up/down driver’s window. To this the Tech Package adds a navigation system with 7.0-in touchscreen, hidden rearview camera (it sits behind the Hyundai logo on the hatch and powers into position when reverse gear is engaged), auto-on headlamps, dual automatic temperature control, and proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start and immobilizer. Prices range from $18,395 for the base Elantra GT with a manual transmission to $24,495 for the car fitted with the Tech Package and an automatic transmission. Freight charges add another $775 to the bottom line. Based on my short drive, it appears to be a pretty competitive package.
I’m a firm believer that the better deal a vehicle is, the more you can load it up to the point that the price will basically match its competition’s base models, making you that much farther ahead with your competitive/superior vehicle. Hyundai has loaded up the base Elantra GT with so much standard content that anything beyond that becomes a choice of the buyer to luxuriously shower themselves with available goodies. With the more-than-desirable pricing Hyundai has set for this vehicle, when coupled with the company’s unbeatable warranty, it technically runs a scythe through the fields of manufacturers who want a share of this market.
As I’ve said before, the Japanese may have been the initial push in Asian invasion of the U.S. car market but there’s a new sheriff in town…and he’s a Korean by the name of Hyundai.