Hyundai's Elantra Touring was a rare thing – an affordable, small station wagon. Unfortunately it has been discontinued.
Fortunately, it has been replaced by the Elantra GT which, despite the misleading name, is a worthy replacement with five-door utility, the value associated with the Hyundai name and hybrid-level fuel efficiency from a non-hybrid powertrain.
Let’s get the name issue out of the way right off the top. There is nothing "GT" about this vehicle. It does bring a certain level of European-style driving dynamics, but lacks anything remotely resembling the performance associated with the GT label.
They should have stuck with Elantra Touring and saved the GT moniker for something worthy of that appellation.
A lot to offer
Having said that, the Elantra GT is a genuinely-useful and highly-affordable small wagon that fits well alongside the Elantra sedan and coupe. It has an exceptional level of standard equipment and a wide array of features sought in this segment, principally a lot of accessible space in a small, fuel-efficient vehicle.
Designed and developed in Europe and built at Hyundai’s plant in Russelsheim, Germany, the GT displays the latest generation of Hyundai’s "fluidic sculpture" design theme. Looking nothing like a wagon, it is a stylish addition to the automotive landscape.
Part and parcel of the sleek looks is great aerodynamics. The ability to slip through the air with so little resistance plays a major factor in this car’s stunning fuel efficiency numbers – would you believe 4.9 litres/100 km on the highway?
Neither did I, but I did manage 6.1 which is near the top of my records, and better than most hybrids I have tested over the same route.
Fuel economy has a cost
This economy does not come without penalty, however. The cost is performance. To put it bluntly, when equipped with a manual gearbox the GT is slow unless you wind the heck out of the engine.
There's only 131 lb-ft of torque on hand and that peak isn't reached until a rather lofty 4,700 rpm. I found myself constantly looking for a lower gear, sometimes two slots down the box.
Driven in ange, the engine/transmission combo can return decent performance, but it requires effort and lots of revs.
This is one of those rare cases where an automatic transmission is the better bet because of the multiplication available from the torque converter. In the GT, the auto is also a six-speed, so there is not only better useful performance, but little to no loss in fuel efficiency.
I had access to an Elantra Coupe with the same engine and automatic transmission at they same time as the GT and the automatic is clearly the better bet for every-day usability.
The engine is Hyundai’s 1.8-litre "nu" four-cylinder with all the latest features, from an aluminum block to variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides. It is hyper-efficient as evidenced by the startling fuel economy numbers. But I’d sacrifice a bit of that for some more punch.
Maybe direct injection or a turbo? Then perhaps the GT label would be less out of place.
Designed for family use
That gripe out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the Elantra GT.
The GT is exceptionally well put together and was obviously designed by people who drive and use vehicles for family purposes. All four doors and the large hatch open wide for ease of entry/exit and loading/unloading.
The front seats are wide and supportive, the second row will accommodate two adults or three children with leg room at a premium. The giant sunroof in the GLS and higher trim levels adds to the feeling of spaciousness.
There is 650 litres of cargo space with the second seat in place and 1,440 with it folded down.
The controls, both major and minor, are logically laid out, easy to read/operate and work with a feeling of precision and solidity that belies the price. And there are lots of cup holders and storage spaces.
Site lines are good in most directions but the rising beltline does create some issues at the rear, a problem made worse by the rear seat head restraints. If you opt for the top (SE) trim level you get a neat, hidden rear-view camera that eliminates that concern.
Alphabet of models
The GT comes in GL, GLS and SE models. Standard equipment includes a 172-watt, six-speaker audio system with iPod, USB and aux inputs and steering wheel controls, air conditioning, heated seats and wireless connectivity.
My test vehicle was in GLS trim, the model expected to account for the majority of sales. In addition to the above, it had an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated mirrors, a cooled glove box, remote keyless entry, giant panoramic sunroof and 16-inch alloy wheels – all for $21,349.
The GT is the lightest car in the class thanks to extensive use of high and ultra high tensile steel produced at the company’s own plant.
All three Elantras (sedan, coupe and GT) share a MacPherson strut front and twist beam rear suspension design but the GT, designed and developed in Europe, gets unique tuning with more emphasis on handling, specifically feel and responsiveness.
The GT has stiffer rear springs and rear axle and Sachs (German) shock absorbers.
It also has Hyundai’s Driver Selectable Steering Mode which alters the electric power steering according to one of three modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport. The difference is in the amount of assist, the on-centre feel and effort build-up – and it is noticeable.
Pushed hard the GT will understeer, but until that point is a well balanced vehicle. The ride is a bit more "European-like" than the sedan or coupe but not at all uncomfortable. There are disc brakes at each corner and panic stops are straight and true.
Overall, the Elantra GT is a great combination of style and utility. It looks like another winner for Hyundai.