Historically North Americans have looked down at the hatchback, with the notion that it’s just a low-rent vehicle genre intended solely for downtrodden folk that can’t get into a sedan.
Of course that’s just stinkin thinkin. Hatchbacks are cool.
In many markets around the world, notably Europe, the hatchback is universally embraced as the best way to configure a smallish-car. Not surprisingly then, when Hyundai wanted to break into Europe big-time back in 2007, it did so with a hatchback — the clever and competent i30 hatchback conceived and engineered at the automaker’s newly opened tech centre in Germany.
A version of that generation i30 made its way to North America as the station wagon known as Elantra Touring, selling alongside the fourth-generation Elantra sedan, which was, and is, built on a different and more North American-centric platform.
A new-generation i30 has just been introduced to Korea and Europe. This time around Hyundai decided to give us an i30-based hatchback instead of a station wagon.
Michael Ricciuto is Hyundai Canada’s main product planner. At a recent event designed to show off the GT, he told us the vehicle is definitely Euro-centric. “What you see here is very much a design for the European market.”
About the only major difference between European and Canadian versions is the rear suspension. The i30’s multi-link rear suspension has been swapped for a more conventional torsion beam system. Ricciuto said this was done to keep the GT’s cost and weight down, and provide the GT with a slightly more comfortable ride.
The i30’s sporty steering feel was retained by giving GT drivers a Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) system, which allows drivers to switch to comfort, normal or sport “steering input” modes. In the past Hyundai tailored the input for each region, but from now on, it’s just going to give us this selectable system. I don’t know anybody that wouldn’t leave it on “sport,” which adds to the GT’s already great road manners. It’s definitely a cut above the Elantra sedan and coupe in terms of road handling and fun.
The GT has the same powertrain as all Elantras, namely the 148-hp, 1.8-litre formatted to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. So like its siblings, the GT offers a great balance between engine power and fuel efficiency. Our automatic test vehicle is rated at an excellent 7.3 L/100 km (city) and 5.0 L/100 km (highway).
Another class topper is interior and cargo space. In the rear, I found knee room to spare, and could comfortably slide my feet under the front seats. The rear seats also offer lots of thigh support.
The rear seatbacks fold forward flat, but only if you first flip the seat cushions forward. Do that and you open up more than 1,440 litres of available cargo space, which betters classmates like Mazda3, Ford Focus, Toyota Matrix and VW Golf. Only the Subura Impreza has more (1,485 litres).
So to recap: Enjoyable European handling sensibilities, stellar fuel efficiency, voluminous interior.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
• Three Trim lines, from $19,149 to $24,349
• Lightest 5-door hatch in compact segment
• Based on European/Korean market i30
• Sportiest Elantra model by a moon shot
• Available rear view camera/touch-screen nav