Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Hyundai comes of age with new GT model.
No excuses, disclaimers or frequent reminders about the low price and great warranty. Hyundai's new Elantra GT is a good car on its own merits.
How so? Start with the five-door body style, which offers the practical advantages of a small wagon with the sleek look of a well-designed sedan. On the functionality scale, this package is hard to beat.
Consider the most powerful standard engine in the subcompact class, and a standard-equipment list as long or longer than cars that cost $10.000-$15,000 more. The Elantra GT's interior is nicely finished. Measured by build quality, it meets or beats most of its competitors. This Hyundai has the sporty feel many subcompact buyers seek, and with the standard manual transmission it's good fun to drive. We believe it will surpass most buyers' expectations.
The Elantra GT was introduced late in the 2001 model year and did not change for 2002.
The Elantra GT (MSRP $13,999) joins the Elantra GLS sedan ($12,499). The new GT model essentially replaces the Elantra wagon, which was dropped from Hyundai's 2001 lineup. No real problem there. With its rear hatch and split folding rear seat, the GT is remarkably versatile for a car its size.
The GT shares the four-door GLS's 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The most obvious difference between the two is the GT's five-door body style.
Both Elantra models have an impressive array of standard features, including air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks and a center console with armrest. The standard safety features are anything but economy grade: front and front-passenger side-impact airbags, rear headrests and three-point harnesses at all five seating positions.
Still, the Elantra GT expands on the GLS sedan's standard-equipment list. The five-door GT was fashioned in the tradition of compact European sport sedans, and in that spirit comes with a firmer sport-tuned suspension and five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels. Four-wheel disc brakes are included (the GLS has rear drums). Leather seating surfaces are standard, too (try finding those on another car in this price range), as are a 100-watt, six-speaker stereo with CD player, cruise control, remote keyless entry and rear-glass wiper and washer.
The GT is geared toward the young and young at heart-those who seek maximum involvement in driving-so Hyundai is promoting it with its standard five-speed manual transmission. Yet there is an automatic available. It's actually considered a separate model, identical to the Elantra GT except for its four-speed automatic and $14,799 sticker.
Our $14,572 test car had full-carpet floor mats-a $78 option. Beyond the mats, the only factory options available on the GT are a slide-and-tilt power moonroof ($650), antilock brakes with electronic front-wheel traction control ($1175, including the moonroof) and a cargo net ($38).
The warranty, by the way, is one of the best available. The basic warranty lasts five years or 60,000 miles for the original owner, with free roadside assistance throughout. The engine and transmission are warranted for 10 years, 100,0000 miles, and Hyundai protects Elantra from rust-through for five years or 100,000 miles.
Elantra sedan was restyled for 2001, and the newer GT shares much with the GLS sedan. From the front doors forward they are identical, with a distinctive chrome-lipped grille and prominent twin trapezoid headlamps angled back in a black background. Last year's design changes did more than improve the looks. Elantra's drag coefficient was reduced to improve fuel economy and lower wind noise inside. New headlights cast light in a wider pattern.
From the mid pillar (B-pillar) back, the GT is distinct from the GLS. The GT model's glass area is more expansive and airy, and its roof trails back into the rear hatch, fastback style, rather than dropping suddenly toward the trunk. The hatch ends with the small lip of a spoiler above the taillights and rear bumper. If you're familiar with the Saab 93, think of its rear hatch and you'll have a good idea what the Elantra GT is like.
With Elantra's new styling came changes you can't easily see. The wheelbase was stretched 2.3 inches to 102.7, making more leg room inside, and headroom was increased both front and rear. Just as significantly, the engine is mounted with hydraulic attachments in a new front subframe, greatly reducing the amount of drivetrain vibration that reaches the cabin.
Often, inexpensive cars try to make up for their economy ambience with strange, garish interior design. The Elantra GT's interior is subdued, clean and efficient, with the gauge binnacle and control panel sweeping in front of the driver and down toward the center console.
The gauges themselves are backlit with a purplish light. It's interesting, and the speedometer and standard tach are quite legible at night or in full mid-afternoon sunshine. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning are now adjusted with rotary controls, rather than the cheaper, more difficult sliding type, and the dials are set in the preferred location-below, rather than above, the stereo. The stereo buttons are on the small side (we've rarely found buttons that are too big), but they are as large and easy to operate as those in some more expensive cars (the Volkswagen Jetta, for example). Light, wiper and cruise control switches are stalk mounted. A remote hatch and fuel-door release are standard.
The interior in our test car was finished in dark gray and basic black, and we found it surprisingly appealing. There's very little hard plastic in the Elantra GT, and the soft stuff has a richer feel than we've been conditioned to expect in cars of this ilk.
The front seats are larger than before, neither too soft (lacking proper support) nor too hard (bordering on painful). The driver's seat is height adjustable both front and rear, and both front seats have adjustable lumbar support. The front shoulder belts are height adjustable---a feature shorter people will appreciate-and the center position in back has a combination lap/shoulder belt (the class standard remains lap belt only). Certainly, rear passengers will be happier if the center spot is empty, but the same can be said for much more expensive cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
In our view, the real beauty of the Elantra GT is its five-door design, particularly for young families that will only own one car. After a week running errands in this car, we can't understand why Americans have never been particularly fond of four-door hatchbacks. With the rear seat up, there's room enough in the cargo compartment for beach gear or the sundry kid stuff required for a day trip. With the seat folded, the rear side doors make access to cargo much easier.
It's remarkable what you can squeeze into an Elantra GT, We fit a dozen 10-foot pieces of wood molding and a couple of two-by-fours entirely inside the car, with the hatch closed. The same with plywood sheets cut to 40 X 70 inches, including the remnants. With the hatch tied partway open, the possibilities include full sheets of plywood or a 27-inch TV in its carton. And Elantra doesn't suffer from the bane of some five-doors: a flexing, rattling body. It's decently screwed together and satisfactorily solid.
We drove the Elantra GT as the typical owner might--back and forth to the work, for family outings and trips to the home-improvement store. The car didn't hiccup once, and we were never dissatisfied.
For years Hyundai borrowed its engine designs from other manufacturers. It now develops and manufactures its own, and the Elantra's 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder has most of the latest technology, including dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, multipoint electronic fuel injection and coil-direct ignition. Major improvements for 2001 were intended to reduce mechanical noise and control vibration. They include a cast aluminum oil sump, a stiffer engine block and eight crankshaft counterweights.
With 140 horsepower and 133 pounds-feet of torque, there's more than enough power to hustle the 2600-pound Elantra GT through traffic, pass with confidence or drive through mountain passes faster than posted speeds. We estimate 0-60 mph times in the mid eight-second range-respectable performance in any subcompact.
But beware. There isn't much grunt at lower engine speeds. Most of Elantra's power comes in the last 2000 revs before the 6400-rpm redline. That means you'll need to work the engine and shift often to get the most from this power plant. Enthusiast drivers prefer to do exactly that. But if you're used to an engine with more low-end power, and you don't give Elantra its legs, you might wonder where the goods are. And when you find them, you might be disconcerted by the ruckus of a hard-working four-cylinder running near 6000 rpm.
We didn't try the Elantra with an automatic, but experience testing hundreds of automobiles suggests that a car with similar power characteristics is better suited to a manual transmission. Unless you hate shifting, or do most of your driving in heavy traffic, we'd recommend the manual.
What impressed us must was the Elantra GT's balance of ride and handling, which replicates the style of a good European sedan. Some cars that cost $25,000 don't have speed-sensitive steering or a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension. The power steering requires only a light touch during parking maneuvers or in tight quarters, yet it firms up at travel speeds and still gives the driver a good idea of how well the front tires are gripping. The rear suspension keeps the rear tires firmly on the pavement, even on bumpy roads, and helps keep the rear of the car from bouncing around.
The net result in the Elantra GT is maneuverability in traffic, secure, reasonably precise handling on curving two-lane highways and a ride that is neither floppy nor buckboard stiff. Only on freeways with excessively uneven expansion joints in rapid succession does the car tend to get bouncy. If you put a premium on handling, then the weak link in Elantra GT's package is the hard, wear-resistant all-season tires. A set of speed-rated performance tires would make this subcompact even better.
At the bottom line, Elantra is comfortable and enjoyable to drive. There's very little about it that seems cheap. The subcompacts from more established manufacturers might surpass it in certain respects. The doors on the Ford Focus, for example, thunk shut with more authority. Elantra is a bit noisier inside than a Toyota Corolla, but not by much, and if you're enjoying the Elantra GT's 100-watt CD player, you probably won't notice. The Honda Civic turns into corners with a bit more precision, but you probably won't notice that unless you plan to autocross.
In the workaday grind the Elantra GT is better than acceptable. It's good. It can run with comparably equipped competitors in nearly every respect except the size of the monthly payments.
You can find subcompacts that are more refined than Hyundai 's Elantra GT. Yet the distinctions are subtle, and many drivers may not even notice. Overall, Elantra keeps pace with the best. Hyundai has made big gains in reliability and build quality, and any concerns in that regard are eased by the Elantra's warranty and roadside assistance plan.
Measured by price-benefit ratio, the Elantra GT is arguably the best value in the class. We strongly urge anyone who puts a premium on value to put this Hyundai on the test-drive list.
Elantra GLS sedan ($12,499); Elantra GT five-door ($13,999).
Ulsan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
full-carpet floor mats ($78).
Elantra GT ($13,999).
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