First Look: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

If you've never heard of the Hyundai Elantra Touring, the Korean brand's largely forgettable small wagon/hatch, don't worry, you're not alone. But at first glance, the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, which is making its debut at the 2012 Chicago auto show, is a much better-looking piece and should be more fun to drive.

While the Elantra sedan is a very good compact, it's not particularly sporty. The new Elantra Coupe, also taking the stage in Chicago, certainly looks the part, but while it should be slightly sportier than the sedan, it's the middle child on the performance scale. The GT (essentially a port over of the European-designed i30) is the performance model, hot-hatch style.

But not exactly in the way you traditionally think about a hot hatch.. The Elantra sedan's standard 148 horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder is untouched and still cranks out a mid-pack 131 lb-ft of torque. It will drive the same six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. It's more a "warm hatch," then. The sportiness comes in the handling, which Hyundai says will be sharper than the sedan's but won't completely sacrifice ride quality. The front MacPherson struts and rear twist beam remain, but both get stiffer springs and Sachs monotube dampers. Also stiffer are the front sway bar and the twist beam axle itself.

Hyundai has also added its Driver Selectable Steering Mode, which lets you choose between three settings that vary power assistance levels, on-center feel, and feedback in turns. If the Elantra sedan has a weak point, it's in the steering. Hopefully this mode cures it. Word to the wise: If you want maximum sportiness, get the "Style" package, as it comes with low-profile tires on 17-inch wheels and optimized suspension tuning.

Where the GT really shines is in practicality. Hyundai claims more passenger and cargo volume than the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus hatch, Mazda3 hatch, and Toyota Matrix. On top of that, Hyundai also claims the GT will weigh about the same as the sedan and at least 150 pounds less than its closest competitor. That and a claimed top of segment drag coefficient will help the GT return a Hyundai estimated 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway, slightly less than the sedan.

Features such as standard heated front seats, cooled glove box, steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, power driver seat, dual-zone climate control with a built-in ionizer, and an Elantra-first driver knee airbag are the icing on the cake. Optional leather, satellite radio, automatic headlights, and navigation sweeten the deal.

Look for the new Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback to join the also-new Coupe and the strong-selling sedan in dealerships this summer. Pricing hasn't been announced, but will likely run a bit higher than the sedan, owing to the extra sporty pieces.

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