2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe First Drive

Hyundai whispers "sport" and guns for the Honda Civic with the 2013 Elantra Coupe.

What It Is
Econo-car shoppers who just aren't ready for a stodgy sedan.
Best Thing
Coupe-like looks accentuated by actually being a coupe.
Worst Thing
Barn-sized doors and poor visibility.
Snap Judgment
It's sporty with a lowercase "s."


The door-diminished 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe is gunning for the Honda Civic Coupe. Case in point: Hyundai cites its car as having more power than the Civic, from a same-sized engine. The Korean H's coupe has better fuel economy, highway and city, than the Japanese H. The Elantra Coupe gets six speeds for all transmissions, while the Honda has just five to play with. And so on, and so forth. Hyundai is taking advantage of Honda's troubles to stick the knife in, and it's making no bones about it. Hey, that's how capitalism works, right?

Likewise, the Elantra Coupe plays in a market designed for young, frugal people -- mercifully, without invoking the tiresome "Gen-Y" misnomer -- who need something practical but less dull than a four-door. Hyundai cites the Elantra Coupe as "an expressive and sporty alternative to a sedan." Sedans aren't cool. But it helps that the regular Elantra is one of the more distinctive compacts on the road today -- so making it a legitimate coupe can't hurt.

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Walkaround

Certainly, reducing the amount of doors on the Elantra makes an already coupe-like shape even more striking. The Elantra Coupe gets a piano-black grille over its gapingly-outlined front end, ringed with chrome and giving the car the impression of a kid who's stuffed his mouth with chocolate cake. On the side, the lack of another door gives the Coupe the impression of looking tall, and slightly ungainly, as if it needs another foot of bodywork in length to look truly well-proportioned. In back there's a lower faux-diffuser in black plastic, and all Coupes get an integrated rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Almost all of the Coupe's sheetmetal is unique, despite adhering so much to the same styling principle as the sedan.

Sitting Down

The first thing you'll notice about the Elantra Coupe -- literally, before you climb in -- are its hangar-sized doors: a casualty of its sporty image, they're heavy and a stretch to close.

Next is the dashboard, which is the same as the sedan's: handsome and well-organized, yet with the same fussy center stack and its stacked climate control knobs that always trip us up. The bolstered seats are exclusive to the coupe, and they were firm and supportive. Hyundai touted its "premium materials" inside the Elantra Coupe, but the dashboard had bizarre textures that looked like no leather-wearing animal from this planet, and the seats had poor stitching that buckled that looked like they would split at the seams. Here's an oft-forgotten detail, however: Driver and passenger alike will find perfectly scalloped armrests, even in back.

You can get a manual transmission or a navigation system, but not both; sorry, manual enthusiasts. An optional Technology package can be added to only the automatic SE model, and at $2,350 it also comes with a rearview camera, premium audio system, and a dual-zone automatic climate control, in addition to the responsive and crystal-clear touchscreen navigation system.

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The trunk of the Elantra Coupe is commodious, hiding a full-size spare tire, and it's about the same size as the Kia Rio, which says more for the Rio's packaging than the Elantra's. In total, the Elantra Coupe has 95.4 cubic feet of room for human cargo -- exactly the same as the sedan. That's not only more than the Civic Coupe's at 83.2, but even more than the Accord and Nissan Altima coupes -- both midsizers a step above the Elantra fray. But unsurprisingly, the back seat takes a hit to the coupe's dimensions: its sloping roof will force anyone over average height to crane their necks, and visibility also paid a price.

Driving

The Elantra Coupe gets Hyundai's 1.8-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine, one that produces 148 fettled and slightly overwhelmed horses. At least it's a quiet ride, even when the engine's revved to hunt for more power -- which will be a common occurrence -- with little wind or road noise to interrupt the conversation.

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Drivers of automatic-equipped cars will find the transmission constantly downshifting for more acceleration, but fortunately on manual transmission-equipped cars, the clutch is smooth with good engagement. The manual's long throws are at least accurate, with the lever sliding unenthusiastically but quietly into each gear. Hyundai uses the same gearbox on almost all of its cars, but each one has their own special characteristics -- the Accent, for example, punishes those foolish enough to buy it with a manual. It's gratifying to report that the Elantra trio (coupe, GT, sedan) are better than this.

Both the GS and SE models can be had with a manual transmission, and the SE adds leather seats, a sunroof, and 17-inch alloy wheels, with a sport suspension that Hyundai says is tuned differently than models with the 16-inch wheels. But don't expect Genesis Coupe-levels of handling. The steering has been modified for quicker response and improved handling, but while it may be light around town it still lacks the direct connection and feel that's found on, say, the Honda Civic Coupe. The suspension is compliant with little body roll, but bumps over the little things: rocks, cracks, lichen, Wrigleys Juicy Fruit that would otherwise be stuck to your running shoes, etc. The take away is that Hyundai needs to work on its suspension refinement a little more.

Summary

The Elantra Coupe matches the Civic Coupe blow for blow, and it's certainly got its attributes down on paper, if not in character. We would probably spring for the GS model, with its 16-inch alloy wheels and cloth seats, because Hyundai's not really fooling anyone with its sporty pretentions. But if you are, get the manual transmission and save yourself some cash for all your Gen-Y activities, of which the Elantra Coupe will be a practical, willing part.

Basic Specs

1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, six-speed manual or automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, 148-hp, $17,445, 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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