I drove the Elantra GT not long after its Canadian launch in 2012 and quickly surmised that, for more than a couple of reasons, it should sell in big numbers.
For starters, Canadians love their hatchbacks. While some automakers are shedding their five-door models south of the border, the opposite is true up here.
Secondly, Hyundai needed a replacement for its sensible, but stodgy Touring wagon.
But the popularity of the GT, which should account for roughly one quarter of Elantra sales (54,760 overall in 2013), is down to more than just practicality and a willing market.
It?s also about the fun factor.
Unlike the coupe and sedan, Elantra GT is based on the European i30 hatchback. It was designed at Hyundai?s technical centre in Frankfurt, Germany, where it was given a stiffer, more driver-focused platform than its siblings.
And although I found it lively enough with a 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder and standard-equipped six-speed manual gearbox, I had wondered how much more satisfying it could be with just a few more ponies.
It wasn?t due to my prompting, but somebody was at least paying attention to the competition, and wisely swapped the 1.8 for a more potent 2.0-litre engine for 2014. With gasoline direct injection and a few other tweaks, it now supplies the GT with a near segment-leading 173 hp and 154 lb/ft of torque.
That?s up 25 hp and 23 lb/ft from last year, and tops the base powerplants from Mazda3 Sport, Focus 5-door and Impreza.
My GLS tester was also equipped with a six-speed manual, which provides crisp, precise shifts and a smooth clutch takeup, along with the ability to draw the most from the ?Nu? engine?s powerband.
Packaging of the GT doesn?t align with the sedan or coupe. The base ?L? model with six-speed manual ($18,349) comes well equipped for the price with power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt/telescopic steering, six-way manual adjust for the driver?s seat and six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with iPod/USB/auxiliary jacks.
And on the exterior, you?ll find a heated power mirrors and rear spoiler, along with 16-inch steel wheels.
What?s unexpected at this level is standard Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM). Using a button on the wheel, you can choose between Comfort, Normal and Sport with the first option providing the most power assist (and least steering feel), and Sport requiring noticeably more effort and a less vague sense of the road.
Move up to the GL ($19,499 with manual, $20,749 with six-speed auto), and you get a few more perks like heated front seats, Bluetooth, satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted controls and automatic headlights.
The GLS, as tested, provides a further bump in content with panoramic sunroof, eight-way power adjust for the driver?s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and nicer interior trim, like cloth door inserts.
And it rolls on a set of 16-inch alloys, rather than steel rims with wheelcovers, bringing my tester to a still reasonable $21,699. I thank Hyundai for not ponying up another $1,250 for the six-speed automatic.
SE trim ($24,699) and SE with Tech ($26,699) account for the greatest leap in price, and provide more premium items like dual zone climate control, upgraded audio, leather seats, side mirrors with integrated signals, and larger 17-inch alloys.
Tech adds a proximity key with pushbutton start, and rearview camera with a clever feature I hadn?t expected at this level. Shift into reverse, and a mechanized Hyundai badge tips out to reveal the camera below. Sure, it looks cool, but more importantly protects the lens from salt and road grime.
Without launching into a detailed account of the GT?s exterior, suffice to say that the company?s ?Fluidic Sculpture? design language lays down no shortage of creases and character lines and, as a result, reflections across the body surface.
I like the pronounced crease that bisects both door handles and, following the rising beltline, flows seamlessly into the taillights. It gives the GT a sense of forward motion.
Inside, the passenger cabin appears more dated than the all-new Corolla and Mazda3, but seating is still stylish, with double stitching and handsome checked fabric inserts, and the instruments and controls are thoughtfully laid out with simple buttons and knobs making it easy to operate the radio and HVAC.
There?s adequate headroom and ample knee room in back for two adults, three in a pinch. The middle armrest drops down with two cupholders.
Cargo space in behind the 60/40 split-folding bench is abundant, with a near segment-leading 651 litres. There?s a tray under the floor to hide valuables, and below it is the spare tire and even more storage.
Still not enough?
Flip up the rear seat cushions, and the seatbacks fold flat ? not angled like most vehicles. This increases cargo space to a generous 1,444 litres.
One thing missing in the cabin is a release button for the rear hatch. You have to unlock it with the key fob, and then feel around for the now salt-covered rear button to gain access.
But that?s a minor gripe against so many positives about this car, for instance, its more performance-oriented underpinnings.
Up front is a Mac strut suspension with 22 mm stabilizer bar to reduce body roll, and in back is a unique lightweight V-beam torsion axle with integrated stabilizer bar. The GT gets stiffer rear spring rates and Sachs dampers for improved body motion control.
I?m not saying this turns the Elantra GT into a hot hatch like the Golf GTI, but it heightens road sensation and composure, making it feel like more than a family hauler
Go hard into a corner, and you?ll notice minimal body lean. Power out, which is more rewarding with manual shift, and the GT exits smoothly and with authority as you wind up the revs.
I could bang on about the GT?s power-to-weight ratio and its drag co-efficient of 0.30, but although these numbers are surprisingly good, my point is that by doing so many small things well, Hyundai has somehow struck the right balance between functionality and fun.
Indeed, with cars like the Elantra GT, family-friendly motoring ? on a budget ? is becoming far more entertaining.
Hyundai Elantra GT 2014 at a glance
BODY STYLE: compact hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, six-speed manual (as tested) or six-speed automatic
ENGINE: 16-valve DOHC 2.0-litre inline four cylinder with GDI (173 hp, 154 lb/ft of torque)
CARGO: 651 litres behind rear seats, 1,444 litres with 60/40 second row folded flat
FUEL ECONOMY: 8.5/5.8/7.3 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb ? manual, as tested); 8.5/6.0/7.3 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb ? automatic)
Price: Base L 6MT $18,349; GL 6MT $19,499; GL 6AT $20,749; GLS 6MT $21,699; GLS 6AT $22,949; SE 6AT $24,699; SE Tech 6AT $26,699