Driven: 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE

By Brandon Turkus

July 17, 2012

—Brooklyn, Michigan
If you remember high school, then odds are, you remember the cliques. These exclusive social groups ranged from the jocks, to Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, to wanna-be rappers, to the point that there seemed to be a group for every student on campus. This diversity extended to the parking lot, as well. Cars of every shape, size, and performance level could be found just outside those schoolhouse doors. If we had to guess, though, the overwhelming majority of rides in our lot sported only a pair of doors.
It’s not hard to see why. The two-door vehicle has been around for over 100 years and has infiltrated every aspect of the automotive world. Today, though, the primary reason people buy a coupe, is because of styling. Coupes are cool, especially when parked next to a sedan. Case in point, the all-new, 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe. Based on the North American Car Of The Year-winning Elantra Sedan, its purpose in life is to be a more stylish, exciting version of its ho-hum brother. How does that work out? 
[Click here to read our review of the 2011 Kia Forte Koup]
Besides subtracting a pair of doors, Hyundai has made a few other style changes for its newest two-door model. Part of the coupe formula is giving the car an air of sportiness. On the nose, the hexagonal grille has been tweaked, with a gloss black divider in place of the body-color divider on the sedan. Upper and lower grille accents are gloss black instead of chrome. The A- and C-pillars feature a more aggressive rake. Out back, the lower bumper valence has been blacked out and a pair of chrome exhaust tips has been fitted. Aesthetically, the interior is pretty much identical to the sedan. Changes mainly exist on a smaller level, like the reformed seats, featuring additional side bolsters for better support.
As with the body, the mechanical changes have been kept to a minimum. Power is still provided by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which produces 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the Sedan, a six-speed manual is available on both of the Coupe’s trim levels, not just the base model. A six-speed autobox is also available for those with an aversion to three pedals. The suspension has also been tweaked, with revised damper tuning to deliver a sportier ride.
The dynamic performance of the Elantra Coupe never really came together. The steering, while decently weighted, lacked a real sense of feedback. Although things felt okay on-center, it was difficult to garner feedback through the steering wheel in the bends. To be frank, we found ourselves guessing as to what the front tires were doing as we zipped through the Irish Hills.
The ride was also lacking on a dynamic front. Michigan’s pockmarked roads gave it fits through the bends, as it tended to jolt and sidestep over the imperfections. Roll was decently controlled, although the suspension was decidedly oriented towards understeer when pushed. Squat wasn’t an issue, namely because there wasn’t enough power to really get the back-end to go down. Dive felt well controlled, no doubt due to the retuned dampers. As with the steering, there just wasn’t a lot of feedback coming through the suspension. The combination of these two traits results in an experience that is hardly confidence-inspiring.
Speed isn’t the Elantra Coupe’s strong suit either. Its 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque are low to begin with, especially when compared with the Kia Forte Koup (the base 2.0-liter boasts 156 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque). Low-end torque is pretty weak, although performance felt moderately better as the revs climbed. The 4700-rpm torque peak is too high to really exploit on a regular basis, which forced us to dip deep into the throttle to really get moving.
The six-speed automatic felt good when left on its own. Upshifts happened fast enough, and downshifts felt well timed. We weren’t crazy about the economy gearing on offer here, as it works against the already underpowered engine. The manual mode works as expected, giving the driver control of shifting. It didn’t feel particularly faster or slower than just leaving things in automatic.
From a comfort standpoint, sportifying the suspension of the Elantra Coupe seems to have disrupted things too much. There’s too much vertical motion, and NVH has suffered because of the firmer ride. We felt and heard most impacts, and the overall feeling of tire roar was too prevalent to be acceptable, particularly considering how quiet the Sedan is.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of buying an Elantra Coupe is the fuel economy it offers. Buyers of the six-speed manual will see 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highways, while automatic buyers lose 1 mpg in each cycle. That compares favorably to the Kia Forte Koup and its 25/34 rating for the 2.0-liter automatic. Opting up to the 2.4 means a meager 22/32 mpg. While the extra power both the Kia engines offer would be nice, netting 400 miles to a tank in a compact car certainly sounds good.
On a practical level, the Elantra Coupe makes even more sense. Hyundai claims class-leading interior space, with 110.2 cubic feet (95.4 of which is dedicated to passenger space), besting its two primary competitors, the Honda Civic (94.9 cubic feet total, and 83.2 for passengers) and the Kia Forte Koup (103.3 total, and 90.7 in the cabin). In fact, the Elantra Coupe is so spacious that it isn’t even classified as a compact, moving up to the mid-size class with the likes of the two-door versions of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, despite its compact footprint.
The base GS starts at $17,445. Adding the six-speed automatic kicks things up to $18,445. The top-spec SE starts at $19,745, and the automatic SE will run $20,745. The only option on our SE tester, besides the automatic transmission, was the $2350 Technology Package, which included navigation, a 360-watt stereo, automatic headlights, and proximity key. All told, we’d be shelling out $23,870 for our tester.
At the end of the day, the comparison to be made isn’t with some other manufacturer, but in the Hyundai showroom itself. It’s here that you’ll need to decide between Elantra Coupe and Elantra Sedan. Both cars feature nearly identical interior dimensions (95.6 cubic feet in the Sedan, and 94.4 in the Coupe) and equipment levels. The price difference starts at $750 in the Sedans favor, but when fully loaded models are considered, the Coupe is $300 cheaper. The four-door has a more comfortable and livable ride, along with an extra pair of doors for easier backseat access, while the Coupe is deciedly more stylish. So readers, Coupe or Sedan?
2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE
Engine: Inline-four, 1.8 liters, 16v
Output: 148 hp/131 lb-ft
Weight: 2729 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 39/28 mpg
Base Price: $20,745
On Sale: Now