2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE

Hyundai, on a roll for years, has recently hit a few stumbling blocks. Its vehicles are still considered good value—though perhaps not as exceptional as they once were—with great styling and well-built interiors, which are loaded with features. But the company apparently still hasn’t sussed out the intricacies of driver involvement or blending good ride with athletic handling, and recently they have received a drubbing in the press when it turned out many of their much-hyped EPA ratings were not accurate.

The new Elantra Coupe sums up many of these trends nicely. It is good looking—though the firm’s Fluidic Sculpture styling language looks better on the four-door Elantra to these eyes—and its swoopy sheetmetal shows excellence in panel pressing acumen, paint shop sophistication and assembly quality. Inside it is equally dramatic, though style does seem to trump function: the touch-screen for the infotainment system is too far a reach from the driver, and details like a little door designed to cover your iPod, which you cant close when the device is connected, undermine its appeal. The driving position is also a bit flawed, though back seat space and trunk room are generous. And newer competitors like the Dodge Dart not only match or beat the Elantra on equipment (heated steering wheel, etc) but also perceived quality of plastics and leather.

While the Hyundai is in no way bad to drive, it doesn’t inspire, either. Ride quality is generally good, but bigger pavement blemishes catch it out, as do repetitive bumps. Its steering is accurate enough for normal use, but doesn’t encourage the driver to chuck it at a series of bends, unlike a Ford Focus or Mazda3. I guess that doesn’t matter, as the Elantra doesn’t do sporty once committed to a corner, either. The powertrain, comprised of a 1.8-liter, 148hp inline four and six-speed auto, is smooth and refined, but has no sparkle: no rush to redline, no inspiring intake or exhaust note, to spur you on either. Nor does it provide more than class-average acceleration (low 8-sec range) or the rated fuel economy.

To that last point, no Hyundai product I’ve spent time with has come close to what the EPA says they should. And now it turns out the company’s testing was flawed (car companies submit their own numbers, on an honor system). Hyundai has admitted their mistake, and is planning on giving customers compensation. But even the revised, combined EPA rating of 31mpg wasn’t something I could get remotely close to; my numbers—in mainly urban use—of 24-25mpg were disappointing.

The summation is that Hyundai still builds great cars: well screwed together, with reliability backed by an exceptional warranty. There are still loads of goodies baked into each one, and they look great. But to take the next steps towards true automotive greatness, cars like the Elantra Coupe will need to inspire desire: to blitz a set of curves, to wring the engine’s neck to redline just for the sound it makes, to blend ride and handling into a seamless, polished whole. And they most definitely need to deliver on the promise their advertising and EPA numbers imply.

EPA ratings: 27/37; 31mpg combined
Price as tested: $23,965