Yesterday, Hyundai threw one of the better-attended press events at the Chicago Auto Show, launching two new models to expand its successful Elantra compact lineup.

We've already shown you live photos of the 2013 Elantra Coupe and 2013 Elantra GT five-door hatchback, shot as the cars were revealed for the first time.

John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai America, introduce the cars and offered some details their place in the expanding Elantra range.

Crucial compacts

The new models show the importance of the Elantra compact to Hyundai--and to its pursuit of higher and better gas-mileage ratings.

All three Elantras share the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.

The sleek roofline of the 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe may make the back seat challenging for adults--we'll let you know when we test the car--but it's rated at 110 cubic feet of interior space, with 14.8 cubic feet of trunk space.

John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai America, with 2012 Hyundai Elantra sedan at Chicago Auto Show, Feb 2012

John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai America, with 2012 Hyundai Elantra sedan at Chicago Auto Show, Feb 2012

EPA ratings for the Elantra Coupe are projected to be 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway with the six-speed manual, or 28 city, 39 highway with the automatic.

Hyundai says the 2013 Elantra GT five-door hatchback offers more interior volume than the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Toyota Matrix, or Volkswagen Golf. And carefully picking its statistics, it also notes that the Elantra GT's cargo volume is greater than that of the (subcompact) Nissan Juke.

Make it lighter

The Hyuyndai presentation underscored the importance of light weight to raising gas mileage by pointing out that the Elantra GT was 151 pounds lighter than a Mazda3 hatchback, 175 pounds lighter than a Ford Focus five-door, and a full 222 pounds lighter than a Volkswagen Golf.

The company demonstrated this using a 151-pound employee named Miles, who trotted out with a variety of dumbbells to demonstrate the added weight of the competitors.

The punchline? "The Elantra GT is the lightest vehicle in its class, by a Miles." [groan]

A Mazda spokeswoman later noted that, by her figures, Hyundai appeared to have compared its manual-transmission Elantra GT to an automatic version of the Mazda3.

[UPDATE: Data on Mazda's website for the 2012 Mazda3 model fitted with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder show a curb weight of 2,896 lbs for the manual and 2,969 lbs for the automatic. Hyundai gives the curb weight of the 2013 Elantra GT fitted with the manual as 2,745 pounds (or 2,784 pounds with the automatic), giving differences of 151 pounds for the manual cars and 185 pounds for the automatic versions. The Mazda spokewoman was wrong.]

But we liked the pun anyway.

Confirming gas mileage

Krafcik also specifically addressed a recent controversy over the Elantra's gas mileage ratings.

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe, Chicago Auto Show, Jan 2012

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe, Chicago Auto Show, Jan 2012

He cited a test by Popular Mechanics in which the magazine tested both the 2012 Hyundai Elantra sedan and a 2012 Ford Focus SFE (the Focus model also rated at 40 mpg highway).

The magazine found that at a steady speed, both cars surpassed their 40-mpg ratings at a steady 55 mph.

When tested at a more typical highway speed of 75 mph, neither car hit 40 mpg--with the 2012 Elantra achieving 39.3 mpg, and the Focus SFE only reaching 33.5 mpg.

Although Krafcik didn't say so, the moral of the story is that if you drive at 55 mph on highways, you'll get much better gas mileage than at 75 mph. Very few people do so, however, so the 75-mph rating is the more useful one.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, Chicago Auto Show, Feb 2012

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, Chicago Auto Show, Feb 2012

Gas mileage expected

"Gas mileage is expected," Krafcik said in his presentation. Indeed, while the Chicago Auto Show has traditionally been strong on trucks, only a single revised crossover--the 2013 GMC Acadia range--was launched.

Otherwise, Chicago was all about new cars, including many models previously introduced at last month's Detroit Auto Show.

The Elantra range now includes three models rated at 40 mpg on the highway: the original four-door sedan (in manual and automatic versions), and the new coupe with manual transmission.

The shorter, stubber, and presumably less aerodynamic five-door Elantra GT model misses the mark by 1 mpg, coming in at 28 mpg city but 39 mpg highway.

Other Hyundai 40-mpg-highway models are the new Veloster sport coupe with manual transmission, the Accent subcompact (in both manual and automatic versions), and the Sonata Hybrid.


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