LA JOLLA, CA – Hyundai often has talked about variants as a way to expand its lineup without the added marketing costs of a separate nameplate.

So the new 2-door and 5-door versions of the Elantra compact, on sale now at U.S. Hyundai dealers, make a lot of sense.

But they don’t just fulfill a business directive: They look good and perform well, too.

The 2-door Elantra is a first but the 5-door, officially the “Elantra GT,” replaces the previous-generation Elantra’s “Touring” hatchback. Both are assembled in South Korea, whereas some Elantra sedans now are U.S.-built.

The new coupe and hatchback have the benefit of the hot-selling, current-generation 4-door, introduced in 2011, as their basis.

The current-gen Elantra sedan, released early last year, now is a serious contender in the U.S. compact-car segment. Some 152,575 have been sold through September, making it No.12 on WardsAuto’s Top 15 best-sellers of 2012.

All three Elantras ride on the same platform, although the GT has a different rear section, which accounts for it being 9 ins. (23 cm) shorter in total length and 2 ins. (5 cm) shorter in wheelbase. The 2-door Elantra is 0.4 ins. (1 cm) longer overall than the sedan.

The coupe has unique sheet metal rearward of its B-pillar, Hyundai says, as well as a changed trunk lid from the 4-door.

The Elantra hatchback is largely analogous in looks to the European Hyundai i30 5-door.

Both new U.S. Elantra variants are equipped with the same 1.8L 4-cyl. engine used in the sedan. It produces 145 hp and 130 lb.-ft. (176 Nm) of torque in the coupe, and 148 hp and 131 lb.-ft. (178 Nm) in the hatchback.

This is the rare category in which the Elantra underperforms the competition, including Mazda’s 155-hp Skyactiv 2.0L I-4. The Elantra GT’s matching of the Skyactiv Mazda3’s fuel economy (with automatic transmission) is less impressive in that light.

Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available in both new Elantras; the hatchback’s 6AT has a lockup torque converter for greater fuel sipping at highway speeds.

During test drives, both transmissions in the Elantra GT are good, although, as is typical with Hyundai/Kia automatics, they upshift fast to maximize fuel economy.

Both cars have a sporty demeanor from behind the wheel, with the hatchback the more athletic of the two, thanks to an aggressive throttle tip-in and firm suspension.

The coupe and GT both use MacPherson-strut front and V-torsion beam rear suspensions, with coil springs and hydraulic shock absorbers – twin-tube up front and monotube in the rear.

A front stabilizer bar is standard on both, as are disc brakes.

Standard on the 5-door Elantra is Hyundai’s new weight- and torque-buildup adjusting Driver-Selectable Steering System. Its three modes, comfort, normal and sport, err toward a heavy feel, however. Comfort has only a minor assisted feel and sport is negligibly firmer than the already-heavy normal.

Still, Hyundai deserves credit for letting drivers select their preferred steering feel instead of accepting the conventional one-size-fits-all approach. With electric power steering, these calibration choices add little expense.

While some Elantra sedan buyers claim real-world driving doesn’t live up to federal mileage estimates, here in the San Diego area the coupe and hatchback nearly meet their stated averages.

WardsAuto achieves the Environmental Protection Agency-estimated average 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) in the Elantra GT automatic tester, with 31.7 mpg tallied over 37 miles (60 km) at an average speed of 34 mph (55 km/h).

In the Elantra GT manual model, Hyundai says to expect 27/39 mpg (8.7-6.0 L/100 km) city/highway, or 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) combined.

An Elantra coupe with an automatic is expected to earn 28/39 mpg (8.4/6.0 L/100 km) city/highway, or 32 mpg average.

Over roughly 25 miles (40 km), at an average speed of 50 mph (80 km/h), our SE-grade test coupe returns 30.1 mpg (7.8 L/100 km), a bit below average, reflecting stop-and-go driving in suburban Escondido before hitting the highway back to La Jolla.

Both 2- and 5-door Elantra interiors boast high attention to styling and materials, in keeping with Hyundai’s now-signature approach to cabins.

Soft-touch material on the upper door panels is a nice feature in the $23,015 GT automatic driven here, as is contrast double-stitching on the leather seats.

Fit-and-finish is above average in all cars tested: The only flaws of note are gaping C-pillar trim pieces in both the 6AT coupe and hatchback.

Faux leather graining in the coupe is dated and out of place in its otherwise modern interior, but hard surfaces aren’t shiny or beset by orange peel, thankfully.

Seating comfort is high in both cars. The backseat of the 2-door is downright spacious and has decent middle-seat headroom.

The GT’s center rear seating position, however, brings the head of an above-average-height woman very close to the ceiling.

The GT’s rear seats fold flat, but there’s a catch: The head restraints must be removed for them to go down fully. The headrests fit in second-row foot wells.

With rear seats flat, cargo space in the GT is 51 cu.-ft. (1.4 cu.-m), just under the larger Hyundai Tucson cross/utility vehicle and significantly above the seats-down cargo volume of the ’12 Mazda3, a key competitor.

Hyundai has the Civic in its sights with the Elantra coupe, and it bests the Honda coupe in nearly all specs, including interior volume.

Its additional 3 ins. (7.6 cm) in overall length helps the Elantra trounce the Civic in passenger and cargo space.

While the Elantra 2-door is heftier than the Honda, the added weight doesn’t ding fuel economy. The Elantra matches the Civic automatic’s figures and outdoes the Civic manual.

Hyundai-typical low starting prices, $17,445 for the coupe and $18,395 for the hatch, are a plus, too. Although interesting to note is the continued shrinkage of the wide pricing gap Hyundai used to enjoy between it and the competition.

The Hyundai 2-door is priced closely to a similarly equipped Civic LX, which starts at $17,805.

The Elantra GT’s base price is $1,000 less than the ’12 Mazda3’s, but fully loaded the two are on par.

The boldness in pricing is more evidence Hyundai has arrived in the U.S. market and isn’t afraid to lose buyers who may be fond of Japanese makes.

Why should it be afraid? Both the new variants are well-appointed, roomy, fuel-efficient and fun to drive.

The Elantra coupe trumps the Civic 2-door in most respects, particularly styling.

The 5-door hatch is a solid entry, although the Mazda3 has the better powertrain and its sheet metal may be more appealing to American eyes than the Euro-looking GT.

Elantra sedan production has been strained by demand, and adding the coupe and GT variants will exacerbate the situation.

But the new models should bring the compact nameplate close next year to overtaking domestic compact contenders, the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus.

Overall, the Elantra still has a way to go before unseating the top-selling Civic and No.2 Toyota Corolla/Matrix, but give it time.

The Elantra coupe and hatchback are another dotted “i” and crossed “t” in Hyundai’s plan for world domination.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

'13 Hyundai Elantra Coupe
Vehicle type 2-door, 5-passenger front-wheel-drive car
Engine 1.8L D-CVVT, DOHC 4-cyl., aluminum block, head
Power (SAE net) 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 131 lb.-ft. (178 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 81 x 87.2
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic with overdrive lockup torque converter, Shiftronic
Wheelbase 106.3 ins. (270 cm)
Overall length 178.7 ins. (454 cm)
Overall width 69.9 ins. (178 cm)
Overall height 56.5 ins. (144 cm)
Curb weight 2,729-2,877 lbs. (1,238-1,305 kg)
Base price $17,445 ($23,190 as tested) plus $775 destination
Fuel economy 28/39 mpg (8.4-6.0 L/100 km) city/highway
Competition Honda Civic, Kia Forte Koup
Pros Cons
Daring styling Maybe too aggressive for some
Roomy backseat Still a chore to get back there
Low starting price Catching up to Civic