---- — You don’t have to step too deeply into the dusty annals of automotive history to reach the time when many two-door cars were simply lower-priced variations of four-door cars.
When manufacturing technology wasn’t as advanced as today, hanging doors on autos was much more difficult for car makers. So if you could live with just the two front doors and accept the inconvenience of flipping forward the front seats so passengers could wriggle to the bench in back, car companies would sell you a two-door model for less than a four-door model, because it cost them less to make it.
Not anymore. These days, two-door variants still share the basic body work of their four-door kin. But most often, they’re slimmed, shaved and raked to look more svelte, racy and streamlined. They aim to extend a model line’s reach to young, usually single drivers who want a stylish, expressive automobile, and who consider a back seat only a stopgap for occasional use – like when they’re stuck hauling a nephew or niece.
And forget about saving money. Very often, models with two fewer doors cost more than their four-door counterparts.
Some shining examples of slick, sporty coupes (as the two-door versions are most often named) that cost more than their related sedans (the catchword for four-door renditions) include the mid-size Hyundai Elantra. The 2013 Hyundai Elantra Sedan starts at $17,590, while the Elantra Coupe lists at an opening price of $18,220. The sedan version of the Nissan Altima 2.5S lists at $23,590 to start, while the Altima 2.5S Coupe begins at a list price of $26,710. In the luxury segment, the Infinti G37 Sedan starts at $38,145, while the G37 Coupe opens at $41,195.
The popular Honda Civic Coupe is a notable exception. Its 2013 starting list price of $18,755 is $200 less than a Civic Sedan of the same grade. Of course, for that $200 discount, you give up more than 11 cubic feet of passenger volume, due to the low rake of the rear roof line.
But remember, while two-door versions give you less physical car, they’re designed to provide more sporting style than their comparable sedan partners. At Salem Ford Hyundai in Salem, N.H., Hyundai sales manager Mike Palmer sees the approach working with the Elantra Coupe. The two-door variant is only about 6 months old. Hyundai launched the coupe last spring, joining the long-established Elantra Sedan.
“It has tapped into the younger crowd,” Palmer said. “Young women especially love the two-door coupe.”
The higher price doesn’t deter shoppers drawn to its racier attitude. In fact, Palmer explained that full-dress models with extras like two-tone leather upholstery sell readily at Salem Ford Hyundai, even though their list prices can run more than $3,000 above a standard Elantra Coupe.
It’s true that more drivers still choose the four-door model. Palmer estimates that the dealership sells about three sedans for each two-door Elantra it moves. But many of those Elantra Coupe buyers represent new business for Hyundai, because they never would have purchased an Elantra Sedan. They would have bought a sleek two-door from another company.
“This gives Hyundai something to compete against cars like the Honda Civic Coupe,” Palmer said. “It’s something new. It gives people options. And everyone knows we love options.”
But what do you give up when you drive a two-door variant? Even if you’re 26, unmarried, and you solo commute 90 percent of the time, how big a burden could the loss of two doors create, especially in special circumstances?
To see, I placed a Hyundai Elantra Coupe in such a circumstance. My wife Donna and I loaded one for a three-day, suicide road trip, when you spend nearly as much time driving as you do at your destination. We packed in two fluffy sleeping bags, a big cooler weighted with food, two travel bags, a tote with a gift we’d deliver, laptop, Market Basket paper grocery bag with more food, another Market Basket bag filled with who knows what, and some tools. That all fit handily into the trunk with room to spare.
The front cabin matched our needs very well. We never felt crowded, and it provided ample nooks, spaces, shelves and receptacles for travel necessities like cell phone, quarters for tolls, candy bars, sunglasses and gloves for the seasonal chill.
Fittingly, we needed the back seat for accessory space only, as it’s intended. It held a pillow and blanket for in-transit snoozing (passenger only, of course), and a cap and a couple of sweaters and jackets, again for the seasonal chill. Space was never an issue. Unlike some other coupe/sedan pairs, the cabin size of the Elantra Coupe is the same as the Elantra Sedan, offering close to 96 cubic feet of volume – about the same as the Honda Civic Sedan but about 12 cubic feet larger than the Civic Coupe.
Yes, laying even those few items onto the back seat was awkward. We had to flip and slide a front seat forward, reposition a front shoulder strap that hung in the way, and still stretch deep into the back cabin to arrange the space. Then the front seat had to be flipped and slid back. It needed repositioning for its occupant. And that occupant had to reach and contort to find the shoulder strap again.
That’s the typical drill for any two-door car. It’s hardly a burden. But it’s a handful more steps than you endure in a four-door model.
After that the Elantra Coupe performed flawlessly. I drove very long stretches without feeling any muscle aches or road fatigue. The car averaged 35 miles per gallon. Donna and I chatted unbothered by intruding noise. The audio system – upgraded in the fully equipped model I tested – provided crystal companionship. As part of an optional, $2,350 technology package, the Elantra Coupe included one of the most helpful, easy-to-operate navigation systems I’ve used.
Of course, we would have enjoyed those same comforts had we road-tripped in an Elantra Sedan with the same features. So is the slippery, sportier style of the two-door version worth some small inconveniences and a small boost in price?
Enough drivers think so for Hyundai to go far with its new Elantra Coupe. As Mike Palmer of Salem Ford Hyundai said, we like options.
2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe Vehicle type: 2-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive mid-size coupe Price range: $18,220 to $21,520 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance Engine: 1.8-liter I4 Power: 148 horsepower at 6,500 rpm; 131 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 28 mpg city; 38 mpg highway Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 179 inches Width: 70 inches Height: 57 inches Weight: 2,687 pounds Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons Turning circle: 34.8 ft.