ANN ARBOR, MI – Americans are flocking to CUVs like never before, but Hyundai rightly notes those tall, bulky vehicles typically aren’t all that fun-to-drive.
That’s why it’s promoting its next-generation Elantra GT as a marriage of the kind of utility a CUV provides (or maybe better) and the athleticism inherent in a low-riding, lighter, compact hatchback.
“Cargo capacity is larger than a lot of the entry(-level), smaller CUVs,” Mike Evanoff, manager-product planning for Hyundai Motor America, says at an Elantra GT drive here.
Maybe not “a lot” of them, but as he points out the Elantra GT has 55.1 cu.-ft. (1.6 cu.-m) of cargo volume with its rear seats folded down, well beyond the Toyota C-HR’s 36.4 cu.-ft. (1.0 cu.-m) and edging out the Mazda CX-3, Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade.
So ample cargo capacity is good; Evanoff says research shows compact-hatch owners actually use that utility more than CUV buyers, but that alone won’t stop the stampede to CUVs.
That’s why Hyundai has boosted the GT’s offerings with the new-generation ’18 model, going beyond a single grade and introducing the Elantra GT Sport alongside the base GT. The Sport boasts Hyundai’s 1.6L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl. making 201 hp. While maximum output doesn’t come on until 6,000 rpm, the mill’s 195 lb.-ft. (264-Nm) of torque is available throughout the heart of the rev range, from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm, giving it the go-go character expected from a hot hatch.
Making the GT Sport extra fun is fast gear changes from Hyundai’s 7-speed DCT, the upgrade transmission for the 1.6L (don’t worry purists; you can still get a manual).
On specs, the GT Sport is more of a very-warm than hot hatch as it falls somewhere in the middle of the competitive set on output. It tops the new Honda Civic hatchback’s Sport Touring grade’s 180 hp, as well as the Mazda3 Grand Touring hatch’s 184 hp, but is shy of the 250-hp Ford Focus ST and the 210-hp Volkswagen Golf GTI. Both the Focus ST and GTI, which also outdo the GT Sport on torque, employ 2.0L turbocharged and DI fours.
The closest compact competition looks to be a non-hatch, the coupe-and-sedan-only Civic Si, making 205 hp and 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm) of torque from its 1.5L turbo four.
We experienced the GT Sport briefly in San Diego in July, but get more extensive seat time here in late August and come away impressed. While there aren’t competitive models to test head to head at either location, the GT Sport feels every bit as light and maneuverable through the corners and as fast off the line as the competitive set, the exception being the Golf GTI, still the gold standard for the hot-hatch sector.
Standard paddles with the Elantra Sport’s DCT allow lower gears to be held longer. Common to many Hyundais, the transmission upshifts faster than we’d like, so we manually knock it down a gear or two for improved acceleration up hills.
Engineers reworked the Elantra GT’s body and chassis for ’18, reducing body-in-white parts 25% from the ’17 GT and nearly doubling advanced high-strength-steel content from 27.2% to 53.0%. Within that, there’s been a tripling of hot-stamped-steel content, with the car’s front-door openings the main beneficiaries.
With the growth of AHSS, and an 18% rise in structural adhesive use, body rigidity increases 18%.
The GT Sport’s chassis improves on the base GT’s by using a multilink rear suspension vs. a torsion beam. The former is evidence of the car’s European lineage (the GT Sport is sold as the Hyundai i30 in Europe). The GT Sport also has a rear stabilizer bar and higher spring rates front and rear, plus 18-in. vs. 17-in. wheels and tires.
The base GT isn’t tested here or during the shorter drive in San Diego, so it’s hard to say how much worse, if any, the ride and handling is compared with the GT Sport’s. Those not needing extra horsepower and torque or the more dynamic suspension, will find the base GT a great deal for the utility it provides, beginning at $19,350 for a 162-hp 2.0L/6-speed manual model and $20,350 for the same engine mated to a 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic.
In both the Michigan and California tests, the GT Sport’s braking was firm and steering was nicely weighted with low effort.
One criticism of the car is that it doesn’t sound sporty enough. The exhaust tone is pretty muted for a hot hatch. It’s possible Hyundai wants to create some distance, audibly, when it brings its N performance lineup to the U.S. Or it fears being rated poorly for excess engine noise in owner surveys. That is the reason you won’t find an acceleration-zapping Eco mode on this car.
The GT Sport’s interior is standard-issue black with red accents. It is still an effective look for a sport compact, although even more red would be nice. While the seats and dash have plenty of the color, the doors are solid black and devoid of much decoration.
The front seats have large side bolsters to grip our upper body in cornering and a comfortable bottom cushion with good thigh support for this taller-than-average female.
Due to its European roots, the Elantra GT’s interior, which like the exterior basically is a carbon copy of the i30’s, has above-average materials. Soft-touch covers the instrument panel and the tops of all four doors. There also is a louvered door to conceal cupholders, which are high quality with hard retractable nubs and rubber-textured bottoms.
The touchscreen is easy to use, with a lot of negative space around icons for easy selections. Voice recognition is less favorable. Setting an address is a too-many-steps process with a lot of “Are-you-sure-?” confirmations needed. Voice commands to tune radio stations are simpler.
Hyundai says the average compact-hatch buyer is young, male, educated and in a professional job – what it deems a “quality” customer that will grow with the brand, and making it obvious why so many compact hatchbacks have appeared in recent years.
This one is one of the better ones in terms of performance, features and utility for the price, with the GT Sport ranging from the mid-to-upper-$20,000-range if the optional tech package is added, roughly on par with the competitive set.
In typical Hyundai “value” fashion, the tech package is loaded, having nine advanced safety systems, half of which (front pedestrian detection, driver-attention alert, high-beam assist and adaptive cruise control) are rare within the compact-hatch sector.
The Elantra GT and GT Sport are on sale now at U.S. Hyundai dealers.
'18 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-door, front-wheel-drive passenger car|
|Engine||1.6L turbocharged and direct injected 4-cyl., all aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||201 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||195 lb.-ft. (260 Nm) @ 1,500-4,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||77.0 x 85.0|
|Wheelbase||104.3 ins. (2,649 mm)|
|Overall length||170.9 ins. (4,341 mm)|
|Overall width||70.7 ins. (1,796 mm)|
|Overall height||57.7 ins. (1,466 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,067-3,155 lbs. (1,391-1,431 kg)|
|Price as tested||$29,210, incl. $885 destination and handling fee|
|Fuel economy||26/32 mpg (9.0-7.4 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla iM, Volkswagen Golf|
|1.6L turbo/7-speed DCT||Output not totally “hot”|
|Touchscreen HMI||Voice recognition so-so|
|Utility of a hatch||Not tall like a CUV|