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2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Test Drive Review
If you’re looking for a reliable car for daily transportation, a sedan may seem like the obvious choice. As you've probably noticed, the conventional four-door has been losing ground in recent years, supplanted by small crossover SUVs. However, if you’re looking for a third option as a daily driver, a hatchback could be the ideal route.
Hatchbacks provide more usable cargo space than sedans, but retain the sporty driving dynamics and fuel efficiency you lose with a crossover. Hatchbacks also cost less than your typical crossover SUV. A hatchback like the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT exists in that perfect sweet spot of enjoyability, affordability, and practicality.
Hyundai has done hatchbacks before, starting with many of its early entries in the North American market. More recently, Hyundai introduced the hip Veloster, as well as a hatchback version of the previous-generation Elantra, also called the Elantra GT.
But that Elantra GT felt more like an afterthought, born out of convenience and a need to expand the lineup. It didn’t feel fully developed and went largely unnoticed. But the new 2018 Elantra GT is a standout small car, and it's perfectly suited to compete with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus hatch, and Subaru Impreza wagon.
Look and Feel
What changed from the first generation of the Elantra GT to this year's version? The first thing you’ll notice is that it has a more upright layout reminiscent of the Volkswagen Golf. It also has mature, sophisticated styling inside and out—another hallmark of the Golf. It’s safe to say Hyundai has its sights set on the German hatchback with the Elantra GT.
Great strides were made in the area of cabin styling. Risks were taken, and they have paid dividends. One bold design choice was the floating touchscreen in the center of the dash. In general, Hyundai interiors are handsome but staid. This, however, is a leap forward, giving the impression of a more upscale car.
There are just two trims for the Elantra GT—Base and Sport. The Base trim comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. The Base also comes with a 60/40 split-fold rear bench seat, SiriusXM satellite radio, and 6-way manually adjustable driver's and front passenger seats.
Upgrading to the Sport adds LED head- and taillights, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, heated front seats, push-button start, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Sport also adds turn signals integrated into the side mirrors, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and an upgraded 4.2-inch TFT color display in the instrument panel.
Inside, the Sport features red accents around the Start button, climate controls, and vents. It also has a red accented shift knob and red stitching on the seats, shift boot, and steering wheel. That sounds like a lot of red, but it's actually tastefully executed. Compare it to the red seats in the Civic Type R and even the Si, and you can see the Elantra GT Sport conveys that racy vibe without going overboard.
There are two engines in the Elantra GT, one for each trim. The Base trim gets a 2-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. It makes 161 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This engine can be paired with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Our test model came equipped with the latter.
The Sport comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This engine also comes standard with a 6-speed manual, while the optional unit is a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
With either trim, if the automatic transmission is selected, Hyundai provides a Drive Mode selector. Located next to the shifter, it provides Normal and Sport drive modes, and it truly changes the nature of the car. If left in Normal, acceleration is acceptable at best, but underwhelming when you’re trying to gain speed from a green light or when attempting to merge on a highway.
Put it in Sport mode, and the car livens right up. The transmission becomes more proactive, downshifting quickly when you want to accelerate. It also holds those shifts longer as the automatic works its way through the gears. The 2-liter engine still makes a lot of noise, but now it has the acceleration to match it.
We did not get to drive the Elantra GT Sport, but it should be noted that it shares an engine with its corporate cousin, the Kia Soul Turbo. In that application, it provides plenty of motivation, so it should be plenty in the Elantra GT Sport, too.
Even in the Base, cornering and braking were great. Body roll was minimal, and steering response was sharp. And yet shock absorption was on par with that of more upscale cars. Much of our week was spent on the cratered roads of New England, and all the while, the ride was smooth.
This is made more impressive by Hyundai’s differentiation of suspensions by trim. While the Sport trim has a multilink independent rear suspension, the Base trim has a torsion-beam setup. By comparison, a torsion-beam steup is a bit more rudimentary. One would expect the Sport trim to be the more impressive handler—and it likely is—but the Base has been fantastic to drive.
The fact that Hyundai differentiates suspension geometries among trims—and that the Base setup handles as well as it does—is a testament to the time and effort Hyundai engineers have put into developing the Elantra GT.
EPA fuel economy for the base engine with the manual transmission is listed at 23 mpg city, 31 highway, 26 combined. With the automatic, figures improve by 1 mpg, to 24, 32, 27.
As for the Sport’s turbocharged engine, EPA estimates are 22 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined with the manual. It jumps up to 26 city, 32 highway, and 28 combined if you opt for the 7-speed dual-clutch unit.
In our week with the Base automatic, we observed an average of 29.2 miles per gallon in mixed city and highway driving.
Form and Function
Too often, an automaker designs an interior that is bold or futuristic, and everyday usability suffers. The Ford Focus has a neat dash layout, but the controls are confusing at times, and it doesn't have many places for all your stuff. The Elantra GT blends form and function by offering a front passenger area loaded with cubbies, compartments, and cupholders.
The front seats of the Elantra GT are alright, but just alright. Side bolstering is good for keeping you in place when taking a quick corner, but over a longer drive, they may get uncomfortable. The back seats lack any real legroom. Kids can fit back there, but it will be a tight squeeze for full-size adults, especially if a taller adult sits in the front seat.
The Elantra GT provides plenty of cargo space. It has 24.9 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split-fold rear seats. Fold the rear seats down, and cargo space grows to 55.1 cubic feet. Both numbers are slightly better than those of the Volkswagen Golf.
With either trim, if you select the automatic transmission, a Tech Package becomes available. The Tech Package includes a massive panoramic sunroof, navigation system, ventilated seats, Infinity premium audio system, and a Qi wireless charging pad.
Such charging pads have typically been a value-add only for users of compatible Android phones, but Apple announced that its latest crop of iPhones, the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, will finally offer wireless charging. The X isn’t out yet, and we didn’t have an 8 to test, but Hyundai claims the Qi charging pad will be compatible.
At the center of the dash is the 8-inch Blue Link touchscreen infotainment system. It’s a vivid screen with easy-to-read fonts and a sensible menu layout. One of the only knocks I have against it is that I wish the icons were a bit larger. Overall, it’s a great system, and pairing a phone via Bluetooth was incredibly easy. You can also plug your smartphone into the USB port to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These systems work seamlessly within the Blue Link touchscreen, allowing you to transition effortlessly between your smartphone’s podcast and the car’s radio.
The Elantra GT comes standard with front and side-impact airbags, electronic stability control, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines. Blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist are optional on the Base, but standard on the Sport trim.
Even without blind-spot detection, the Base trim comes with a blind-spot mirror that provides a wide-angle view of your flank and is a great low-cost safety solution.
The Sport model is available with forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning, but you don’t get the option to shell out for them if you get the Base. It would be nice to have the option available on both trims. For reference, Toyota provides the Corolla with Toyota Safety Sense P as standard equipment, incorporating many of these features at no extra cost.
The Elantra GT has not yet been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the 2017 Elantra Sedan is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with the same high-tech safety gear offered on the GT.
Base MSRP for the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT is $19,350. The Sport trim starts at $23,250, but with either trim, the price can jump if you start adding features and packages. Our Base automatic test model came equipped with the Style Package and the Tech Package, bringing the price up to $27,640. A fully loaded GT Sport will run just under $30,000. Pricing is very close to that of the Golf, which has a starting price of $19,895 and predictably climbs from there.
Even at that price, it’s difficult to find holes with the Elantra GT. Hyundai heard all the demands of the daily driver and addressed them, but didn’t stop there. The real surprise was that this car has been injected with a sporting nature, which should help reduce the monotony of the daily commute.
Our big question is how the Elantra GT Sport would stack up against a Volkswagen GTI. In considering Base trims, it would be hard to choose between this and a Volkswagen Golf as a refined, dependable daily driver. The fact that it’s such a tossup speaks to what a competent car the 2018 Elantra GT Sport truly is.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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