Hyundai tries to woo the CUV crowd with a European five-door.
Crossovers are the current flavor of the week, but a new segment of utility vehicles is starting to make some headway in the United States market — hatchbacks.
Admittedly the hatchback market is still small, but it is growing. Most recently we've seen Honda and Chevrolet join a pool of compact five-doors that already includes Ford, Toyota, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen. Hyundai is now bolstering its efforts in the segment with its all-new 2018 Elantra GT.
What's in a name
Similarities between the Elantra sedan and Elantra GT are in name only. You see, the Elantra GT isn't based on the Elantra sedan sold here, but rather the i30 sold in Europe. And if you're going to go after typical Golf buyers, you might as well do so with a vehicle developed on VW's home turf.
Looking the part
The 2018 Elantra features a nice blend of Hyundai's typical styling with clear European influences. The front of the Elantra GT sports styling similar to the new 2018 Sonata sedan, right down to the latest interpretation of Hyundai's cascading front grille. All Elantra GT models also get vertical LED daytime running lights and functional air curtains that are plucked from the Sonata sedan.
The Elantra GT is a classic two-box design without the kind of sloping rear hatch you'll find on the Honda Civic. Although that fact might ding the Elantra GT a point or two in the style department, it has some very useful benefits. Rear-seat headroom isn't compromised and the Elantra GT's cargo area is downright cavernous at 55.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. That's about 9 cubic feet better than the Honda Civic hatchback and more than 2 cubic feet better than the Golf. The Elantra GT is even more voluminous than small crossovers like the Jeep Renegade and Audi Q3.
The rear of the Elantra GT has a distinct European vibe and some clear design influences from the VW Golf. Taillights are thin and wide and can be upgraded with LED technology. The Elantra GT's rear window is a wrap-around affair with a standard rear spoiler adding a dose of sport. Elantra GT Sport models benefit from a dual exhaust setup.
Inside the Elantra GT has a more youthful look than the Elantra sedan. The dashboard uses a horizontal orientation with plenty of scoops and shapes to keep the look interesting without feeling busy. Elantra GT Sport models also benefit from red accents that help break up the car's all-black interior.
All Elantra GT models use an 8-inch touchscreen display for infotainment controls. Some might not like the tacked-on look, but we like it in the Elantra GT. Almost video game controller-like in design, it adds a bit of fun to the car's interior. The 8-inch unit runs Android Auto and Apple CarPlay out of the box, which is a good thing considering Hyundai charges you extra for navigation.
HVAC controls are positioned below and are a snap to use. A matte-faced LCD readout screen is a small detail that that gives the Elantra GT a more quality feel. Showing its European roots, the Elantra GT's lock/unlock button is positioned centrally in the dash.
Base Elantra GT models come standard with cloths seats; leather seats can be specified for an additional charge. The up-scale Sport model comes standard with black leather.
Seats in the Elantra GT are comfortable with good support all around. The Elantra GT's front thrones can be further upgraded with heat and ventilation. Rear seat room is spacious enough for averaged-size adults. As previously mentioned, the cargo area in the Elantra GT is quite generous.
Two basic flavors of the Elantra GT are on offer — base and Sport. The standard Elantra GT uses a 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder that is good for 162 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can select between a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
The Elantra GT Sport uses a smaller 1.6L engine that actually makes more power thanks to a turbo that boosts output to 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Once again you can have a six-speed manual, but a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission replaces the standard car's conventional six-speed auto option.
There are also a few other mechanical details that separate the two cars. While the Elantra GT has to make do with a torsion beam rear suspension, the Sport model gets an independent setup. The Sport also benefits from a stiffer suspension, revised steering tuning and bigger brakes.
A number of high-tech features are available on either model — including adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist — but those packages are only available if you go with an automatic transmission option.
Our day-long drive was spent behind the wheel of an Elantra GT Sport with the optional tech package. The tech pack forces you to get Hyundai's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but, as previously mentioned, a six-speed manual is available if you can live without the latest gizmos.
Our first impression of the Elantra GT Sport was that of a sure-footed vehicle with plenty of zip. On the winding roads around San Diego the Elantra GT Sport felt very much like a sporty European hatchback, exhibiting the kind of athleticism we're not used to seeing from Hyundai. Steering was equally impressive, combining good weight with a responsive rack.
The Elantra GT Sport's chassis feels rock solid, giving you the kind of confidence you need to chuck it through the twisties. What little body lean is there seems to be well-controlled, helping the Elantra GT Sport to feel stable at speed. The Elantra GT Sport's handling isn't quite as sharp as the leaders of the pack, but it's easily one of the most enjoyable Hyundais we've ever driven.
Overall ride quality is quite good, although road noise can penetrate the Elantra GT Sport's cabin over some road surfaces.
The Sport's 1.6L engine punches above its weight class with good acceleration throughout the rev range. Acceleration isn't neck-snapping, but it's more than enough to have fun on your daily commute. Moreover, all of the Sport's 201 horsepower is usable on public roads, so you can wring out the 1.6L without getting into too much trouble.
Although enthusiasts will gravitate toward the six-speed manual, the seven-speed dual-clutch auto is well-suited to the Elantra GT's sporty demeanor. Like most dual-clutch units, the one in the Elantra GT Sport can be a little clumsy at low speeds, but Hyundai's unit is a joy to operate at speed, with lighting-fast up- and downshifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The upside of ordering the Elantra GT Sport with the seven-speed DCT is that you can spec the tech package, which includes niceties like ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and a panoramic sunroof.
The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport with the seven-speed is rated at 26mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway, which is about par for the segment. Expect to average about 3mpg less with the manual.
Leftlane's bottom line
The 2018 Elantra GT Sport is a capable little car that's worthy of consideration as a fun-to-drive crossover alternative. Though still a little short of the VW Golf GTI in terms of driving dynamics, the 2018 Elantra GT Sport is also expected to be cheaper by a few grand. We'd be tempted to take the money and run and enjoy what is otherwise a very fun and capable vehicle.
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport base price, TBD.
Photos courtesy of Hyundai.