For car shoppers not paying close attention to the rapid changes within the automotive industry, you can be forgiven for not witnessing the increasing pace of changes and new products coming from Hyundai. For a brand barely 30 years old in the U.S. market, Hyundai seems more focused and progressive than several more established rivals.
For 2018, Hyundai dealers will get a redesigned Santa Fe midsize crossover, an all-new subcompact Kona crossover (with four versions, two of which are electric only vehicles with 150-mile or 250-mile battery range power), plus the third version of the compact Elantra series — this week’s Elantra five-door GT. Selected Hyundai dealers carrying the Genesis luxury brand will also see new compact G70 premium sedans, plus persistent rumors indicate that Hyundai continues work on a midsize pickup model for the North American market.
That’s a lot of new product for any automaker in a single year. But the timing for Hyundai couldn’t be better. One, everything with a hatch is hot, and two, the brand has been rocketing up quality charts with safe, reliable new products that are changing consumers’ perceptions.
The Elantra GT slides into the compact car series between the sleek Elantra sedan and the spirited performance of the Elantra GT Sport — a Golf GTI-like model with two different powertrains aimed at capturing a European driving emphasis — while buyers should think of the Elantra GT as being very similar to a regular Golf five-door. If you add the fun-looking Kona, a taller crossover variant that is essentially built off the Elantra’s front-drive platform, that makes four distinct models for car-focused buyers to sample.
The hatchback-bodied Elantra GT starts at $20,235 with a six-speed manual transmission; add $1,000 for the six-speed automatic. Peak power is 161 hp from the 2.0-liter, direct-injected four cylinder engine, earning EPA mileage estimates of 24/32/27 mpg. Realized economy rushing through western Maine and hustling up the highway was 33.3 mpg. Subsequent refuelings all bested the EPA highway rating, making the GT as thrifty as it was comfortable.
Like the GT Sport, the GT draws strong comparisons to VW’s Golf. Interior space is surprisingly usable, with very good seat comfort both front and rear. The cargo space behind the folding rear seatbacks is a segment-leading 25 cubic feet, which grows to 55 cubic feet when the seats are folded almost flat. The Elantra GT has more cargo space than Chevy’s Cruze hatchback, the Subaru Impreza five-door and the Mazda 3 hatch. Only Honda’s Civic hatchback is comparable.
While a winter review of the GT Sport revealed the decidedly greater sporting intentions of that model, the Elantra GT uses a solid beam rear axle instead of the GT Sport’s fully independent design. Cornering prowess and maximum grip suffer slightly, but rare will be the GT driver that explores the ragged edge of these parameters in normal driving. Used as 98 percent of drivers are prone to drive, the Elantra GT is predictable and stable where some rivals are not.
Controls are convenient and intuitive, including the new touchscreen affixed to the top of the dash. Large perimeter buttons ensure precise interaction, plus the screen is easily accessed by both driver and front passenger. Apple and Android compatibility are standard.
Other standard pieces include auxiliary input jacks, heated power mirrors, split-folding rear seatbacks, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear camera, plus Drive-mode select and Hill start control. Various option packages shown here include Style ($1,800), with blind-spot detection, proximity key with push-button start, dual-climate system, power driver’s seat and heated front seats; Tech package ($4,300), with leather, LED lighting, panoramic sunroof, larger 8-inch screen with navigation, plus ventilated front seats and wireless phone charging. An additional technology package is needed to get electronic driving assist features.
Drivers will love the heated seating, going right up the back to your shoulders, while several passengers were enamored with the huge panoramic glass roof.
In the plus column on the scorecard — supportive seating all around, flexible and spacious cargo carrying, smooth driving dynamics, with about-average fuel economy for the compact class. While some compact car rivals offer their electronic driving aids at this price point (Subaru and Toyota) it is hard to fault the Elantra GT’s list of virtues in this practical, affordable transportation package.