Hatchbacks have always been a unique breed of automobile. A feisty blend of utility and performance, they have survived the original SUV craze, and have so far held their own against the current crush of CUVs, and the massive pressure they have wrought on other segments of the automotive market including hatchbacks. But amid the current crop of hatchback offerings, is there one that can usurp the current king of the hatchback, the Volkswagen Golf/GTI? Or could an upstart make its way through the ranks and pull off a monumental upset?
This is not our first encounter with the Elantra GT, but it is the first time that one visited our Michigan outpost, and we wondered how the tidy hatchback would fare in the demanding (and crumbling) roads of Metro Detroit. Before we get into that, lets focus on what makes this iteration of Elantra GT stand out from the rest of the crowd, its distinctive styling. Looking at the front fascia of our base GT grade tester, it is obvious that Hyundai engineers went to great lengths to enhance overall sportiness, and the result is pretty decent. While it will lack the outright maturity wielded by the Volkswagen Golf, it still embodies a playful personality, and is an improvement over the odd nose that defined the previous generation GT. The rear fascia is equally crisp, and from some angles it manages to look more imposing than the Golf. Base models miss out on some of the bright work enjoyed by Sport grade GTs, but that does little to detract from this spirited hatchback's inner charms.
The interior of our Summit Gray tester was a sea of cheap plastic trim, but unlike other cars that embrace the budget motel-esque theme of poor material quality, with disastrous results, our tester was still a relatively comfortable place to spend time in. Look past the abundant hard plastics, and the rest of the cabin transforms into an airy environment that goes above and beyond in making a good first impression. The standard eight inch infotainment system features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and is relatively easy to use, though in typical Hyundai fashion, there is some lag when navigating each page of the main menu.
The cloth seats in our car were comfortable on long hauls, and we were surprised with the relatively good amounts of support offered by the fore-mentioned thrones. Practicality is also a potent selling point for buyers, with the GT offering 25 cubic feet of rear cargo space with the seats up. Folding the seats down opens up an additional 30 cubic feet of space. These figures trump the bulk of its competitors, including the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3. The lone exception is the Honda Civic hatchback which does slightly edge out the Hyundai in space with the seats up. However, the Elantra swings back by beating the Civic in seat down cargo room which will please buyers that like to use every inch of space available.
Despite its athletic suit of clothes, performance proved to not be a strong suit with our base GT tester. Unlike the spicier Sport model, our GT did not have a 201 horsepower turbocharged four cylinder lurking under its hood. Instead, our tester featured Hyundai's long serving 2.0 liter four cylinder engine which also sees duty in the Elantra sedan, as well as the Korean company's other small car entries. While 161 horsepower may seem like a commendable figure on paper, in practice it ended up making the car feel average. Our tester had the optional $1,000 six speed automatic transmission, and it helped our tester produce a rather mundane 8.0 second 0 to 60 time. This is roughly the middle of the pack in its segment, but the engine had moments where it provided glimpses of fun despite the lack of low end torque, especially out in city driving.
However our tester did have one ace in its venerable pocket which revealed itself towards the end of the GT's stay with us, handling. While Michigan chose to not challenge the Elantra GT with raging snow storms, the Mitten state unleashed a different test for our tester instead, potholes. Thanks to a freak temperature swing, many of the roads in our area became littered with the dreaded craters, which happened to be a good impromptu test of the Elantra GT's steering and suspension system. Despite not having the multilink rear suspension that is found in the Sport version, the twist beam unit in our car did a good job absorbing jolts, and the quick steering helped the Elantra confidently dodge most of the holes that dotted our route though we wish Hyundai could've dialed in a bit more road feel. Braking was also very composed, though it still lacks the Golf's razor focused confidence.
Pricing for the base Elantra GT starts at $16,850 with our lightly optioned tester ringing in with a final price of $21,360. Sport models start at a slightly higher $20,750, and can approach certain trims of the Volkswagen GTI when fully equipped. Naturally, comparisons between the Honda Civic hatchback and the Mazda 3 hatch appear along with the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze in its hatch form. In our view, the GT is leagues ahead of the slower and aesthetically impaired Cruze as well as the aging Focus. However it would be tough to choose between it and a similarly equipped Honda or Mazda especially since both bring more safety technology to the table then the fore-mentioned Hyundai.
This narrow price gap with the GTI also makes us wonder why it did not get the N treatment like its European counterpart the i30. While we are glad that Hyundai is FINALLY bringing its N performance sub-brand to the U.S. we wish that instead of the funky Veloster 3-door leading the charge, the Elantra GT should've been the spearhead entry in N's U.S. arrival. Unlike the Veloster, the GT is a traditional 5-door hatchback, and it would have a better chance resonating with young buyers that might find the Veloster's weird take on doors and aesthetic design a bit too extreme for their tastes.
Overall we like the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this spunky hatchback offering. With rumors swirling about the addition of N-Sport models in the distant future, it would be cool to see if the GT will get the right sprinkling of upgraded hardware to make it feel even more special until Hyundai brings the N variant state side.