Back in late June, Hyundai’s Canadian division bundled myself and a group of fellow journalists into a Quebec hotel, then proceeded to explain how crossovers are eating the compact car’s lunch.
The 2018 Elantra GT, the company’s representatives said, almost didn’t happen because of the unstoppable popularity of high-riding, cavernous utility vehicles. Hyundai’s U.S. crew apparently needed convincing that the next-generation GT was even worth the trouble. Essentially just an overseas-market i30 with a name change, the new GT’s North American salvation came from the fact few buyers opted for an Elantra-badged hatchback in recent years. Far more buyers take home a Ford Focus or Mazda 3 with five doors.
And so, having been assured that a much-improved GT — a hatchback with more cargo room, more available power, greater handling and sporting prowess, and cohesive, flirting-with-premium looks — would boost overall Elantra sales, we’ve come to this. An Elantra GT, now with more GT.
In GT Sport trim, the vastly reshaped, fourth-generation compact hatch dons the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder from the Elantra Sport, calls dibs on its athletic cousin’s sporty transmissions, and goes to town delivering value-packed driving excitement for the commuter who likes taking the long (and twisty) way home. This tester, however, is no Elantra GT Sport. Nope. It’s the plain ol’ Elantra GT — the Elantra GT you’ll see far more often than the throaty, scrappy Sport, probably while its owner performs the mundane cargo-hauling duties Hyundai so desperately wants its buyers to attempt.
Even in base form, Hyundai hopes the Elantra GT’s sporting abilities and generous cargo volume whispers a siren song would-be subcompact crossover buyers simply can’t ignore. Is it a convincing come-on?
“Luckily” for me (most journalists would surely regard my plight with pity), I was in a position to find out. This tester embodied the volume-model persona to a “T.” While U.S. Elantra GTs arrive in two trims — GT and GT Sport — those cold creatures across the border see each U.S. trim broken down into two more: GL and GLS, plus Sport and Sport Ultimate. This tester was a GT GLS, essentially an entry-level model outfitted with popular options and 17-inch wheels.
The big news for 2018, at least to any observer, is design, design, design. The GT’s top-down re-do looks mature, leaning towards the Germanic, with straight lines and a longer nose fronted with air-curtain vents and a large grille. A traditional two-box shape. None of this clashing angles or bland oval crap.
Overall length is up 1.6 inches, with width growing by 0.6 inches. A slightly lower ride height and more upright rear glass adds up to an impression of greater length.
Friends incapable of giving praise to a Korean hatchback for any reason stayed silent on the tester’s looks. For what it’s worth, those who might be in the market for a compact in the foreseeable future were instant converts —my father, owner of two small crossovers, among them. This news no doubt provides hope to nervous Hyundai execs.
Under the hood sits another perk: a direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder pumping out significantly greater oomph than a base Elantra sedan — 162 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. (That’s actually down from last year’s sole offering: a 173-horse, 154 lb-ft 2.0-liter.)
Naturally, marshaling that base power to the front wheels is a six-speed automatic, only fitting for a volume model. There’s a six-speed manual available, something I craved every moment of my week spent in this vehicle. Not because the base GT is a slug, or that it can’t keep up with the duties of a modern compact — rather, it’s because a stick-shift would only enhance the GT’s long list of positives.
Hyundai’s German engineering braintrust endowed the i30 fourth-gen GT’s body with 53 percent high-strength steel (up from 27 percent), extra structural adhesive and sound insulation, while decreasing the number of body parts from 418 to 314. It all translates into a far more rigid structure than before. Appreciation grew with every pavement crack and chopped-up curve, with the GT emitting zero rattles or squeaks, even with that liftgate out back. Keeping its composure in check is a refined-feeling suspension — firm but forgiving — which softens jolts small and large without feeling like a skateboard.
The GT Sport tested in June checked numerous hot(ter) hatch boxes, but road imperfections came calling by way of the firmer suspension. Tossing the thing around the hills (and one parking-lot handling course) revealed less body roll more than the already steady GT — kudos to a rear anti-roll bar and independent multi-link suspension — but both models can only take a corner with so much gusto before the front end washes out.
Yes, the experience of throwing this volume GT into a tight turn — manumatic locked into 2nd gear, of course (*sigh*) — soon elicits memories of the 1970s cop flicks you watched as a child. Is there a Dodge Polara nearby? No wait, that’s you. Embarrassing front-tire squeal from even cautious attempts at corner-carving shows this competent commuter, shod with upgraded 225/45 R17 tires in GLS trim, needs stickier rubber before playing the role of value performer.
Still, the potential’s there. Even the nicely weighted steering provides a surprising amount of feedback.
That low-drag rubber also keeps things reasonably quiet at speed, though wind noise wasn’t helped by the optional panoramic sunroof. Who buys a compact hatch with one of these, really? Have we hit peak glass? It’s a clear selling point for Hyundai, and I’ll admit to making ample use of it. It also brightens up the roomy, two-tone cabin (sorry, monochrome motifs only in the GT Sport, though colorful accents abound).
However, the real story, as Hyundai would tell it, remains the interior volume. Horsepower’s nice, and ride quality, too, but cargo space is king on North American roads. As such, the GT’s crossover-fighting cargo area is the first thing mentioned in Hyundai marketing materials. With 24.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 55.1 cubes with backseat folded, there’s almost enough room on the nearly flat surface to lie down and take a nap (I tried, but alas…too tall). There’s even a 12-volt plug back there, presumably for wild and crazy liftgate parties.
Volume-wise, the Elantra GT smokes the Chevrolet Cruze hatch, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla iM and Ford Focus five-door. Score one for Hyundai. It’s also more cargo room than you’ll find, seats up or down, in the Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade and Toyota CH-R. Honda’s subcompact HR-V falls behind the GT in rear cargo volume, but beats the GT by just under 4 cubes with seats folded.
Obviously, the GT doesn’t provide the perk of available all-wheel drive or a lifted ride height, though you won’t find AWD on a C-HR or Kia Niro (or Soul) option list, either.
All GTs arrive with an 8.0-inch touchscreen rising from the centre stack, each equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. A host of driver’s aids fall into the “available” category. This uplevel tester boasted the two nannies drivers want above all else: blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
While it excels in many areas, a week in the GT wasn’t without gripes. The front seats, while not uncomfortable, remain on the flat side. The engine, smooth and quiet at speed, doesn’t exactly emit a knee-weakening note under hard acceleration, and the optional automatic is merely okay. Rear-seat passengers will find their knees threatened by hard plastic seat backs that look plucked from the 1990s. As well, very tall back-seat passengers suffer the same lack of headroom found wherever panoramic sunroofs roam (though six-footers needn’t worry). Navigation, always a perk, remains reserved for buyers with deeper pockets.
With a pre-delivery entry price of $19,350 in the U.S. and $20,449 in Canada, the Elantra GT shows Hyundai hasn’t lost its head and forgotten the company’s traditional value proposition. In base trim, a Elantra GT retails for $350 less than the less capacious Honda Civic hatch. In GT Sport guise, the little Hyundai undercuts the price of a Volkswagen Golf GTI by more than $2,000. (Meanwhile, Honda’s Civic Si isn’t available in a five-door bodystyle.)
Unfortunately, sweeping differences in trim and equipment between Canada and U.S. Hyundai models makes for a tricky pricing situation. This GLS tester retailed for $25,931.50 after delivery, taxes and fees, equipped with all options found in the $1,800 U.S. GT A/T Style Package, plus the $1,000 automatic transmission. However, in the U.S., panoramic sunroof availability (standard on a Canuck GLS) requires the purchase of the $4,300 Tech Package.
With that package, you’ll gain LED headlamps and taillights, leather, a host of creature comforts (including upgraded audio), and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system.
It’s a tough world for any new compact car. You know it, we know it, and Hyundai knows it. Still, with its fourth-generation Elantra GT, the Korean automaker has produced an impressive vehicle in a segment once known for yawns, not lust. The availability of a truly sporting powertrain only makes the new GT more desirable.
To some, targeting the GT’s marketing at would-be crossover shoppers might seem like desperation. However, if even a small fraction of those people are value-conscious and capable of appreciating driving dynamics, it could be a smart move. Maybe buying a car isn’t a silly thing to do after all, they’ll think.
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