This is what can happen when automakers actually try.
We said the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT was sexier than we ever thought possible when the automaker pulled the wraps off its newly redesigned hatchback last year. That's high praise, which, admittedly, we might have given out too easily. But after spending a week with the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport we can confirm that it looks as good in the metal as it does online. But there's a much bigger question to answer: Is the new Elantra GT Sport an actual hot hatch?
Now "Sport" is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the auto industry, and most times it only refers to aesthetic add-ons that make a boring car look less boring. That's not the case here. For starters, the Elantra GT Sport has a beefier engine. Its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which is available at just 1,500 rpm. The entry-level Elantra GT makes do with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter rated at 161 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. The Elantra GT Sport is rated at 22/29/25 mpg (city, highway, combined), although your mileage will vary based on how hard you hammer the throttle.
In addition to its pumped-up engine, the Sport model features an upgraded suspension system. The rear torsion beam is swapped out for an independent multilink setup. That's the big ticket item, but there's also a 15 millimeter rear stabilizer bar, higher front and rear spring rates along with sport-tuned dampers (front and back). A six-speed manual comes standard on both the Elantra GT and GT Sport, while a seven-speed dual-clutch is on offer for $1,100. On the Elantra GT a six-speed automatic can be had for $1,000 more. The Elantra GT Sport also boasts larger brakes.
A combination of minimal turbo lag and readily available torque - and nonexistent torque steer - makes the Elantra GT Sport fun to gun off the line. Hyundai has yet to release an official 0-60 mph time for the car, and estimates from other outlets vary from as low as 6.5 seconds to as high as 7.2 seconds. That may sound slow, but remember that when The Fast Lane Car ran the Elantra GT against the Civic Si the result was too close to call. That being said, the Elantra GT isn't built for drag races. The six-speed manual shifts smoothly and the clutch engagement point feels just about perfect, but the throw is a bit on the longer side. A sports package complete with a short-throw shifter would be nice but isn't something we're holding our breath for.
The Elantra GT Sport's electronic steering is weighty but on the numb side, which again shows that the car has been tuned more for daily driving than non-stop autocross sessions. The sport-tuned suspension keeps the hatchback confident through corners, but we found ourselves brushing up against the Elantra GT's grip limits sooner rather than later. The Elantra GT Sport is certainly not a boring car, but no one will mistake it for a true hot hatch behind the wheel. In terms of design, Hyundai wisely moved away from the rental car-chic look of the previous-generation Elantra GT, choosing instead to bring the Euro-spec i30's design across the pond.
The result is a South Korean hatchback that looks every bit as good as Japan and Germany's best. The 2018 Elantra GT is lower, wider and longer than its predecessor. The top-tier Sport trim we spent a week with - there are only two trim levels - features added flair in the form of full LED headlights and taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels. While the new Elantra GT won't turn heads at stop lights, it does look good in a lonely parking lot. Our tester came finished in Summit Gray, a color we consider to be the most stylish of the Elantra GT's six available options. In addition to a stylish exterior, Hyundai also completely redid the Elantra GT's interior. The new steering wheel is sleeker and features much less buttons than its predecessor.
The difference in the look of the center console is even more night and day. Gone is the recessed 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen and HVAC system with buttons ripped straight off a Playskool toy. In its place is a floating 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that sits above a slimmed-down climate control system. This touchscreen comes standard on all Elantra GTs, as does Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The buttons remain but they've decreased in size and make the screen easier and safer to navigate while driving. Other standard features include heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, alloy pedals and a 4.2-inch TFT display.
The GT Sport is a bit light on standard safety tech and driver's assistance aids, although it does come with blind spot detection, rear-cross traffic alert and lane-change assist. Our tester did not feature any optional equipment packages, which is a bit rare as press cars are usually optioned to infinity. We quickly learned why, though. The $3,850 Tech Package is only available on models equipped with the seven-speed DCT, adding a host of goodies, including navigation, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated seats, a wireless charging pad and Hyundai's Blue Link connected vehicle system.
The package also adds more driver assistance aids and safety features, including radar cruise control, emergency automatic braking, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, high beam assist and driver attention alert. The driver's seat is comfortable and supportive but we did find ourselves feeling a bit stiff after longer drives. While the backseat technically has space for three people, we found that only two adults would be able to fit comfortably. (Shocking, right?) In terms of cargo space, the Elantra GT offers 24.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 55.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded.
This is more storage space than many hatchbacks offer, including the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Honda Fit. Overall, the Elantra GT Sport's cabin is sharp and offers great bang for the buck. It's far from class-leading, though. All the plastic used in the cabin somewhat offsets the elegance added by the standard leather. Things can also get a bit noisy at highway speeds and the sport-tuned suspension means the ride isn't always supple. But you can't have everything, right? At $24,260, the cost of our tester, the Elantra GT Sport isn't exactly cheap. However, it is better equipped than a comparably priced Golf GTI.
In fact, if you want a GTI with leather seats and an 8.0-inch touchscreen you'll need to shell out $30,000. The Volkswagen does feature more power and a limited-slip differential, though. The Elantra GT Sport is also cheaper than the Focus ST, but again, it can't match Ford's hatch when it comes to performance. Those seeking a true Hyundai-branded hot hatch should cast their eyes toward the redesigned Veloster. At the end of the day, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport deserves to be praised for what it is rather than derided for what it could or should have been. This is the type of "practical" car all automakers should be building, one that doesn't compromise looks or drivability just because of its price.