2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport first drive: An escape from the mundane

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Enthusiasts are a blood-sucking group that do nothing but beg for fun-to-drive cars then often end up spending their money elsewhere. Hyundai’s tried to appease enthusiasts with hot hatches before, namely the Veloster Turbo. We thought that was a hoot, but the company has recently switched gears to sportier versions of its sedans — for example, the Elantra Sport.

A sporty hatchback, then, sounds like the ideal canvas for Hyundai to showcase its ability to make things actual enthusiasts would like to drive, and not just ones with a sporty side. It’s also a way to get another entry in the compact segment that’s doing especially well at the moment. Hyundai’s quick to point toward the Elantra’s history — the automaker has sold 200,000 for five straight years. Why end the winning streak?

This is where the new 2018 Elantra GT comes into play. The handsome little machine is heavily based on the i30 hatchback, recently launched for the European market. It arrives in America with a new name, a retuned suspension and different tuning for the transmissions. The latest Elantra wasn’t just styled in Europe, though; the hatchback was tested there as well, at the famed Nurburgring.



Elantra GT Sport image

The Elantra GT and GT Sport are available with an optional dual-exhaust.


The GT gets fairly basic fare underneath — a McPherson strut front suspension, coupled torsion beam at the rear and 11-inch front rotors. But the jaunty, more enthusiast-inspired GT Sport gets multilink independent suspension out back, a 15 mm rear stabilizer bar, higher front and rear spring rates, sport-tuned front and rear dampers, and 12-inch rotors in front.

That’s not the only thing separating the two models. A 2.0-liter inline-four making 162 hp and 150 lb-ft powers the regular GT. The engine can be had with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Once again, the GT Sport gets a peppier setup, sharing it with the Elantra Sport sedan. The more energetic hatch features a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four generating 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged engine can be paired to the same six-speed manual as the naturally aspirated motor or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. 

Clearly, the new Elantra GT has sportiness in mind, reflected in the new exterior design. The hatch carried over many of the exterior design features when embarking on its journey from Europe, including Hyundai’s recognizable cascading grille, vertical LED daytime running lights, and functional air curtains. 

The design theme continues out back, where available LED taillights, a rear spoiler and an optional dual-exhaust system reveal the GT, and especially the GT Sport, means business. While some could argue the old GT’s design came off as boring and safe, the new one is much more grown-up, more sophisticated. Thank the Europeans for that.



The Execution

Hyundai had multiple Elantra GT’s readily at hand, but we spent our time in the GT Sport with the proper six-speed manual transmission — sometimes all the planets align perfectly. The hatchback’s interior, at least the GT Sport’s, is a no frills-approach complementing the grown-up exterior. 

Hyundai says the idea was to make good use of the available space, making the compact car’s interior feel as spacious as possible. It translates to an uncluttered dashboard, prominently featuring an 8-inch display perched atop the dash rather than nestled into it. From the front seats, you don’t feel cramped in the slightest.

Those bolstered leather seats have red contrast stitching, carrying on throughout as trim pieces surrounding the stop/start button, HVAC vents and control switches, shift knob and steering wheel. While the red accents help break up the monotony, they look and feel cheap. In fact, much of the interior has hard plastics on touch points that are used regularly. That said, the good-looking shift knob reminds us of the Volkswagen GTI’s — not a bad thing.



Elantra GT Sport image engine

A 1.6-liter turbo four cylinder powers the Elantra GT Sport, spitting out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.


Pulling out onto a San Diego highway immediately reveals the Sport’s suspension is on the firmer side. The heavily bolstered leather seats do a fine job holding one in place but prove uncomfortable over time. The seat bottoms are tough and while they feel like they’ll soften over time, they’re stiff from the get-go.

Punching the throttle makes us forget all about the seats, though. The turbocharged 1.6-liter quickly propels the hatchback up to speed. With a downshift, the car is more than capable of passing at highway speeds. The engine is on the quieter side and isn’t buzzy on the highway. Road noise doesn’t make its way into the interior, making the Sport a surprisingly good highway car.

The main reason someone would get a GT Sport over the regular model, though, is for the sporty extras. Those can only be tested on windy roads. Thankfully, San Diego’s filled with them.



Elantra GT Sport image interior

You’ll have the choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch transmission in the Elantra GT Sport.


The heavily weighted steering wheel conveys where and what the front wheels are doing well, the peppy engine enjoys life toward the top of the rev range and the body remains rigid without any noticeable roll in corners. The car urges the driver to go quickly and rewards you for doing so. Press the light clutch in, grab a lower gear, mash the throttle and away you go. Next thing you know, a large smile has found its way to your face — and your passenger’s — while the speed limit flew by a few corners ago. 

After going through some winding roads, I didn’t want to leave them. This is a Hyundai? The GT Sport really is that good. Like any other car, though, it does have a few flaws. The six-speed manual, while a refreshing option, doesn’t provide some competitors’ confidence-inspiring precision. There’s a vagueness to shifts, making me second-guess whether the car was really in gear. And the way the pedals are spaced makes it impossible to heel and toe.

These aren’t deal-breakers, but a lack of rear legroom could be a major issue, if you care about such things. The automaker claims 34.8 inches of rear legroom. I struggled to get into the back seat and once situated, my legs rubbed against the front seatback. Hyundai wanted bragging rights over crossovers and SUVs with cargo volume and, accordingly, the GT has 55.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. That, as the company gleefully points out, is more than many entry-level crossovers, but rear legroom suffers to achieve that number. 


2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport drive review

The Takeaway

Hyundai has historically struggled with the exact recipe for a car enthusiasts would enjoy driving. It’s been getting closer and closer though, and now, it’s finally here in the Elantra GT Sport. While I didn’t drive the regular GT, I have no problem telling enthusiasts to cross-shop the more assertive Sport against the market-hardened competitors. If you want a rewarding, fun-to-drive hatch that can be packed with tech features, the new GT Sport is worth a test drive. Getting some help from Europe has really paid off for Hyundai. 





By V. Joel Patel


On Sale: Now

Base Price: TBA

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, six-speed manual/six-speed auto, FWD (GT) / 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual/seven-speed DCT, FWD (GT Sport)

Output: 162 hp @ 6,200 rpm; 150 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 (2.0-liter) / 201 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 195 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 to 4,500 rpm (1.6-liter turbo)

Curb Weight: 2,901 lb (GT with manual) ; 2,943 lb (GT with automatic) / 3,014 lb (GT Sport with manual) ; 3,067 lb (GT Sport with DCT) 3,250 lb (2.4-liter) / 3,483 lb (2.0-liter turbocharged)

Fuel Economy: 23/31/26 (GT with manual) / 24/32/27 (GT with automatic) / 22/29/25 (GT Sport with manual) / 26/32/28 (GT Sport with DCT) (EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Surprisingly fun to drive, handsome interior

Cons: Backseat room is a joke, firm ride


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