New for the 2018 model year, the Hyundai Elantra GT joins the growing compact hatchback segment and is pitched as a crossover alternative that’s more fun to drive. To back that up, Hyundai has made a six-speed manual gearbox standard on all models and added the Elantra GT Sport, a variant that sits above the standard Elantra GT with a turbocharged engine and its own unique suspension setup. Like most Hyundais, the Elantra GT is packed with plenty of tech features to keep you connected on the road.
The Elantra GT’s development happened mainly in Europe under the watch of Albert Biermann, head of vehicle test and high performance development at Hyundai and formerly boss of BMW’s M division. Both models feature bodies constructed of 53 percent high-strength steel, which is nearly double the outgoing car’s 27 percent. There’s also 367 feet of structural adhesive used throughout the car, which, along with the extensive use of hot stamping throughout the body, has improved its body rigidity. Compared to the standard Elantra GT, the GT Sport gets a fully independent suspension all around with a multilink setup in the rear instead of the base car’s torsion beam. Front and rear spring rates are up 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively, while the dampers and steering system have also been returned for sporty driving. There’s also a 15-mm rear stabilizer bar in the GT Sport to help improve handling.
Hyundai invited journalists to San Diego, California, to drive the 2018 Elantra GT and GT Sport where we took it to winding roads, freeways, and city streets. For the first half of the route, we drove the base Elantra GT with the 2.0-liter I-4’s 162 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque paired six-speed automatic and found it surprisingly punchy. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and holds gears longer in Sport mode; however, there are no paddle shifters so you have to shift manually via the gear shifter. Handling is surprisingly nimble with minimal body roll even when pushed hard despite the torsion beam rear suspension on the base car. There’s more compliance on the standard Elantra GT because it rides on 17-inch alloy wheels with more sidewall, giving it slightly better ride comfort than the GT Sport. The steering is nicely weighted and precise, but it lags slightly behind the Honda Civic and Mazda3 in terms of feedback and feel.
On the second half of the drive, we jumped into a manual transmission-equipped Elantra GT Sport and found it entertaining to drive. The shifter is smooth and easy to work, but its throws are somewhat long. The clutch has an engagement point that’s easy to find. The optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which we sampled after a lunch stop, is an excellent unit that’s smooth, quick, and responsive regardless of whether you leave it to its own devices or shift manually via the paddle shifters. In low-speed driving, the dual-clutch gearbox feels more polished and doesn’t stumble as much as eco-tuned units found in other Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-four serves up plenty of torque with 195 lb-ft available from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm, making it easy to pass slower traffic, climb grades, or accelerate up to highway speeds, thanks to its broad torque curve.
Even without a limited-slip differential, the Elantra GT Sport puts its power down well, making it easy to drive fast. The steering is more precise and direct compared to the standard car, thanks to a more aggressive tune. The sportier suspension calibration with a multilink setup out back livens up the Elantra GT Sport’s handling with superior body control and stability through the corners with minimal impact on ride comfort. Moving up to the GT Sport adds standard 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40/R18 performance-oriented all-season tires and larger brake rotors measuring 12 inches and 11.2-inch for the front and rear, respectively.
The 2018 Elantra GT’s cabin is a nice place to be with comfortable and supportive front seats, spacious rear seats with a nearly flat floor, and excellent visibility, thanks to its more upright profile. Although the cabin is mostly quiet, it can get noisy over poorly maintained surfaces, especially in the GT Sport with its lower profile tires. There are also many storage cubbies for small items and a large cargo area with 24.9 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seats and underfloor storage. Fold the rear seats down, and you have 55.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which is one of the largest in the segment and 0.2 cubic feet shy of the Subaru Impreza hatchback’s 55.3 cubic feet. Material quality is excellent with soft touch plastics on the dash and areas where your arms would fall. There are some cheaper plastics, but thankfully most are far from touch points.