• By: Neil Moore

Can Elantra GT take on the best from Europe?

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature image: Dropping its former ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ styling in favour of a more European look, the all-new 2018 Elantra GT enjoys a boost in power with an available 201-hp turbocharged four cylinder engine.

Hatchbacks and hot-hatches continue to gain traction as each new model delivers added power, better handling, and a more sophisticated look. Indeed, the five-door has come a long way since the seventies, when Pinto, Gremlin and Vega sold in big numbers here, joined by the less awful VW Rabbit, which has not only survived – as the much-improved Golf – but went on to benchmark an entire segment.

Such German influences continue today, and are seen in this week’s tester: the all-new, third-gen 2018 Elantra GT. This vehicle has been around since 2007, first sold in Europe as the i30. And after gaining a huge fan base, its second generation came here under the GT nameplate.

I’ve always preferred the GT to the Elantra sedan for its tauter suspension and better road feel – qualities valued in the European market. But now that Hyundai has refined its four-door model, you knew it would be compelled to amp up the hatch.

And it did.

To start, they’ve taken cues from some of the sharpest rides in this space – VW Golf and the more upscale Audi A3 – but with signature Hyundai elements, like the large hexagonal grille flanked by swept-back projector headlamps.

Indeed, the look is more European than its predecessor, dropping the curvy “fluidic sculpture” design language for one that is clean, taut and purposeful. It is also longer, lower and wider, with an extended front bonnet and bobbed rear end that looks aggressive, but you might think would come up short on cargo room.

The 60/40 split-folding rear seats drop to enlarge the Elantra GT’s 705-litre cargo area.

Yet it doesn’t. The rear hatch has grown by 54 litres to a whopping 705. How does Hyundai do it!

Okay, that was a shameless plug for their nutty TV spots, but the more closely I look at the car, the more I realize that engineers have carved out more space than you’d expect, and that the automaker has put considerable thought into this product.

As they should when up against competitors like Mazda3, Ford Focus and the aforementioned VW. To that end, the Elantra GT was designed and developed in Europe, with driving dynamics tuned in Germany and tested on the famous Nürburgring racetrack.

All GTs have a MacPherson Strut front suspension, with lower-trim cars getting a torsion beam rear axle. Sport models, like my tester, are upgraded to an independent multilink rear for better handling and road feel, not to mention getting larger brakes and wheels – 18-inch instead of 16-inch alloys.

The Elantra GT comes in eight flavours, starting with the GL with six-speed manual at $20,449. Going up the ladder, there are GL SE, GLS and Sport models, with choice of manual, automatic or dual-clutch transmission, depending on trim. Mine was the top-rung unit – the Sport Ultimate DCT – starting at $30,449.

GL to GLS models get a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four cylinder, producing 162 hp and 150 lb/ft of torque, starting from 4,700 rpm.

Sport models, which start at $26,999 for the Sport Manual, are powered by a 1.6-litre turbo four that delivers 201 hp and 195 lb/ft of torque starting from a low 1,500 rpm.

The all-new GT gets a clean, uncluttered centre stack and instrument panel, along with pops of red around the vents, HVAC, and in the high-contrast red stitching.

I didn’t get a chance to drive the manual GT, but have tested this combo in the Elantra Sport (sedan). I’ve always preferred choosing my own gears, and the third pedal – for me – is the best way to extract more juice from these small-displacement engines.

Still, the dual-clutch is no slouch. This seven-speed unit with paddle shifters fires off gear changes without the slushy feel of a typical ‘manumatic’. Punch the throttle – particularly in sport mode – and the GT jumps off the line, revving freely until redline when using the paddles.

And with the tuned suspension, ride is firm but not harsh, making the GT adept at carving corners with minimal body roll. All accompanied by steering that is direct – with decent feedback – along with a nice rasp from the dual exhaust outlets.

The interior of my top-trim tester was well put together with clean and simple analog instruments and a well-organized centre stack, with little pops of red surrounding the vents, HVAC unit, and centred on the flat-bottomed steering wheel.

This theme is echoed in the red contrast stitching and piping in the leather sport buckets, as well as the red seatbelts.

But you needn’t spend the extra $10K to get a well-equipped Elantra GT, as even the base model gets features like a standard eight-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, heated seats, and – believe it or not – heated steering wheel.

Mine had not only heated, but also ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, and instead of the perfectly good six-speaker base audio system, a seven-speaker Infinity AM/FM/XM/MP3 unit with external amp.

No surprise, the GT also offers a full safety suite, with features like pedestrian detection and rear cross traffic alert – a feature I find more and more useful as rear visibility becomes stylishly smaller as glass area shrinks.

When you look back at earlier models – be they Elantras or any others in the lineup – it becomes clear there’s a steady progression from “cheap and cheerful” to chic. Elantra GT is the latest of these, and is one model that won’t have to compete simply on value for the dollar.

It is now good enough to challenge the best in its segment, and is worth a closer look if, like many Canadians (and Europeans), you’ve taken a shine to the hatchback.

Short front and rear overhangs, and a bobbed rear end with dual exhaust outlets give the 2018 Elantra GT a sportier look than its predecessor.

SNAPSHOT: 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
BODY STYLE: compact hatchback
ENGINE: turbocharged 1.6L DOHC 16-valve four cylinder with gasoline direct injection (201 hp, 195 lb/ft)
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or 7-speed DCT
FUEL ECONOMY: 6-speed manual 10.7/8.1/9.6 litres/100km (city/hwy/comb); DCT (as tested) – 9.2/7.1/8.3 litres/100km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 705 litres
PRICING: GL manual $20,449; GL automatic $21,699; GL SE automatic $22,799; GLS manual $22,849; GLS automatic $24,099; Sport manual $26,999; Sport 7-Speed DCT $28,499; Sport Ultimate 7-Speed DCT $30,499.
WEBSITE: hyundaicanada.com