Known as the i30 across the pond, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport has the Volkswagen Golf GTI in its sights. Drawn under the watchful eye of Hyundai’s chief design officer Peter Schreyer, the compact hatchback’s sporty bodywork, clean lines, and attractive proportions make it far more fashionable than both its funky-looking predecessor and its dowdier sedan counterpart.
GTI of the Beholder
It takes more than crisply folded sheetmetal to challenge the hot-hatch royalty, however. So the Elantra GT Sport is armed with a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four that boasts an additional 39 horsepower over the base Elantra GT’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter. The 1.6-liter also has a plentiful 195 lb-ft of torque available from a low 1500 rpm. And indeed, Hyundai’s hottest hatch in the U.S. never felt out of breath on our drive across the winding roads east of San Diego, and the engine displayed little turbo lag when launching hard from a stop. Merging onto Southern California’s sun-scorched freeways revealed a disquieting amount of road noise entering the cabin, however.
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The standard six-speed manual transmission features crisp action and well-defined gates, but its throws are on the long side, like a Christopher Nolan movie. An optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic swaps cogs smoothly but has a tendency to rush to a higher gear to aid fuel economy. Engaging the automatic’s Sport mode helps temper that behavior, or one can tap the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The Elantra GT Sport has larger brake discs than the standard car, and the brake pedal is firm and reassuring underfoot. In place of the standard GT’s torsion-beam rear axle, the Sport gets a more sophisticated multilink arrangement. Hyundai also revised the springs, dampers, and steering gear, but despite these upgrades, the GT Sport fell somewhat short of delivering the buttoned-down refinement found in the class leaders when attacking twisting tarmac. Its body leans more than we’d like in turns, and the electrically assisted steering lacks the precision and feel of the units found in the Honda Civic Sport hatchback and the GTI. The GT Sport also doesn’t quite measure up to the VW in terms of power, with the GTI boasting up to 220 horses and 258 lb-ft from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four. To properly establish Hyundai’s go-fast acumen, its N performance sub-brand will introduce a zestier i30 N hot hatch later this year for Europe and other foreign markets. While the manufacturer has stated that the U.S. Elantra GT will see no such fortification, the next-gen Hyundai Veloster is slated to get the N treatment and will share much of the i30 N’s chassis and mechanicals.
But even if the GT Sport can’t quite deliver sporty driving zen, it’s still a competent car and has other virtues to recommend it. The standard leather seats are supportive enough for daylong stints, and every example packs dual-zone automatic climate control and rear HVAC vents. With all seats upright, the 170.9-inch-long hatchback boasts a competitive 25 cubic feet of luggage space; folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks expands that figure to 55 cubes. Both of those numbers are just ahead of the Volkswagen’s, but a tallish liftover height could make loading heavy items somewhat difficult.
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The Elantra GT Sport boasts a long list of included goodies, including LED head- and taillights, a blind-spot monitoring system, a proximity key with push-button start, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. An available Sport Tech package adds a navigation system, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beams, and more, but unfortunately the package is available only with the automatic.
Pricing has yet to be released, but we expect the GT Sport to start under $24,000, or roughly $1000 more than the Elantra Sport sedan. While the Elantra GT Sport is poised to be a great value and is certainly a good car, it can’t quite match up to the vaunted—and admittedly more expensive—Volkswagen GTI in terms of driving enjoyment.