By on July 10, 2017

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT (Image: Steph Willems)

Years back, a neighbor of mine worked as an electrician’s apprentice while we both occupied different corners of a sketchy four-plex. Good guy. When an emergency arose, especially if the emergency was a sudden lack of tape, this was your man.

Anyway, with barely enough cash to buy beer on weekends, let alone a half-decent used pickup, the tools of his trade journeyed to the job site in a roomy, economical, and seemingly indestructible four-door liftback. It was, of course, a first-generation Hyundai Elantra GT, only with the contents of a small hardware store filling the area aft of the front seat.

A useful, if tepid, vehicle then, but one far more worthy of the GT moniker now.

The Korean automaker launched the Elantra GT in 2001, and has no intention of dropping the useful compact hatchback from the marketplace anytime soon, even though its U.S. executives required a dose of friendly Canadian persuasion to keep it alive south of the 49th parallel (according to Hyundai Canada brass). The pressure paid off, leaving Americans with yet another option in the “hotter hatch” segment.

No longer is the GT a one-engine affair, nor is it likely to continue as an afterthought in the minds of consumers. For 2018, Hyundai chose to spread the widest possible net with its newly enlarged hatch, hoping to lure would-be buyers away from better-known rivals while offering a sportier alternative to small crossovers.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT (Image: Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars)

The handsomely redesigned Elantra GT ditches the old 2.0-liter four-cylinder for 2018, replacing it with a direct-injection engine of similar displacement, less power, but more refinement. At 161 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, the mill mates with two carryover transmissions — a six-speed manual you probably should buy and the six-speed automatic you’re far more likely to take home.

Joining the model for 2018 is an available turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Borrowed from the Elantra Sport, it’s good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft, transferring its power through the stick shift or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

With a turbo in its toolkit (an engine you’ll find as standard in the GT Sport), Hyundai’s hatch springs from also-ran status directly into the field of battle. In its sights are regular and high-output variants of a popular group of nameplates: the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus, Mazda 3, and Honda Civic. Hyundai Canada claims five-door models make up 24 percent of that country’s compact segment and, while the segment has shrunk from 21 to 18 percent of the market between 2014 and last year, it has its fingers crossed for greater GT volume. Only 15 percent of Canadian Elantra sales in 2016 were five-door models. Compare that to 42 percent of Mazda 3 sales or 64 percent of Focus sales.

With the fourth-generation model, Hyundai’s aiming to poach customers with a combination of drivetrain choice, performance, content, and, not least of all, looks.

Gone is the “this’ll do” design of yesteryear, with its bulging front fenders and awkward, plasticky outward appearance. Instead, a strong character line joins the headlights and taillights, with Hyundai’s upright “cascading grille” and vertical LED running lights (which gild the sporty air curtain vents) lending the model a mature and cohesive look. Classy at best, inoffensive at worst. A wraparound rear window with integrated spoiler completes the Germanic feel.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT (Image: Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars)

Make no mistake — this isn’t just an Elantra sedan with an abbreviated rear end. Based on the European- and Korean-market i30, its wheelbase is two inches shorter than the sedan, while overall length and width has grown compared to the 2017 GT. With short overhangs and a lower body height, the new GT’s wheelbase appears longer than that of last year’s model, despite being identical.

What isn’t identical is cargo room. With the rear seat up, volume has grown to 25 cubic feet over 2017 dimensions, an increase of two cubes, while folded-seat capacity has expanded by 8.1 percent to 55.1 cubic feet. That’s more room than hatchback versions of the Cruze, Civic, 3, and Golf, Hyundai would have you know. (Oh, and with seats folded, more room than an Audi Q5 and barely any less than a Honda HR-V. Hint, hint.)

Following last year’s launch of the current-generation Elantra sedan, reviewers walked away impressed with its comfort, solidity and road manners after launching last year, so it’s not at all surprising that the five-door has checked the same boxes. From our starting point in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, Quebec’s twisty back roads and Detroit-in-the-woods asphalt quality immediately outed this compact as a competent, well-mannered little car.

2018 hyundai elantra gt, Image: Hyundai Canada

Indeed, the fleet of GTs at our disposal proved comfortable and capable of delivering some value-packed excitement. While the U.S. will likely field just two models — GT and GT Sport, for sure — Canada, as before, bundles the available options and powertrains into four trim levels. GL and GLS carry the lesser engine and a torsion beam rear suspension, while Sport and Sport Ultimate trims boast a turbo motor and a multi-link independent setup out back.

It’s too bad stick shift aficionados gobbled up the supply of three-pedal GTs upon arrival, thus sweeping that tranny off the testing table. Bummer, guys. Regardless, our automatic GLS model proved more than capable of tackling hills and sharp curves, navigating the capricious road network with as much vigor as its front tread would allow.

Working in its favor is a compliant suspension located firmly in the Goldilocks firmness zone, 45-series rubber on 17-inch alloys, and a bodyshell bolstered with double the previous amount of high-strength steel. Nary a rattle or squeak was to be heard. Top billing in the “con” category was a slushbox that, while equipped with a manumatic mode, would be better suited to the joyless rigors of a daily commute.

Of course, behind the wheel of the hotter GT Sport is the proper location for any value-minded racer. Conspiring with the 18-inch wheels, turbo engine, and stiffer suspension is a paddle-shift seven-speed DCT which delivers a far more engaging driving experience, though you’ll really start to feel those pavement imperfections. Still, this rig remains planted and doesn’t beg for more power or quicker shifts. Like its lesser siblings, the GT Sport’s steering falls short of a “heavy” label, but the more than acceptable feedback and precision isn’t likely to break any deals. Non-manual GTs gain a sport mode for stiffer steering and improved throttle response. Braking action in all models is neither soft nor grabby.

This GT Sport doesn’t elicit thoughts of a cheesy, boy-racer wannabe. It’s a mature driving experience in a far-from-ostentatious vehicle.

2018 hyundai elantra gt, Image: Hyundai Canada

In Sport guise, colored metallic trim, stitching, piping, and seatbelts brighten up the nicely laid out monochrome gray interior. (Lesser trims enjoy a two-tone layout, should a buyer demand it.) As if to make the GT as close to a crossover as possible, buyers can select between steel overcast or a panoramic sunroof. No half measures in this model. Even the base GL trim offers up heated front seats and a heated steering wheel for perpetually chilly Canadian drivers.

In the tech category, Hyundai’s decision to place an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity in all trims should satisfy buyers worried about buying into a low-content stripper. Standard blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert puts the most sought-after safety aids in everyone’s GT. Those wanting more can spring for available adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking.

The big news — something Hyundai is extremely proud of — is the GT’s available BlueLink telematics system, the company’s first application of connected-car tech. Interested in the state of your vehicle’s health, or looking for some driving stats? Bluelink pulls those right up. Found yourself in trouble? Roadside assistance and SOS calls are a button away. Via an app on their smartphone, drivers can check the status of the car, find it or start it, all while nowhere near it. Perhaps realizing that extra-cost subscription services turn buyers off in a hurry, BlueLink comes with a five-year, no-charge trial period.

The system next finds a home in the Sonata, Kona and Tucson.

2018 hyundai elantra gt, Image: Hyundai Canada

Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “Not a bad package overall, but what’s the cost?”

Straight answer: Hyundai Canada brass couldn’t tell us. The automaker’s head of product strategy, Ken Maisonville, expects “a little bit of a premium for the hatchback versus the sedan,” which starts in the U.S. at $17,150 before delivery. Because of the base GT’s engine upgrade, a matching price was off the table, he claims.

Chad Heard, Hyundai Canada’s senior public relations manager, claims the GT’s MSRP should be “close to last year’s GT price.” In the U.S., that means a sticker close to the 2017 GT’s $18,800 pre-delivery MSRP, while Canadians should expect a price close to last year’s $19,999 MSRP.

With the appearance of a true performance variant for 2018, expect a considerably higher price ceiling for all that added panache.

Thanks to vastly improved looks, road manners, available power, and content, Hyundai’s hopes for a GT sales surge seem within reach. At the bottom of the market, value talks. However, will the new GT give crossover buyers second thoughts? That’s a tricky one, and I’m sure many readers are shaking their heads right about now. Certainly, not if that buyer has more than one kid. With no sustained upswing in oil prices on the horizon, the GT’s budget sporting potential holds far greater temptation than a cargo volume vs. dollar argument.

Surely there’s room in North American driveways for another sensible compact with a fun side?

2018 hyundai elantra gt (Image: Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars)

(Full disclosure: Hyundai Canada berthed me in a tidy suite at a lakeside resort in Estérel, Quebec for this drive, and also picked up up the food and booze tab. During this time I stole a piece of venison from Jacob Black, who claimed to be watching his figure or health or something. I was just fixated on the meat. Can’t let a good animal die in vain. Transportation was provided by my own Chevrolet.)

[Images: ©2017 Steph Willems/ The Truth About Cars; Hyundai Canada]

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57 Comments on “2018 Hyundai Elantra GT First Drive Review – Sidle Up to the Hatch Buffet...”

  • avatar

    That C/D pillar treatment is horrible. They should have went with an evolution of the last gen, or just said eff it and went full Golf ripoff. This looks like a poor man’s Polo, which is already a poor man’s Golf.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you there. From the rear 3/4 angle its not so bad, like a Korean golf.

      But from the side, its like as if their photocopier wasnt able to translate the 2d into the flesh and its a mess of lines.

      Its HARD making a hatchback work… unless its an Arteon I guess.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, I was about to make a VW comparison.Hyundai continues to struggle with brand identity.

  • avatar

    I wonder. Given that some sort of a shooting war is currently more likely than not in the Koreas, is it a good idea to purchase a Korean car? The US Secretary of Defense says that even conventional warfare would devastate South Korea’s infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities. How would this affect a Hyundai or Kia in my driveway? At the service depot? I think I would think twice.

    • 0 avatar

      Selfishly, I’ve wondered the same thing about my Elantra Sport.

      How am I going to get my Korean oil filters if the oil filter factory is destroyed?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen this line in other places re: Hyundai and other Korean products. North Korea is no more likely to bomb South Korea than it is to bomb Japan. The DPRK would be immediately and decisively destroyed by us, and China has little enough skin in keeping it around that it’d probably just be glad to have a different problem to deal with the the ol’ Northern sabre-rattling and “sea-of-fire” rhetoric. North Korea is well aware of this fact, and has to keep us on edge to try and extract concessions from us without pushing us to act in a less conciliatory manner. Kim The Youngest is just pushing our buttons to see which ones he can push and which he can’t. However, he’s at least intelligent enough to know that pushing the “destroy the South” button is a quick way to lose.

      Ergo, your Hyundai/Kia/Samsung/LG/Hankook/Kumho/whatever product will remain serviceable for a long time.

  • avatar

    How does the DCT programming in the Elantra GT Sport compare to the Veloster?

  • avatar

    Isn’t this GT Sport car closely related to forte5 SX? I saw those selling now $5000 below msrp. No doubt there will be deals.

  • avatar

    Even funny to say but Hyundai Kia now has few models I am interested in – Elantra Sport, GT, Forte5 and Stinger.

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like they’re appealing to the group if car buyers who do not matter – people who like sporty cars and manual transmissions for a good driving experience.. A group I am a proud card-carrying member of.

      I am starting to look at them differently too. If I were in the market for a new vehicle today this car would be on my list to check out.

  • avatar

    Fantastic looking hatchback. Honda, Nissan, and Toyota should take note on how to build and design great looking hatchback. Mazda is also getting schooled with this new Elantra GT.

    • 0 avatar

      I would love Honda Hatch, I just can’t stand their electronic dash and center console controls. Mazda dash also is too funky.

      • 0 avatar

        I would say the exterior is worse than the interior on the civic hatchback. They just look embarrassing. Center exhaust on the Civic also the limits the functionality of the vehicle. Not a lot of people would want to add a hitch even if it’s possible on the civic.

        • 0 avatar

          I see a lot of people “embarrassed” by Civic exterior. And everyone seem to be Ok that instead of elegant speedo-tacho setup they have 1985 cheap hand-held electronic game going on in their dash. I even found it hard to follow when the electronic “needle” shifts on tacho while electronic digits blinking on speedo. I love the regular analog needles going up and down. Exterior is seriously not as detrimental to me as interior. And the electronic parking brake – good bye snow donuts, good bye push and start. Crap.

        • 0 avatar

          There is no way an automobile can, even with great effort, be made to be uglier that the current Civic hatchback.

          Even the Pontiac Aztec looks handsome in comparison.

  • avatar

    Great. Once again I can get the manual transmission in a USA spec’d car but absolutely no options after that. If you get an automatic you get your choice of 2 available option packages. It’s like they think the only reason you’d want a manual transmission is because you’re poor.

    • 0 avatar

      When the current GT came out in 2013, you could get a loaded model with the stick, but the Elantra sedan only came with a stick on the base model. Now with the Elantra Sport and GT Sport, you can get more equipment and keep the stick.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500


  • avatar

    Looks like a Golf, Mazda 3 hatch and a new Impreza hatch banged. I will have to test drive one to see if it would be a good candidate for my next car. I’m glad they’ve finally added a more powerful engine option.

  • avatar

    Steph, any disclosures on the venue for this drive? Looks like it’s manufacturer-sponsored. Thanks.

  • avatar

    The previous model looked better to me.

    This one is generic hatchbook looking combined with trying to emulate small CUV.

  • avatar

    Not wild about this writeup; it reads like a press release. It’s beneath TTAC to play the usual road test game of “The last gen of this car looked/behaved like crap, but this one is supernaturally better.” IMO, the last Elantra GT looked just about as good as this one, if a good bit less like a composite knockoff of three cars from the Fatherland.

    BTW, is it just me, or does anybody else think the Prius-like brightwork boomerang on the bottom of the steering wheel looks as if the car’s salaciously lolling its tongue out at you?

  • avatar

    I consider the current Elantra GT to be Hyundai’s best looking design ever. This new GT is a hot mess and I viscerally hate it. Oh, and BlueLink has been around for about 5 years now in pretty much every Hyundai model except the Accent.

  • avatar

    Is there any grille left in that grille?

    C-Pillar window taken directly from a first-generation Taurus. It matches no other lines on the car.

    An unfortunate amalgamation, the whole of it.

  • avatar

    My wife drives a 2014 Elantra GT and likes it a lot. I hope they made this new GT Sport more of a drivers car. The old one is fine but fun to drive it ain’t.

    If they can put of the Elantra Sport magic into this one you could have something special. The world needs more hit hatches!

  • avatar

    Probably the closest thing to BMW 1 series hatchback that never made it to America.

  • avatar

    Looks like a pretty nice car – too bad virtually everyone is likely to walk right by it on their way to looking at a Tucson or Santa Fe.

  • avatar

    Wish they’d bring the wagon back – wife drives a 2010.. this package with a bigger boot would check a lot of boxes.

    We’re planning to test drive the Buick TourX and the VW GSW/Alltrack, and maybe the Outback. So we’ll be OK.

  • avatar

    Not too offensive – excluding the flaccid c/d pillar treatment and the fat rolls on the back of the car.

  • avatar

    Hmmm…makes me want to go drive both the GT and Sport. Reading lots of good things for both of these. So, Hyundai is becoming the new budget performance brand? Interesting. If it weren’t for dog shows and such, a manual row-it-yourself GT would be an ideal DD.

  • avatar

    By all accounts, the new Elantra GT (aka i30) is pretty nice and a marked improvement over its predecessor, but just doesn’t push enough of the excitement button.

    Maybe the i30-N will have that added visual-appeal (w/o going bonkers) to go along with the handling/performance.

    Hope Hyundai brings over the new i30 fastback body-style (along with the rumored N-version) which looks to be more visually appealing than the hatch.

  • avatar

    Do the two engines use a timing belt or chain? My 2011 elantra touring uses a belt, and its $900 every 140k km to replace it (scheduled maintenance).

  • avatar

    Is the 2018 Elantra GT Sport serious competition for the VW GTI?

  • avatar

    Why can’t either Ford or GM engineer and design a decent small car like this. This car is an example why the South Korean auto industry has pulled ahead of Detroit. I now see the sad reason why GM had South Korea design and engineer the Bolt. As the saying goes, “if you can’t them join them”.

    GM – what a disgrace!!

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